Friday, May 1, 2020

Khashayar Mohammadi : These are not the potatoes of my youth, by Matthew Walsh

Goose Lane Editions, 2019

In Matthew Walsh’s brilliant debut collection, the reader can sit on the other side of his confessional booth and listen to nostalgic city-portraits intercut with potato farming! Walsh’s incisive wit dissects family dynamics while trying to reconcile their lineage of farming with inner desires unfamiliar to the Canadian countryside.

My father comes from people who learned to talk
the potato into growing more potatoes

to reconcile:

I think my dad liked me because he didn’t know what I wanted was to be
Pamela Anderson in the red bathing suit, circa Baywatch theme song credits

The importance of place is expressed through queering geographies, a fresh re-framing of Canada viewed through a kaleidoscope of travelogues. Walsh’s writing approaches the superstice of everyday living with relentless awe and surprise and disintegrates it into absurdity. Chaotic comedy persists through the darkest moments and shines as a beacon of maturity at the face of adversity.

I had interior-decorated poems with metaphors hanging
all over them, was told simply by straight peers ‘stick to the fluffy
topics’ Like Drag Brunch recaps, or?

They portray the rural Canadian family as nurturers who can bring barren soil to flower; farmers for whom the land represents an endless cycle of life and death. The rural Canadian farmer as rural Canadian parent, natural growers who use their agricultural skills to raise children.

Walsh rediscovers the stasis of nostalgia through restless kinesis of his words that beautifully parallel his movement through cities, landscapes and imagery. Each page of These are not the potatoes of my youth is simultaneously a love letter and a break-up poem to cities across Canada. Walsh shows their admiration without dependence, their love without obsession, their lust without artifice. Multiple portrayals of friends and friendships pepper the manuscript, short silhouettes of all those who wove themselves into this colorful tapestry of cityscapes and fleeting skylines. This book is a loving ode to all who stuck by us in dark times, those who helped us and those whom we helped.

I took pictures of her black eye with a Konica camera
so the police would finally see
her partner. She would grab my throat
to feel my lymph nodes when she lived

with us and read them, trying to figure out who I was
in a past life.

In their wonderful debut, Walsh is constantly rediscovering the self in different landscapes, exploring the self in relation to the environment. Walsh redefines character based on surroundings and grounds experiences to the past through cultural touchstones. They delicately balance the bitter with the sweet and laughable. Poems flow with inertia, and the reader is carried further into the story even after the last line of a poem is uttered.

and this is my animal pose, this is the look for me, it’s animal
and I ask what is up do you have a manual on how to behave

and I am all fours, asking not to be or not be. But--
I can be this poem. I can be wilderness.

Khashayar Mohammadi is an Iranian-born Toronto-based writer and translator.

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