Poetry News

Life A Nanaimo Manual: On Peter Culley's Parkway

By Harriet Staff

Photo by Peter Culley.

Nanaimo, Canada–based poet (slash incredible photographer) Peter Culley has published the final book in his "Hammertown" trilogy, and it's called Parkway (New Star Books 2013). Reviewing it at his blog, rob mclennan notes Culley's crediting of the fictional port town of "Hammertown" to Georges Perec (from a review by Ian Rae): "Inspired by a reference to a village on Vancouver Island in George Perec’s Life A User’s Manual, Culley imagines in Hammertown how Nanaimo might have appeared to the Oulipo poet. Culley does not paint a realist portrait, but rather seeks to capture 'the syntax of place' as Perec might have perceived it." As for Parkway:

Parkway contains a curious range of poetic responses, including poems after Wallace Stevens (“Cruel Summer”), for Kevin Davies (“Pause Button”), for Bernadette Mayer (“November Day”), for Bernd Heinrich (“North by Northwest”), for Theo Parrish (“Ugly Edit”), for Lary Bremner (“Five North Vancouver Trees”), for Maxine Gadd (“MAX POWER for Maxine Gadd”), for George Stanley (“Inland Empire”), and in memoriam Jonathan Williams and Gerry Gilbert (“Sampler”), all of which play off phrases, lines, titles or structures of those he has dedicated the individual poems to. Throughout the collection, Culley acknowledges industry, personal history, social commentary and the eco-poetic, as he opens the poem “Sampler” with a mention of “The Rural Parkway – Wooded / is characterized as / the ‘cut through the forest’ / quality created by / the regularity of the forest edge / and by the relative closeness / of the forest to the roadway.” The third of the eleven-section poem reads:

A newly formatted
raven’s tongue
pops digitally out & in

of trombone beak
Texas jug band style
but overhead no newscrawl

no basslines from inland terraces
or hoots from hominid heights,
offroad daytrippers drop

off arbutus cloudtops
badger into a crevasse
midwestern cushion full stop tree

bent under a towhee
the tread of a groundwater smeller
rumbles through the cellar.

Nearly in point-form, Culley articulates his hybrid, “Hammertown,” writing out a space created fiction, imagination, history and memory, and one that incorporates numerous threads and articulations from other writing. The book includes a cover photo by the author, the piece “Angelus Novus (for EF),” of what appears to be fragments of discarded/found materials. In Parkway, Culley blends and weaves his poems from similar materials, and manages to create something part memoir, part city-biography and part myth. Whether taken as a single work, or trilogy as a whole, the project is fascinating, and the work shimmers in and out of focus like a shifting photograph. Peter Culley has long held an intriguing position in Canadian writing, and the press release describes him as a “Kootenay School of Writing hang-around in the 1980s,” allowing him a lengthy period of being known for his obscurity, and possibly better known by name than his actual writing. For example: I’ve known of his name for years, but haven’t a clue what kind of work he [was] doing before this particular trilogy, and can only hope that the publication of the third book in his “Hammertown” allows his work to gain a wider audience. I’m curious to see where his writing will go next.

Read the full review here. Photo at top by Peter Culley.

Originally Published: December 10th, 2013