Gil McElroy’s cartography
Colborne, Ontario poet, writer and curator Gil McElroy’s four trade poetry collections, each published by Vancouver publisher Talonbooks, are Ordinary Time (2011), Last Scattering Surfaces (2007), NonZero Definitions (2004) and Dream Pool Essays (2001). Given his three prior decades of journal, anthology and chapbook publication before Karl Siegler at Talonbooks first took on his work, McElroy’s trade books present the work of a fully mature and engaged artist, one who has been dedicated to his craft for some time. Anyone with any passing knowledge of McElroy’s poetry would certainly begin to notice a series of patterns, from the extended sequences, the abstract punctuations of time and geography, to poems on comets, constellations and other cosmic bodies. Also, there’s his ongoing sequence, akin to bpNichol’s mantra of the “poem as long as a life,” “Some Julian Days,” that weaves itself through the length and breadth of each of his trade collections. The sequence exists as an ongoing series of poems in a “day book” style utilizing the days of the Julian Calendar. It would seem as though, for McElroy, the concept of the “day book” is firmly placed within the abstract, given the unfamiliarity most readers would have with the system, and instead, each poem suggests a timeless quality, holding in all moments concurrently.
I’ve known McElroy and his work since the early 1990s, when we began a publishing and personal relationship that has gone through numerous chapbooks, fliers, poems, letters, essays and eventual books, and have long considered him to be one of the most underrated and underappreciated poets in Canada, as well as one of our most gifted. Our engagement began during a period he was self-producing small press publications, which evolved into his publishing poems in larger, more mainstream venues, as well as curating and critiquing visual art, to finally publishing an increasing body of trade poetry collections that have been bringing him more than a bit of envy from other writers. Over the course of our personal and professional relationship, I’ve engaged him in numerous of my publishing schemes—from Poetics.ca to seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics to The Factory Reading Series to Touch the Donkey to the dusie “Tuesday poem” series—as well as producing a series of chapbook publications through my own above/ground press: “Echolocations” (½ of STANZAS #5, April 1995), Some Julian Days (March, 1999), “Meteor Showers” (STANZAS #31, 2002), (The Work of Art) In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (November, 2005) and Twentieth (February, 2013), as well as The Doxologies (2014), produced as a further extension of “The Julian Days.” As he writes to open the new publication:
The Doxologies comprises a finite, defined-length ‘interval,’ or subset of poems
within the larger, open-ended poem sequence The Julian Days I’ve been working
on for decades. It utilizes the numerical Julian Date system.
Look it up.
He opens his chapbook Some Julian Days with a short note, explaining that the series was based on the Julian Day System of dating “devised in 1582 by Joseph Justus Senliger. Days are simply counted forward from an arbitrarily chosen Day One of January 1, 4713 BCE. Today, the system is used by astronomers to date celestial occurrences, like the varying luminosity of certain stars. The Julian Day stems have nothing at all to do with the Julian calendar.” His poem sequences, as with the open ended concept fueled by Spicer, work not to complete an idea, as with a puzzle, but enhance and expand, as other properties are absorbed, as though sketching out an ever-expanding map of near-infinite possibility. Just how many unknown spaces and half-familiar territories can McElroy continue discover? And here, a sample of one of the poems from the new chapbook, that reads:
Halfway through a divisive morning
of rumours & innuendos, we
ground around us around
of hot & cold rotation.
of half-dimensions are
flung all about, but
the good staples hold firm, hold
mortality doubted through the heart which lasts
the shifting day.
The mystery, it
rains & rains.