How Poems Work
Rob Budde on Ken Belford’s “Slick Reckoning”
In the poem there are no
forbidden gaps. What is added
& what is replaced fills the
lattice spacing of the vivid.
The lapse i slipped through
was not in nature, but baffled me
when i didn’t keep the fairy-tale
laws of trust & promise
i answer to the mash of
lan(d)guage while the forces
of goods work the ropes
of metrical romance.
i wonder about mixing
the details of story with
poetry because i know
nedo fears underwriting –
clashing with the fear of
something hidden inside.
What follows are the details
of the stories I can tell of the
sequences between the lyric
tub thumper & the spellbinder –
of the baffling narratives about how
i found my tools in an empty street,
found the money by accident,
watched anger, found company,
cracked open the systemic episodes
& deviated from the expected.
Like most stars, my first poems
were forgettable. By nineteen i was
a change carrier, a compound.
To this day I don’t have a pseudo
name, but Lesley will do.
Compound poets are made of
accepted examples. Semiconductor
poets are made of the same type & are
bound together by universal bonds.
In the beginning, I was a friend,
a radicle. I had a place beside living
water, where i held my own while
eavesdropping on the paternal
poetry hullabaloo. I’m up to scale.
There are four registers that I want to pull out of his work that I think both distinguishes the poetry and will help new readers traverse his text: 1) while the idea of poetry ‘assemblage’ is not new, Ken has a established a distinct poetics based on semantic slippage and disjunctive other-than-lyric ‘gaps’ (here I am thinking of two traditions—one, the Canadian long/documentary poem with its curatorial tendency bringing diverse and adverse discourses together and two, the 1960’s Vancouver writing scene and the American Black Mountain resistance of causation and image in writing). So when Belford moves from “the forces of goods” to “the ropes of metrical romance” there is a rift in semantic topography that the reader must traverse—what does capitalism have to do with meter?; 2) Belford’s ‘lan(d)guage’ is like nothing else; a resonance first created in his 5th book titled lan(d)guage, Belford ties the rhythms and codes of poetry to the natural dynamics of the mountain country (two hours flight north of Hazelton BC) he is so familiar (an example being the connection between semantic ‘gaps’ in text and ‘gap dynamics’ in forest growth); 3) it is a poetry that asserts an outside, an other, a ‘traitor’ in at least two main ways, the first in his cultural distance produced by his 30 years as a back-country guide trained by Gitxsan hereditary chiefs (foremost being Walter Blackwater) and this ‘otherness’ is evident in the use of the Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en word ‘nedo’ that means ‘white man’; 4) Belford also is a ‘traitor’ in terms of gender expression, openly resisting the ‘paternal’ and ‘poetry boy gangs’ (and so, ‘Lesley’). Not getting caught up in the mainstream patriarchal ‘hullabaloo’, white industrial colonialism, and the easily consumed fare of the urban poets, Belford’s Slick Reckoning (which I see as a continuation of a larger work that includes the books ecologue, lan(d)guage, Decomposition, and Internodes) comes from somewhere else and marks the change. A new reader might easily place Belford into a school of poetry called “lan(d)guage poetry” and see if other poets can meet him there: what other Canadian poets can claim the experience of remote mountain living (along with the cultural sensitivities of Gitxsan and non-human worldviews) and his knowledge of poetics that has come through his (peripheral) connections to TISH?