Victor Coleman has been writing for a lifetime, working at the edges of poetry – never afraid to challenge any reader gutsy enough to pick up one of his books. This one comes with the head-scratching title ivH: An Alphamath Serial displayed in a pitch-black font over a washed-out grey and red cover of Raymond Queneau’s Un Rude Hiver. It’s a handsome book. A Frenchman, Queneau did write A Hard Winter in 1948, and hung with surrealists like Andre Breton until there was a mutual falling-out, but for all the rest between the covers, the reader is on her own.
Bring a sense of humour and leave all preconceptions at the door. The pages of ivH (4H? HIV scrambled?) are set up as eight poems or stanzas per page, four on the left side, four on the right side of the page, each stanza consisting of eight lines of four syllables each. Conveniently, they are numbered (ivH one, ivH two… ivH n) in the bull’s eye of each page, so what the reader sees is a big H staring back. I recall writing down this impression – one of my first – “somebody has to write the etudes!” The impression gains in strength with each rereading. Read these poems with or without distraction. If you’re looking for footholds, or even one-to-one correspondence with what you’ve previously read in your life, good luck. ivH is random, rational and meaningless – perhaps. From “ivH 51”:
a small vacuum,
that there was a
which was going
to arrive the
day of the fire.
I’d like to point out that I find nothing academic or snobbish in this book. Coleman is not out to impress so much as to engage. And engaging we go, making what we will of these regular irregularities. They sound like scraps of something else. Occasionally repetitions surface, but Coleman doesn’t let us get comfortable into thinking we know where the words are leading. Is he constructing puzzles, or simply setting out the raw materials for us to construct our own? I tried reading the first line in the first stanza followed by the second line in the second stanza, the third line in the third stanza, etc., to see if they morphed into meaning, but no, at least nothing more than what stared at me initially. Combine or trim the stanzas, even mix up the order? Nope. We are forced to move our minds to accommodate the poetry.
Then a cheer goes up – that’s the spirit! Coleman leads by “a faux transtranslation” of Queneau. He constructs a mathematic, and if readers approach this poetry with grace in their hearts they will embrace the shuffling of the deck while making improbable connections. To wit, my credit union reproduces my cancelled cheques for my records at eight to a sheet. Who cares? Yet stick with it. Something is bound to surface.
ivH (special ed. 2)
Andrew Vaisius is a childcare worker living in Winkler.
ivH: An Alphamath Serial
by Victor Coleman
Toronto: Book Thug, 2012, 62pp., $18.00 paper.