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Carla Hall and Heather Woods

David Bromige, an Annotated Bibliography

Click on the button to go to the annotated entry:

button As in T as in Tether. Tucson, Arizona: Chax Press, 2002. 74 pp.

button Authenticizing. San Francisco: a+bend press, 2000. 34 pp.

button Piccolo Mondo. Toronto, Ontario: Coach House Books, 1998. 240 pp.

button Vulnerable Bundles. Hartford: Cricket Press, 1995. 64 pp.

button A Cast of Tens. Penngrove: Avec Books, 1994. 90 pp.

button Romantic Traceries. Potes and Poets Press (also as an issue of A.BACUS), 1993, 30 pp.

button The Harbormaster of Hong Kong. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1993. 84 pp.

button They Ate. Sebastopol: X-Press Books, 1992. 65 pp.

button Tiny Courts in a world without scales. Ontario: Brick Books, 1991. 60 pp.

button Men, Women & Vehicles: Prose Works. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1990. 171 pp.

button Desire: Selected Poems, 1963 – 1987. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1988. 227 pp.

As in T, As in Tether, Tucson, Arizona: Chax Press, 2002. 74 pp.

Cover of Bromige Book - As In T as in Tether ‘I started writing those poems in 1996. I had a gig where I went to teach for a few days at my old University in British Columbia at Green College there where I was in residence. And I met someone there who got me writing poetry by magic. And suddenly I was writing these poems . . .It’s in four pieces, this next book, and the first piece is just five poems, five alphabet poems. They were emotional, these poems. The whole book is about degrees of closeness to other people, and how you feel about it on different days — sometimes you feel tethered, as in tied down, and sometimes you’re very grateful that you’ve got an anchor somewhere. And it was about how a relationship forms and the stages of a relationship. The first part was called “initializing”. The second part is called “establishing” — like when a relationship shifts so that you come to count on the other person being there for you and it’s an intimate relationship. Then the third part is called “authenticizing”. I got these three titles from my software on my computer, my first computer — “initializing” was how you got in — “establishing”, some other code was fulfilled, and then “authenticating” was the sign that you’d gotten through — and were now on-line. But I changed it to “authenticizing” to rhyme with “initializing”, and because “authenticating” sounded too proud to boast. And my sense of the authentic — one way you know when you’re having an authentic experience, is when you step on a floorboard that you’ve stepped on often before — and this time it gives way. And so whatever you feel at that moment is authentic and not acted out or rehearsed. There’s a lot of game-playing that goes on in “establishing”. “Initializing” you register so many things so fast, that it’s barely coherent, but I tried to write that way. And for some reason it was 16 poems. Actually the last poem (in “initializing”) is # 15, because there’s a middle poem called “7.5” which is halfway through and belongs to one of the other sequences. So the middle of “initializing” is actually about “authenticizing”. Each suite of poems has a middle that belongs to one of the other suites — just to keep things shaken up and not too regular. How the present book came to be was through going to the University of British Columbia and holding a little course there and being made to think about relationships, because in a way the University of British Columbia was where I first found some proper way to use my brain, and I was back there now 40 years later, right there on the same site, and I was thinking about old friends a lot, some of whom I was still in touch with, and I was thinking about how a relationship grows, you know, but is actually built — by the people involved. And so I had the “initializing”, and 16 poems was enough of that. And they had no stanza break, because it has to come in a rush — I mean when you first meet someone who interests you, then you register so many different things about them, you know, faster than you can be aware of, of course — and then the next phase is “establishing” and you’re more aware of what’s happening, but then you get too confident of being aware of what’s happening, and then you have some authentic moment when the rug vanishes from under you — so that was my idea. But that’s just an idea, you know, I can’t write an idea in poetry — I can have one like a banister on a stairwell, but I have to go more in the open about it — but I did have those ideas to light my way as I went through there.’

Authenticizing. San Francisco: a+bend press, 2000. 34 pp.

Authenticizing is a chapbook, the fourth and final section of the later published As in T, As in Tether, from Chax Press of Tucson in 2002. The poems are center-justified, which gives a grounded, balanced feeling to the text. Raw intimacy surrounds us. Here Bromige enters, questions, and embraces the strangeness of intimacy. He ponders and ruminates life, his life — from the early years, ‘Spent early years imagining/ God watching everything.’ (p. 28) on — to age and aging:

But to let the worms grow
That bore the heart.
Beautiful still with spring
Those feathery leaves, light green
Once leathery, bring out
A sinewy cadaver quality.

