Saturday, July 1, 2023

rob mclennan : LIMINAL: SHADOW AGENT PT 1 and LIMINAL: SHADOW AGENT PT 2, by Jon Cone

Greying Ghost, 2022




Thanks to Jordan Davis passing along a copy of the chapbook NEW YEAR BEGUN: SELECTED POEMS (Brooklyn NY: Subpress Editions, 2022), I started digging into the work of Canadian expat-poet Jon Cone. Curiously, Cone is a poet who has long managed to fly just under the radar despite a healthy publishing history of chapbooks published in Canada and the United States, most of which I can’t even find any dating information for. The best list I could manage includes his chapbooks FAMILY PORTRAIT WITH TWO DOGS BLEEDING (Phrygian Press), SITTING GETTING UP SITTING AGAIN (Standing Guard in a Cornfield Press), THE PLESYRE BARGE (Salem MA: Greying Ghost), Least (Greying Ghost) and Cold House (Toronto ON: espresso chapbooks, 2017), as well as the selected poems chapbook through Subpress. According to his author biography at the back of Cold House: “Jon Cone grew up in Richmond Hill, Ontario. He attended the University of Western Ontario. Currently, he lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with his wife and two cats.” Through an exchange with the author (who suggested at one point that he’s been in Iowa long enough I suspect we must be of similar vintage), I’m going through his titles LIMINAL: SHADOW AGENT PT 1 and LIMINIAL: SHADOW AGENT PT 2, both published in 2022 through Greying Ghost.


Liminal in cowboy gear. He resembles Rawhide Kid, circa 1966. His owl-headpiece is in place, while a white cowboy hat sits rakishly tilted on top. A think belt, two holsters on hips, two silver six-guns visible. Liminal stands ready in the middle of the street, hands hovering above his pistols. No other being in sight.

LIMINAL:                        Nihilist! I know you’re here. Show yourself.
                                         Are you the Nihilist or are you the
                                         metaphysical supervillain known as the


A figure – the Nihilist – appears from around the corner of a far building. (“PT 1”)

Over email, Cone describes the project as “A rough script I wrote while recovering from cancer treatment that I intended to be a fully-illustrated comic book.” While that may have been the intent, there’s an echo of Ed Dorn’s infamous Gunslinger through the combination of long poem script, pulp and cartoon westerns and multiple sections (and the image of The Lone Ranger on the first volume certainly leans in that direction as well). Dorn’s project originally appeared as six individual sections across a number of years. Wikipedia lists that “Book I was first published in 1968, Book II in 1969, The Cycle (‘Book 2 ½’) in 1971, The Winterbook (Book III) in 1972, Bean News (Gunslinger’s ‘secret book’) in 1972, and ‘Book IIII’ as part of the complete Slinger (minus Bean News) in 1975.” Are these two self-contained pieces, or meant to be read as a single unit? Perhaps both, akin to the two-issue limited comic book series. The two books of LIMINAL write the story of the western stranger “Liminal,” composed through the sheen of western mythology and an ethos of Golden Age comic book heroes and cowboys, allowing a postmodern twist of breaking the fourth wall through letters from Liminal’s readers, commentary from critics and visits to the comic store. Through these I’m reminded of the narrative layerings that Vancouver writer Michael Turner composed through his novel American Whiskey Bar (Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997), a narrative constructed out of the script of an unmakeable film, and commentary upon the film’s production, performance and unmaking. Through the two books of LIMINAL: SHADOW AGENT, Cone writes his characters through large animated gestures, nearly a “Gunslinger” for the postmodern era, offering a script that weaves the lyric through a mix of narrative styles and references. It would be curious to see how this particular two-part script compares to a prior script he co-wrote, the collection of plays he wrote with Rauan Klassnik, An Ice Cream Truck Stalled at the Bottom of the World (Pittsburgh PA: Plays Inverse, 2020). Cone writes his Liminal through first-person declarations that take further steps, from voice to script, and how one shifts, changes. How do these two sections of the poem connect?

Through the character Liminal, Cone manages to compose a simultaneous hero and side-character to his own story. There is something of the cypher to Liminal, allowing everything all the other characters, including readers and critics, might ascribe him. The thread running through the two parts of this project allow for Liminal to be almost mythic, impossible, and empty of self, providing whatever each situation, and whomever he meets along the way, might require. Or, as the end of the second part reads:


A table, a coffee mug. An open comic. A picture of Liminal’s castle overlooking the city. It could be the same table in the comic shop encountered earlier, or it could be elsewhere, a kitchen table in an old Iowa farmhouse, or in an apartment in a city, like New York, where out the window can be seen a portion of the unending sky.

CAPTION:                       From riverrun to riverrun,
                                         the end of all our imagining
                                         will be to arrive at that place
                                         where our imagining begins.
                                         Fin, wrote the writer. Fin.





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, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include the poetry collections the book of smaller (University of Calgary Press, 2022) and World’s End, (ARP Books, 2023), and a suite of pandemic essays, essays in the face of uncertainties (Mansfield Press, 2022). He also edited the anthology groundwork: the best of the third decade of above/ground press, 2013-2023, out this fall with Invisible Publishing. He also likes to point out that he was mentioned both in Paul Quarrington’s posthumous memoir, as well as in Michael Barclay’s The Never-Ending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip (2018). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

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