by Micheline Maylor
Biblioasis Press (2020)
Trolling twitter, I find this on Jason Guriel’s feed: “When I started writing nobody rhymed-it was in utter disrepute. Yet rhyme was a siren to me.” – Kay Ryan. Forgotten Work, Guriel’s mammoth novel in verse succumbs to the siren call with its heroic couplets acting as the engine for this futuristic tale of post-apocalyptic Montreal and the characters who dwell there, their new technologies, and fan-boy pedantic obsessions with obscure details and music. It is a whirlwind of characters, mysteries, and happenings capable of blurring cohesiveness into a set of succulent fragments each laden with suspense and development. This is no novel for fans of 20th century Can-lit with plodding linear plots of settling the land and alcoholism. This one is for the boundary pushers and boho, jazz snobs with their fanatical attention to minutia that allows them to feel superior to those who do not know about what Bukowski calls “the thing!”
In this case “the thing” revolves around the Holy Grail of the obscure, a rare work known as “The Dead” and an obsession with Peter Van Toorn’s Vehicule Press edition of Mountain Tea and all the spinoffs of its otherworldly greatness. At times, Forgotten Work reads like the longest advertisement for “Read my friend’s book published at my friend’s press” ever written. And this is coming from me, who is situated as an ideal reader, one familiar with the Mountain Tea, Vehicule Press, Biblioasis Press, and the named authors within who become situated at the pinnacle of all Canadian writing divine as named within. In this capacity brilliance and bewilderment collide full on in the prose. Wit saves the day, and inside jokes on can-lit and the writer’s life provide a much needed buoyancy in the thick lineation.
The sheer amount of new characters required a spreadsheet to prevent confusion and many chapters exist as terminating fragments. Hubert is a Prufrock, Cat is an indie-hipster, Patti is a version of an achiever. At times, the verse is like wading through a molasses on a cold day. And the miniscule obsessive world of indie fandom seems totally self-indulgent. However, that being said, the world building was astonishing clear, from the network technology of bots, to cultural zlogs, to the actual landscape of Montreal as a crater with its favela-like buroughs and depths where one loses cell-phone connection and the world of the material becomes all the more important. Any geek fan of anything will recognise themselves and be entertained.
Guriel shows his world as a wide and wonderful imaginative landscape, capable of much, and shows perhaps far more patience with creation than any author since Christian Bok and his dictionary obsessed Eunoia.
Forgotten Work has the potential to become the object of micro-fan obsession that it explores, in an ironic and meta turn of the screw. I imagine the potential readership of this work (beyond the ten people it mentions) to top-out at around 30. Forgotten Work will find a tiny fandom, especially with its numbered hardcover release.
Dr. Micheline Maylor is a Poet Laureate Emeritus of Calgary (2016-18). Her most recent book is The Bad Wife (U of A Press 2021). She is a Walrus talker, a TEDX talker, and she was the Calgary Public Library Author in Residence (2016). She teaches creative writing at Mount Royal University in Calgary, and serves as poetry acquisitions editor at Frontenac House Press since 2012. She is the co-founder of Freefall Literary Society and remains a consulting editor.