  -- p. 6

He continues to work on identifying himself, selves, or on the act of identification itself, ‘Self at 28, qui se commence/ “Scholar & poet” . . . This book, c’est moi!,/ The author still unknown.’ (p. 25). He asks us to participate in his self-discovery /recovery/ analysis/ and pondering —‘Every six months shove steel into me. / Use all the locals you want (please)/ It’ll still unify me/ By pinning my many in/ Authentic selves to the single thing/ They’re only shadows of.’ (p. 2). Between self and other, he lauds fulfillment through the other:

Just once
That an other
On the same wavelength

-- p. 18

He observes the goofy and strange endearment of intimacy, ‘Darling/ But then your hair/ As I smooshed your cheek/ Was in my mouth. I/ Knew you so well at this stage/ You could have been/ Just anybody.’ (p. 5). Bromige boldly opens the complicity of love: ‘Tortured for loving/ For the wrong reasons,/ Reasons, that have what to do/ With love. Unhappiness/ Having what to do with love./ Love that makes us happy./ Whose fire/ Demands to be applied.’ (p. 8). And dares even to be romantic — ‘She opens the door,/ I decorate and confirm her face/ By kissing it. We hug/ A long O between the Xs,/ Wait until our breathing slows,/ Hear both hearts beat,’ (p. 12). And frankly and vibrantly sexual: ‘A sex organ wiping/ It’s nose, a rapid noiseless’ (p. 27), ‘A large sexual organ/ But not purple yet/ Equally impatient of contradiction.’ (p. 14), ‘The tunnel held a throbbing train.’ (p. 4). The final page and final intimacy of Authenticizing, is the intimacy between poet and poem, or reader in poem. Bromige implores:

Poetry, I wanted you
To kidnap me. Whisk me
Over the page.
You leave me here
Do you
In one of your
Dark caves,
Blind as a bat,
Unlost? Deaf
As a post? Two
Syllables to rub
Together? Shut
Up, my love,

— p. 34

Piccolo Mondo. Toronto, Ontario: Coach House Books, 1998. 240 pp.

On the title page a subtitle appears, ‘...a novel of youth in 1961 as seen somewhat later by: Angela, George, David, and Michael.’ Thus, an autobiographical fiction composed by four writers: George Bowering, a well-known Canadian author of poetry and fiction; Angela Bowering, a non-fiction writer, this her first time to publish; David Bromige; and Michael Matthews, a teacher of Canadian literature at Malaspina University College. All are friends from British Columbia who met up for a reunion one day in 1993 and decided to write a collaborative novel portraying ‘a picture of a time between the Beats and the Hippies.’ A time these four writers experienced and then relinquished in the retelling of a literary culture in Canada just before the sixties. Also, it is a novel about a city and artists sprouting out from the repression of the fifties. On that day in 1993, the four companions decided to split the writing — the first chapter written by Bromige, the second by George Bowering, the third by Matthews, and the fourth by Angela Bowering. The following chapters would be written in the same rotation of authors. However, due to having more time and also inspiration, Bromige began to write more, ending up writing a third of the novel. Bromige said, ‘It was a lot of fun...Hard to say who wrote what. After awhile we started to imitate one another. Just for the fun of it.’ Thus creating a collage of minds and stories that melded as well as broke the boundaries of fiction and narrative. At the same time, the novel sustains humor and charm, perhaps as a result of the loosening of correspondence. The epigraph by Henri Michaux which opens Piccolo Mondo states, ‘It is in the future that they must see their history.’ This quote appropriately introduces a creative ‘story-telling’ and perhaps sews up, if not seamless, the undulating reveries of four talented and vulnerable authors.

Vulnerable Bundles. Hartford: Cricket Press, 1995. 64 pp. 30 copies.

