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Last Updated, Aug 2010


Jason Christie

    by Jason Christie

    Edge, 2006. $19.95

    The inside back cover of this collection asserts, "Jason Christie is considered to be one of Canada's cutting-edge poets and is, perhaps, one of the most important poets of the late 20th and early 21st centuries."

    Or, then again — perhaps not. God, I hope not, because if this is what poetry has become in the 21st century, then our civilization really is in decline.... The write up goes on to say, "His avant-garde style challenges the status quo and questions the limits of poetry." Well, I can certainly see people questioning whether this qualifies as poetry, but 'avant-garde'? More like rear-guard on a near-rout. And, most pompous of all, is the little "Manifesto" that completes the write up:

      Words carry letters.
      Sentences carry words.
      Paragraphs carry sentences.

    Is this profound? This is not profound; this is a grade 3 Language Arts lesson.

I confess that the over-the-top hyperbole of the cover blub seriously prejudiced me against this collection. I liked the initial PR's tag line "You may never look at your toaster the same way again." I liked the production values of this very attractive chapbook. And I have a lot of faith in the publisher, Brian Hades of Edge SF. But "revolutionary literary work"? Not so much.

And yet... And yet, many of these poems have previously appeared in some of Canada's most prestigious literary magazines. And the collection was edited by Rhea Rose-Flemming, no literary slouch herself. And, there's even an amusing animated short video based on the collection ( So what went wrong?

The problem is that SF poetry is a tough genre to pull off: if SF is the "literature of ideas", and poetry is the language of emotion, then the two parent genres may be in some sense antithetical.

As SF, the poems ini-Robot are too brief to sustain truly satisfying world-building — we get glimpses of an interesting scenario here, an intriguing idea there, but they fail to coalesce into a consistent vision. Instead, reading i-Robot is like reading an author's notes or outline for a novel, rather than the novel itself. If Christie had written these poems as pieces of a larger whole, and presented them to us as a kit that the reader was required to assemble into their own world, well then I would have applauded the project. But I get the strong sense that the collection was an after thought; that each of these poems emerged on their own and were brought together merely because their number had reached the critical mass required for a chapbook. And since so much of what is here is based on allusion to other works, the ideas often come across as merely derivative. As SF, the sum of the parts does not add up to an original whole.

As poetry, these poems are too much about the clever idea, the in-joke, the cute punch line, and not enough about the insightful use of language. Despite the cover blub assertions, there is nothing avant-garde about the style, no innovative language use, no — well, for lack of a better term — no poetry to speak of. That's not all bad news, though, because what these poems do have is accessibility. No SF reader will be particularly challenged by the poetic format. But I would not want to hold anything up in this book as exemplars of contemporary Canadian poetry. My best guess is that these poems found a home in various CanLit journals, not as examples of avant-garde poetry, but as a little light comic relief. Taken in small, individual doses, these are often quite delightful — but gathered together, the failings of this body of work to achieve real significance becomes all too apparent.

Nevertheless, there are some clever bits in here, and if a reader were able to ration themselves to, say, one poem a week, then this might well be a collection worth having. At $20, this is a handsome volume and a cheap way to support Canadian culture. Buy it, enjoy it, but just do not expect it to live up to all the hype. (Sample poems at

Reprinted from NeoOpsis Magazine #11, pp. 70-71.