Art of Surgery by A.F. Moritz and Vallum 16:1

Ultra-bleak poetry for springtime

A new issue of Vallum magazine and A.F. Moritz’s Art of Surgery launch this weekend.

Art of Surgery by A.F. Moritz and Vallum Issue 16:1

This Saturday marks the launch both of the latest issue of Vallum magazine and of A.F. Moritz’s new poetry chapbook, Art of Surgery. I hope they get themselves a nice grey blustery day for the occasion, as this is one mopey double feature.

In the titular poem in Moritz’s collection, I misread “without the dignity of stone” as “without the dignity of a shoe,” and arrogantly, I liked my error better. Does stone really have inherent dignity? Lasting power, sure, dignity I’m less sure about.

This was one of several images in his collection that I felt hadn’t been adequately interrogated. Art of Surgery is a collection about the author’s heart surgery, so of course the images are a little vague. The lucky remember little from their time anesthetized. Yet the desire to render his own experience monumental — and dignified — feels affected.

Surgery is disgusting and terrifying and often impressive. This collection, however, never rises to the challenge of the physicality and fear you might expect of this evocative theme. Instead, the poet blearily assesses his brush with medicine as though sleepy. There are dreams throughout, all in the infuriatingly ill-defined blur of your work colleague recounting some cool nightmare already half faded on their morning commute.

Now, don’t get me wrong, give me “the angels farting on the ceiling” any day. I love nothing better than reading about sickness and death, just not like this.

Meanwhile, Vallum magazine’s issue 16:1, Connections, is naturally about our lack thereof. The clunky and coyly titled essay “Caught in the Web” by Colin Brezicki talks about the ironies of communicating so little in an era in which the surfeit of communication is downright blinding. Not exactly a bold position, and then Brezicki goes and wraps it up in a feel-good assertion about empathy transcending the digital/analogue divide. Geez.

Similarly, the photo series that peppers the collection (“Removed” by Eric Pickersgill) has all the nuance of a teenage technophobe’s school assignment. The bulk of the photos feature a subject gazing adoringly or apathetically into their open palm in which a phone has been, you guessed it, removed.

Many of the poems in the magazine, sadly, share a similarly fumbling engagement with contemporary media and culture. However, a handful of poems in the magazine managed to navigate that often-awkward zone between nowness and nostalgia with more grace and strangeness. In particular, “Turning a Round Number” by Dave Eso playfully and sadly evokes the image of a bee learning Karate, this after the somehow valiant repetition of the word Bombus (the humble bumblebee’s genus).

How touching. If only a species could fight back against eradication and death by getting its black belt. There is, after all, always room for a little sweetness and specificity in any portrayal of sorrow. ■

Vallum Issue 16:1 & A.F. Moritz’s Art of Surgery launch is happening at the Rocket Science Room (170 Jean-Talon W. #204) on Saturday, May 4, doors 6 p.m., readings 7 p.m., $5 suggested donation