Haunting, dream-like, dark/funny, strange, eerie. ‘Emanated from his head/ page reversed/ and rereversed’ Bromige created the book-cover which plays with the title phrase — rewriting the words and transforming letters — ‘venerable bundles’ ‘vulnerable blunders,’ and so on. ‘This was a special edition — he (Peter Ganick — editor of A.BACUS) asked me for a book that he would publish only 30 copies of.’ ‘And these poems I call Vulnerable Bundles because I wrote straight ahead and I did no revision for the first time in my life really. I wrote a bunch of them. And to tell you the truth, what happened was that I had been put on a new sleeping pill. And for about an hour after taking it, I didn’t get sleepy but I got into some other state, an altered state. Not like smoking dope, it was more alert, and I was processing a lot of words and I started to write on it. So these poems came to me in that way, I suppose, you know, like being drunk or something, or drugged — and when I read them now, I wonder about them. There were only 30 copies of the book so I never had a review for it, very little feedback from anyone about these works and after a while I lost the ability to use the pill in that way — I got tired of it, you know, got used to it and it didn’t work any more. But for a short while, like six months, I had this drug that enabled me to write. Perhaps all I wrote was nonsense though, it’s hard to say. . .This book is called ‘From the First Century of Vulnerable Bundles’. At the time I thought I was going to write another hundred (I had written a hundred by this time) and there are about 64 Vulnerable Bundles in this book. So you know it’s — disconnected, and I don’t know about you but I really can’t live easily with the disconnection — I try to put it together. And you know it’s sort of jammed together on the page. So I don’t know what to say about these poems — I never wrote so freely before — I never broke so freely before — it’s the breaks that concern me in this work. They’re pretty self-conscious, you know, they talk about their own construction a lot. That was certainly one effect of that pill — was to kind of split consciousness, so that you kept watching what you were doing. So I think that was an effect of the pill, a sort of haunting — hauntings coming to me, and my parents. They’re like dreams, bits of dreams, and I was very pleased to be writing so much, but I don’t know what to make of those.’

A Cast of Tens. Penngrove: Avec Books, 1994. 90 pp.

Poems that puncture narrative, sequence, linearity, memory. A book in play with resistance to what it can’t do without — order and constraint. Each poem is a series of ten line stanzas broken into sub-stanzas which follow a repeated pattern particular to each poem. ‘While Knitting’ has the following dynamic – 2/3/2/2/1 for seven stanzas; ‘With Chin in Hand’ has 2/1/2/2/2/1 for six stanzas, ‘Lest We Forget’ has 2/2/1/3/1/1 for eight stanzas. Bromige said, ‘I liked working that way, seeing what happened with the gap in between, how the syntax gets delayed or broken, and that takes you over when you’re writing, so that’s how you write it.’ The patterns throughout the book are similar to musical refrains — the reader hears a certain rhythm and release with the short syllabically controlled lines. Thoughts, images, and time references are fragmented and refracted, in fact ‘awkward to read because (the poems) break in (their) syntax.’ Yet the repetition expresses coherence — a leaning on something set, fixed, predictable. ‘The poems have to be regular in other ways...You can’t change everything all at once.’ Pauses of variation do appear. ‘On A Hundred-Block Walk’ has 3/3/3/1, then 1/3/3/3, then 3/3/1/ which Bromige said, ‘Some variation is a necessity. Things just fell out that way, so there it is.’ The primary/primal pieces of the compositions are ‘The Two of Rocks’ and ‘Commentary to The Two of Rocks’ in which the reader sees Bromige going to the center of liminal space, psyche, relationships, and myth. If a gut truly is, he is there: ‘Surroundings disappear, the face/ luminous for the shadows/ He’ll watch while she says anything/ is everything. When I was in pain/ I tried to remember pleasure/ Flowers, bulbs and breathing/ You recall the child/ you in some sense have been?/ Only in glimpses/ You recall your love?/ So like a landscape/ this absence/ as if only one...’ Here, in the construction of ‘Chinese houses,’ the reader finds poems of strategy and disparateness – mirroring an infrastructure of human relating, a symbiosis with narrative, and a topology of the complex present.

Romantic Traceries. Potes and Poets Press (also as an issue of A.BACUS), 1993. 30 pp.

