1873 Last words, famous and otherwise
Not Quite So Handsome
By Danny Peart
Vancouver: Milagro Press, 2022
$20.00 / 9780994932969
Reviewed by Patrick Connors
Vancouver’s Danny Peart begins Not Quite So Handsome with the poem “Intention,” which serves as sort of a prologue to the collection. The epigraph of the poem features lyrics from “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” by ’60s rock band The Animals. The commemoration appears at the top of the page, well above the title of the poem, as is the practice in the book, whether the quote is from well-known songs, family members, or Rabindranath Tagore. The layout allows the reader to focus on the reference as a separate entity, instead of skimming over it between the title and the poem.
In the body of the piece, Peart defines himself in terms such as a Canadian dog loving music fan. Then, he introduces the book: “I may write something that brings tears. / More likely something that causes a smile, / or quiet laughter. / My intention is to find something that lasts.”
This disarming honesty situates the reader, and doesn’t lead to unwanted surprises. The author not only openly states the purpose of the book, but seemingly also an approach to this period of his life.
“Blood Brothers” is the backstory of Peart’s friendship with Mark Wilson, going back to their childhood in Port Dalhousie, Ontario:
We were in grade 6 when Wilson and I became blood brothers.
At recess I brought out my Swiss Army knife.
We each carefully put a small cut on our right thumbs.
We held our thumbs together so our blood would mix,
saying only, ‘Brothers for life.’
This kind of oath may seem barbaric to the uninitiated, but it is merely symbolic of the bond that it denotes. It lacks false sentiment because one doesn’t generally do this with just anyone, and it involves a little pain, as all great friendships do. He continues:
“…I drove a motorcycle around town. / Wilson was riding on the back and knocked on my helmet, / ’Dropped your pipe crossing the tracks. Must go back!’ / ‘It’s okay. I’m done with it now.’ / That is how Wilson helped me to give up smoking.”
It is through such rites of passage we grow and move onto the next stage. One of the ways we remember such turning points is through the friendships we shared on the journey.
Section two of Handsome is titled, “Perhaps Just a Few Words.” Almost all of the pieces are very short, and many have very short lines. The exception is “Hummingbirds,” the second last work in this portion.
It begins with Peart filling a bird feeder by the back of his house with nectar, something the reader can immediately picture as part of the author’s routine. At the end of the opening stanza, he wonders, “Wouldn’t it be something if / a hummingbird flew inside the kitchen?”
The second stanza indicates this happening, with, ”…clicking sounds, the burr of wings / as flashes of iridescence / rose up and down the windows/seeking escape.”
At the end of the poem, a simple lamentation, a completion of his earlier thought: “Something I had wished for, yet not expected, / there and then gone.”
Here we see a reverence for nature, and humility in briefly encountering it. But this is also a metaphor for so many experiences that are longed for but only fully appreciated after they are over.
“You Should Write A Poem” is a suggestion made frequently by poets and non-poets alike. Perhaps it is meant as an idyllic contribution to the canon. Perhaps it is a request to read a poem they can relate to, or even star in. This poem is Peart’s response to that request.
“You might see the surface and spout of a humpback whale / not far from your kayak. And not write a poem.” The rest of this stanza features further experiences on his motorcycle, as well as observations on objectively excellent popular musicians.
Peart’s final stanza includes, “For me, the idea for a poem has to be mine. / It could come from an image, from anger, or appreciation, / or my response to grief or nature.”
When the writer is motivated to spend the time it takes to craft a poem, the meaning pours through every word. Then, the reader can get something worthwhile from these words, and possibly something relatable to their own experience.
“Famous Last Words” recounts the reported last words of luminaries such as Lucille Ball, Emily Dickinson, and Anton Chekhov. Ball’s were, “How’s the dog doing?” Recorded in the next line, Dickinson’s were, “I must go in, the fog is rising.” The interplay of “dog doing” and “fog is rising,” almost one on top of the other on the page, is quite interesting.
In stanza four, Peart brings it closer to home. “On January 7th, 2020 I lost my brother Neil. / A man of unique talent and a life full of words at the highest level. / His final words to me when every word was difficult? / ‘Thank you.’” Neil Peart was the drummer and lyricist of iconic Canadian rock band Rush.
The second last stanza finds the author considering the inevitable. “And when it’s my turn? / I don’t want to leave my final words to chance. / Let me put them down here and now. / Just one last thing to worry about.”
And the final stanza of the book is simply, “Danny Peart’s final words, / ‘Be kind to each other.’”
None of us can be fully certain of the moment when we will draw our last breath, which makes it challenging to plan our closing words. We have even less control over which will be our final words accepted for publication.
Not Quite So Handsome is a worthwhile legacy for Danny Peart to leave the world. I hope to read and hear more. [In Vancouver, Hager Books stocks the title.]
Patrick Connors first chapbook, Scarborough Songs, was released by Lyricalmyrical Press in 2013, and charted on the Toronto Poetry Map. Other publication credits include The Toronto Quarterly, Spadina Literary Review, Sharing Spaces, Tamaracks, and Tending the Fire. His first full collection, The Other Life, was released in 2021 by Mosaic Press. His new chapbook, Worth the Wait, was released this Spring by Cactus Press. He has written reviews for Canadian Stories Magazine and the League of Canadian Poets, as well as Freefall and Vallum.
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Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.
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