The Short Schtick


Rebecca Salazar, Guzzle.  Anstruther Press, 2016.

A series of poems, all of a uniform size and shape, can feel almost calming to me, like biking over a sequence of identical and gently rolling hills. Rebecca Salazar’s Guzzle ought to feel that way, give that each of the nineteen poems is made of five couplets with natural line endings.

Calming they’re not. Not when her lines are so knotty, gnarled, bumpy, and stutteringly alliterative. “Black spruce swoop at oil-clots swamp” begins the first poem. “Impossible animals sinew the cranes of your bent neck,” continues the second. An almost fantastical mix of natural imagery and ordinary life, wildness and urbanity, they give to our days the anxiety of a prey-and-predator world:

You can’t reach your pants; the swans
At my bedside are pecking your pockets to bits. 

Resisting any direct narrative reading, the poems pile moments one upon the other, uneasy, physically aggressive, full of shame and effort and hurt and desire. Often I come upon odd juxtapositions that feel like they should but don’t make sense to me, like nights “tasting” of “whiskeyed, brassy orbs.”

Less frequently, the poems offer high romance. One begins

You’re my Brooklyn jazz cellist,
My barefoot, dog-walking cartographer

 and ends, “I ache only to love everything.” This is Salazar at her cleaned-up sweetest, but immediately she’s back to making us squirm as she forces us to watch her “pulling small fish from my skin” or witness “my molten-slag afterbirth.”

The poems are not without a wry sense of humour. When she writes, “I can’t fail to get the short end of your schtick” it occurs to me that she’s giving us both—the schtick and the short end. Reading Guzzle I feel as if I’ve been touched all over by hands sticky with some ripe organic goo, sometimes stroked, sometimes tickled, and sometimes slapped.



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