In Romantic Traceries Bromige uses constraint overtly. He takes the rhyme words from the poems of two Romantic poets — Keats and Shelley — uses them in his new poems, so the new poems ‘all had to rhyme. Otherwise it was up to me what I though I were tracing over them. Thus the title.’ The reader experiences a suite of poems that is vaguely reminiscent of the famous Romantics, but verging into unknown and tenuous territory. Bromige says, on using form, ‘It’s good to have something to watch closely because it’s more likely you’ll have something to say. The thing will come through you...if you’re attending to the form of it. You’ve got to be obedient to (it) become self-conscious and more likely to say something new. That’s the function of rules in poetry and why it’s good to change the rules in poetry.’ Romantic Traceries does exactly this — attend to rules, yet break them too. There is a comical element in each piece, as though exiting a gasp of relief with and against formality. For example, about one short poem Bromige says, ‘...(it) basically meant my butt. The lines keep getting shorter so the lines look like a silhouette of my butt. And (the poem) is about my butt too. It basically says I’ve wasted it in writing poetry, and I could have been having a good time. But it says this using the rhyme words of the poem that Keats wrote to Fanny Howe, a poem that breaks up with ‘Here is my hand, here is a hand...’ like it can’t be poetry anymore. Keats has got to be saying that.’ Listening to Bromige, one notes his coy smile with reference to Fanny Howe. One remembers butt, sitting, splitting, the multiple layers Bromige is aware of, deliberate in employing. Perhaps this little book/experiment is where Bromige begins to cross the stepping-stones of Language Poetry with which he affiliates but of which he claims not to be a restricted member. Bromige recalls Carla Harryman saying, ‘There is a way to regain consciousness — you just have to move around as though you’re part of something else.’ Romantic Traceries is unlike anything else Bromige has written, the only time he did that kind of borrowing, that kind of explicit moving around. ‘And there it is,’ he says.

The Harbormaster of Hong Kong. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1993. 84pp.

‘Ruminative, remunerative’ (p. 1). Words and sounds transmute and transform. ‘Irremediable, irredeemable’ (p. 13). We follow ourselves through language, watch ourselves see an image, or absorb the sound of a word. ‘Word, word, were one by one’ (p. 11). Sound echoes sound. ‘They shot the mother but the kittens lived’ (p. 11) and ‘Shot the mother but the kitchen lived.’ (p. 11). These ironic twists of meaning wrapped in echoing sounds startle. We are outside of ourselves, observing our appropriation of the images Bromige triggers for us. The poet gives us a mirror in which to watch our mind move — we study our cognitive process. ‘Like a coffin/ or green lawn/ the philosopher walks/ by his church . . .He is said to be ‘taking’/ a walk he is walking/ foreshortened and/ in the abstract/ of the pilot now/ lights his pipe with a flair/ we find striking’ (p. 31-2). Images take shape as we collect, see, and digest them. There is an imperative tone throughout the book, a didactic force at work, imploring us — ‘Get inside yourself what once/ you were on the inside of’ (p.13). As if it were possible to ‘Do something about your sorrows’ (p. 17) ‘Do something about your fate’ (p. 18). The long series of ironic haiku-like poems in ‘Lines’ and ‘Lines Upon a Distant Prospect of Lines’ are concise meditations on time, poetics, and politics:

ephemeral                               kiss me quick                     save time
hang on to that                        too late                               kill it               

  — p. 22                                   — p. 24                                 — p. 27

my forehead’s wrinkled my eyes all squinted up
poetry is supposed to supply us with a picture

— p. 26

The title poem is a prose poem sequence borrowing some of its socio-economic language from Jurgen Habermas’ Legitimazation Crisis. Parody on capitalism /imperialism /communism and the change of hands in Hong Kong in ’97. ‘Money was on parade and money was talking.’ (p. 51). In ‘Zounds Loik Zumthin Oi Wud Mayake’ Bromige writes phonetically, forcing us to read aloud, and stumble as we struggle to make sense of and pronounce each word. As if we are learning to read or speak for the first time again. We are suspended in our experience of the word — ‘ Between be and seem/ the irony, the word/ for the experience/ of the word/ for the experience’ (p. 44). Words float like audible geometric shapes, ‘Blue and black at each apex’ (p. 5).

They Ate. Sebastopol: X-Press Books, 1992. 65 pp.

One more time we see one of Bromige’s syntactical journeys by reference. Bromige says, ‘They Ate is based on an 1896 novel called The Eye of Fate. As with the title, the book as a whole is built by reducing the protagonist’s Victorian language to something more pithy without significantly altering her plot. The exception is the final chapter where a working class revolution is sabotaged by the outbreak of the First World War. The detective is able to discover the killer by photographing his image as reflected in his victim’s eyes. In (my) treatment, language keeps calling attention to itself so that the dime novel plot is forced into the background.’ We experience another adventure with time, language play and redefinition.

