Tuesday, January 3, 2023

rob mclennan : (no subject), by Peter Burghardt

(no subject), Peter Burghardt
Omnidawn, 2022





The latest from Peter Burghardt, a poet and editor simultaneously of the American Midwest and San Francisco Bay Area, is the full-length debut (no subject) (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2022), a paired collection of poem-suites that run through as a kind of continuous lyric thread. The collection opens with fifty-six standalone observational lyrics, all of which share the title “(no subject),” followed by the Roman Numeral numbered thirty-six poem sequence “epilogue(s).” The structure of titling each poem equally across a project is a structure Burghardt shares with the late Denver poet Noah Eli Gordon, who produced more than a couple of full-length poetry titles utilizing similar structures, and there is an element of tone that this collection shares with some of Gordon’s work, as well as one reminiscent of Johannes Göransson’s SUMMER (Grafton VT: Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2022). “The landlords / aren’t happy about the mess,” Burghardt writes in one of the “(no subject)” poems, “but they love the company. / The sun today is too much for the succulents / and tomatoes N planted. A text / arrives but the data won’t load.”

Much like Göransson’s SUMMER, Burghardt’s poems have the sense of the lyric journal entry, sketching across the immediate and recollected, of a particular weaving through the dailyness of domestic life, although constructed less on the activity itself than utilizing the details of those days to speak to something more abstract, writing almost a Robert Creeley sense of the domestic. “As an American,” he offers, as part of the fourth poem, “the camera is always on.”

There is such an ease to these poems, deceptively so; as well as an underlying quickness, anxiety and easy humour, able to poke the occasional self-jab. These are poems that sit exactly where the authors sits, as he is sitting there, and you, the reader, there also. As the catalogue copy for the book includes: “The poems of (no subject) are an investigation of the personal everyday. The title for the book and the poems contained within are derived from the default subject line of a subjectless email. The books’ composition was informed by this idea of the quickly written subjective email, as the author would clear small periods of time to write and record the observations and thoughts around himself at that moment, then send it to himself for future refinement.” “Continuosity is a word I just made up and time / will not undo that.” he writes, as part of the opening poem, “Nothing is ever undone / but one time I fell in a hole in the tall grass / of my front yard. I showed you where it was / and you had me answer how far down it goes. I said / I’m glad it’s not deeper.”

The way the individual poems connect into each other, one could almost call this a collection of two poems, each constructed in different manners, but each a standalone of multiple, kenetic, moving parts, with the second sequence, “epilogue(s),” leaning a bit further into the koan; a structure of the minimal that offers an ending before any easy conclusion, almost comparable, narratively, to the minimal poems of the late Paris, Ontario poet Nelson Ball. As poem “(xxii)” reads, in full: “Daily I withdraw and paint myself / with my home as a shellac / against feeling. I wish to be fondly / regarded which sometimes means / not saying anything.”

(no subject)

Each hour wounds, the last
one kills. Inscribed on the sundial where
I sit in someone else’s garden listening
to three kittens patter their stubby
legs in the planting soil, not yet
a year old but already practically cats
their kibble causing flies to flick
their filth around. The landlords
aren’t happy about the mess
but they love the company.
The sun today is too much for the succulents
and tomatoes N planted. A text
arrives but the data won’t load.
I feel I need to sit and think deeper
about my five-year plan which is
a joke I don’t know how to finish.

There are tiny, almost delicate connectors between each of the poems through his “epilogue(s)” sequence; sometimes as subject, or narrative, or as a further thought along a particular thread that barely seemed visible, making one wonder if these are deliberately-constructed connectors, or possible echoes? One might say neither, either or both, and the effect might still be the same. “Here I am typing into what is only / the widening space I’ve put between / myself and who I pictured I’d become.” he writes, as part of part five of the sequence.


My son wakes up and sometimes
the first thing he says is “I don’t want you”
which I know he doesn’t mean.
He means he wants his mother,
in his limited vocabulary of choice.
We’re all unrepentant sociopaths
as children, and my son also happens
not to be a morning person, which I admit,
I’m not either.







Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles include the poetry collection the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). In spring 2020, he won ‘best pandemic beard’ from Coach House Books via Twitter, of which he is extremely proud (and mentions constantly). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, he now has a substack at https://robmclennan.substack.com/, through which he is attempting to work through a book-length essay, and a couple of other prose projects.

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