by James Martin
Striking, original imagery earned Jason Camlots debut volume of
poetry, The Animal Library (DC Books), a spot on the A.M. Klein
Prize for Poetry shortlist (part of last months Quebec Writers
A tenure-track professor in Concordias English department, Camlot
has a knack for crafting unforgettable images, deftly conjuring the
hiss of cappuccino machines like Madagascar cockroaches on one page,
a dried sea lion on the floor the next.
The son of a furrier, Camlot worked in fur factories from a young age.
Now an academic, he draws analogies between counting rows of pelts in
a cold room and browsing through books on a library shelf a unifying
relationship between artifacts and emotions that informs the
poems in The Animal Library.
Whether hes using images born of early autobiography (e.g., the
tactile sensation of pelts), or images reflecting his current academic
interest in Victorian literature (e.g., a misplaced wax cylinder recording
of Alfred Lord Tennyson, discovered in a decrepit third-floor flat),
Camlot is fascinated by the different ways of preserving memory.
Rooting through the past
This idea of recording the past will most certainly figure in Camlots
next book, even though hes unsure which work-in-progress will be
the first to see the light of publication. One possibility is an as-yet-untitled
book of criticism examining the implications of recording technology
on the literary arts.
Camlot has been busy rooting through various archives, researching what
you might call the incunabula of recorded sound, the pre-commercial recordings
which were done by the agents of Thomas Edison.
Struck by the seance-y nature of hearing scratchy recordings
of, say, Tennyson reading The Charge of the Light Brigade
in 1890, Camlot is investigating ideas of reliving history through recordings
(drawing upon libraries of living voices, as it were, rather
than libraries of books), and the relationship of early commercial recordings
to a broader culture of elocution.
Then again, Camlot might return to bookstores with a new volume of poetry.
Picking up from The Animal Librarys playful, yet emotionally
charged, kitsch imagery (e.g. delicate Victorian dolls undergoing psychoanalysis,
a miniature smallpox epidemic spinning on the platform of a music
box), hes continuing to explore the idea of finding
intense emotion in the tritest of places with a series of poems
about poets in the workplace.
Im writing about poets in places you wouldnt necessarily
expect to find them, he explained, office receptionist poems,
things like that. It goes back to the Romantic idea of the office
of the poet, but Im thinking about it more in the Dilbert
sort of way because there are comical aspects to it.
Numerous projects on the
The workplace poems are just one of several diverse poetic
projects currently on the go. In addition to a series of poems related
to John Ruskins The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century
(in which the Victorian critic catalogued how industrial pollution was
literally changing the clouds), Camlot recently completed a long poem
entitled Dark Drink that has its genesis in his MA days at
Finding himself a stranger in a strange land, the Montreal native turned
to literature to help make sense of what the United States was all
about. The result was a vicarious variation on Hi, Bob,
the infamous dormitory drinking game: instead of downing shots while watching
The Bob Newhart Show, Camlot read Hemingways The Sun Also Rises
(a very American book) and wrote down every sentence that
makes mention of drinking. As you can imagine, he recalled,
thats quite a few sentences.
Several years (and a PhD from Stanford) later, Camlot began working through
his distillation of Papas boozy language, eventually turning
out a poem of my own about drinking.
Ruskin on clouds, Hemingway on drinking, poets on the payroll. Jason Camlot
may not have taken home the QWF award, but his next book of poetry promises
to be every bit as inventive, funny, and insightful as The Animal Library.