Tiny Courts in a world without scales. Ontario: Brick Books, 1991. 60 pp. Second edition, 1993.

A book of short poems — ironic, philosophic, funny, shocking, now and then haunting. By wit, a critical and focused brevity, we glimpse and joke at ‘Civilization and its discotheques,’ (p. 56). But perhaps, ‘it’s not so much politics/ or economics as aesthetics’ replies Bromige to himself (p. 52). Language and its many forms — ‘The dolphins are trying to/ communicate/ Tell them to fuck off’ (p.17). Employs and toys with slang and colloquialisms, ‘When lumber went multi-national/ and the shit hit the fan’ (p. 14). Mixes and plays, collages different types of language — business, dream-like, philosophic, popular, and formal mesh, entwine, and unravel. Can dip-dive into subliminal and psychological realms — ‘So the superego is hoisted into the saddle’ (p. 21), and also chatty/ quotidian — ‘The weather and the sports reports.’ The brief poems form a consciousness of split consciousness — ideas from each line spill~connect and spark into the next — a thread upbraiding. Often the last line of a poem shocks or makes laugh or ponder . . .

Men, Women & Vehicles: Prose Works. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1990. 171 pp.

A collection of short prose works leaning toward the poetic, weaving in threads of narrative and short story writing. One hears the echo of projective verse stretched further. These are therapeutic tales that brave taking risks with conveyance, the difficulty of language to connote both emotions and actuality. ‘There’s an interminable search for the right word...One leaps, so to speak, and if (as is probable) one leaps forward, one will always land on one’s face. To speak at all, so confronted, is to ensure that one or the other possibility wins out. There’ll be a loss, also, roughly equal to the gain’ (p. 31, ‘Triumph & the Will’). Section titles such as ‘Coming of Age in the Fifties,’ ‘Four Blind I’s,’ ‘The Role of Intellect in Evolution,’ ‘Up From the Subtext,’ ‘Down from the Mountain,’ and ‘Author’s P.S.’ mirror Bromige’s caricature of experimentation, humor, and a sensitivity to order and it’s opposite — idiosyncrasy. Short short pieces such as ‘A Beautiful Woman’ and ‘The Lid Off my own Teapot’ also speak to Bromige’s wandering through the process of telling. ‘You need to tell the whole story...’ (p. 171) seems to be the point of contention. The well-crafted, tight, ode-like works conclude with a remarkable photo and biography — Bromige in a car and the unique story of Bromige learning to drive. Perhaps here we have the initiation of the analogy — vehicle is to maturation is to man is to woman is to communication.

Desire: Selected Poems, 1963 – 1987. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1988. 227 pp.

Desire won the Western States Arts Federation Poetry Award, chaired by Robert Hass, and sold over 3,000 copies. A mesmerizing book. Not seamless. Definitely challenging, puncturing, melodic. A remantling of poetic form. Desire expresses a contention with other — the poem, the reader, the event. An epigraph to the book quotes Stuart Schneiderman’s Jacques Lacan: ‘They were based on a Law that cannot be comprised by rules of civilized behavior, but that determines desire as the basis for action. This is the only path to the overcoming of narcissism, because desire is always the desire of the Other, as he put it, and because desire always seeks recognition by the Other’s desire.’ Bromige then shows a poem dedicated to his son, Christopher Bromige, initiating the reader into a constellation of both personal and lyrical relationships. The collection marks growth and experimentation as well as Bromige’s unfailing attention to diction, cynicism, and line breath. The reader can see the shaping of a poetics, the shaping of a sharpness — that sharpness of constraints — how the architecture informs/has informed Bromige — so closely lit to the ear of words. Finely crafted, tight stanzas — launched on frequent sojourns into syntax and memory. There is a linking of autobiography to language biography, a range of occurrences / occurring: unabashed love poems, political poems, wisdom poems, narratives, dedications, prose poems...true ones, tense ones. Section titles such as ‘Against Love,’ ‘Choosing the Event,’ ‘Watchers of the Skies,’ ‘The Art of Capitalism,’ ‘Typicality Enthralls with its Particular Failure,’ and ‘Developing the Negative’ convey and release the intentions, the variations, the exhales in Bromige’s textural rubbing. At last the book ends with a photograph of Bromige taken by his son. The reader inquires: what are verbal, tonal, kin relationships? Who are other?

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