USEREVIEW 066: A Bolt of Blue
In this traditional review, gustave morin coaxes forth meaning and explodes the text by turns to bring the quiet poetic revelations of Lorenzo Buj’s debut collection Earlybloom Bombs (2021) bursting onto the literary scene.
ISBN 978-1-77785-710-3 | 124 pp | $16.95 CAD — BUY Here
In the autumn of 2021, in his sixtieth year, a writer named Lorenzo Buj from Windsor, Ontario did a most curious and unusual thing: he deigned to publish, privately, his very first volume of poetry. Maybe some part of the venture was meant to end there; book published: full stop. But if it did end there it would be a lamentable shame, for the book, Earlybloom Bombs is, perhaps not so surprising given Mr. Buj’s history, very good for anyone’s first attempt at a volume of poetry. Further, it would do a grave disservice to Mr. Buj, and to the literate, poetry-reading component of the public — wherever that mythic entity may be found — were this book to just end there. What makes Mr. Buj’s venture such a brave and curious and unusual one is that Windsor is not so often a city known for its resident poets.
Nevertheless, Mr. Buj, long a professor of English Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Windsor, and his talented kindred, and the friends they keep (very much in evidence at the grassroots, outdoor public book launch for Earlybloom Bombs, which easily drew well over 100 people to it in October 2021) all have tried very hard to counter this claim, by incarnating the role of public intellectual(s) in Windsor. And they’ve done a good job, too. It‘s just that all along the odds have not been in their favour, and any volume of poetry appearing in such a cultural climate as Windsor’s seems to have an even remoter chance of being well-received than that same book might have in various other cities in Canada, such as Toronto or Montreal. No discussion of Earlybloom Bombs should fail to take these facts into account. This is precisely what makes the book all the more remarkable: it has come like a very big bolt of blue right out of all this omnipresent grey.
There is no shortage of books in dire need of a bit of attention leveraged in their direction. Often enough there are times when small releases demand the same sort of attention normally reserved for ‘bigger books.’ Earlybloom Bombs is most assuredly going to be a tiny blip on the screen of most people’s publishing consciousness, though that is not the fate this book deserves. So in spite of all this mud that sucks at an intelligent person’s boots in Windsor, Ontario, perhaps it is not so surprising that Mr. Buj’s book IS good: Cinderella herself had loftier origins. Though, to back up a bit, Mr. Buj’s first fortune as a cultural intelligence was made on his demonstrated and deft ability to write the sorely needed copy for an unknown quantity of museum catalogues which have appeared in the past quarter century — the sort of ‘art criticism for hire’ which has proven itself to be the same sort of writing that not just any writer can produce, thereby allowing Mr. Buj to live out Dr. Johnson’s famous dictum that “none but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Mr. Buj’s no blockhead, and if his scores of museum catalogues weren’t proof enough, his Earlybloom Bombs may now effortlessly so testify.
A museum catalogue and a volume of poetry share a notable affinity: the catalogue has an unwarranted tendency to not be properly regarded as a book, and much of the so-called reading public has almost no use for poetry. By his demonstrated ability now to have plied both literary disciplines — art criticism and poetry — may it be known that Mr. Buj is an unusual man, and it should be no wonder that his poetic debut is a volume worthy of an audience even if that effort is at serious risk of not finding one. For in Earlybloom Bombs, Mr. Buj self-identifies as unpublished, though this is plainly not true. Mr. Buj is just about the furthest thing from being unpublished that any writer who has spent a lifetime extolling the language could hope to be. It is likely in the service of aligning himself with some streak of romanticism that Mr. Buj makes such a ridiculous claim for himself. Saying as much implies that after having held out for so long — depriving us of his poetry, as it were — his latterly surfacing onto the crowded Elysian fields of poesy ought to be properly regarded as ‘an event.’ Fair enough. Let’s suppose it is just that; Earlybloom Bombs is an event, in poetry, and for the Windsor-Essex region, though, properly speaking, Mr. Buj is far from being a regional writer. His book speaks further afield than to just the limits of this area. It may even be ‘important,’ whatever that implies, and to whatever audience it may apply.
Wielding a language where a fat chance and a slim chance mean the same thing, (or where, as he puts it: “That poem’s the bomb. That poem bombed”) it is hard to know what the reasons are why any poem could be considered exemplary of its form. That said, not only is it obvious that Mr. Buj knows what he is doing, and knows whereof he speaks, what’s more, he has the good sense to try very hard to conceal this knowledge from the reader as best he can (only really giving it away at the end, in his extensive liner notes). Earlybloom Bombs alights on many of the same aspects that from time immemorial all good poetry has concerned itself with: the praise of love, war, friendship and crops, and this partially helps to explain why his book is so good. That Mr. Buj manages to rescue these elements and give them a renewed reason to dance again is to say that what the poems have to sing about we’ve all somehow heard sung before, just never quite heard sung this way before. Thus, in ‘Passing Through’: “We’ve all got to play the story through / — all the way through come heat or high ice / there’s no mending back the wound untying / birth cords or heart’s noose …” Mr. Buj very much wants to tell us something in his poetry, and in so doing he manages to Say Something to us as well. As a potential storyteller he tends to eschew the narrative in order to better provide a more thorough condensation of those same plot points in what inevitably have to be regarded as his actual lyrical passages. In ‘Paradisio,’ he puts it thusly: “and so the story’s told / how uncertainties and torsions / of subatomic strife / can engineer and unfold / life …”
It is difficult to begin to understand why a writer who writes as well as Mr. Buj waited so long to release his first book. Perhaps those reasons are only partially understood even by the poet? Yet those poems are here, all 53 of them, in a well-designed tome, seen through the press by Buj’s talented designer / filmmaker brother Otto, along with several photos and even two paintings by local cult painter Dean Carson. The poems are concluded by a lengthy set of ‘Notes and Afterthoughts,’ which set about answering every question you ever wanted to know about Mr. Buj’s intentions as a poet. The book’s 8 sections begin at the end with ‘Comorbidities,’ then move through a set of various stations, first touching on love, then on to some form of faith known only to the writer, then further along, past autobiographical digressions and into precincts where his poetic envelope continues to be pushed further, until we are ready to be led out into the clearing at the end. The book is constructed along lines imitating the reversal of life itself. Life starts out green and ends black. Buj’s book starts out black and then ends green, where, it is hoped, growth may occur. This is a structure that this blinkered world desperately needs to be reminded of right now.
The book boasts an enormous range of learning, covering a wide field of observation and experience, with many literary, philosophical, religious, political and pop cultural references and allusions peppered throughout: from Willa Cather to John Ruskin, Djuna Barnes to Gerard Manley Hopkins … and Georgio de Chirico, Piet Mondrian, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Saint Paul, Luis Buñuel, Ira Gershwin, the Au Pairs, Kevin Spacey, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tito, Jean-Paul Marat, Crass, William Shakespeare, Froot Loops, Satan and Ronald Reagan. It’s all here, soup to nuts and back again, as lived and loved by one sharp fellow paying attention to the world and its many wounds, while also looking for the salve needed to heal it, all the while unafraid of ‘letting it bleed.’ As he says at the end of ‘Viagraphy’: “He had been destined to die and constellate / And be the mincemeat in a cosmic hoax.” Thankfully there’s all this neat stuff in the world to help hold our interest before any of that should come to pass (cultural studies by any other name). “What can we believe that isn’t hideous?” he asks in ‘Moritorium’ (sic). It’s yet another of those questions that are impossible to answer, and yet, for all that, unaccountably, the world is made a better place for the asking. The world is also made a better place for Lorenzo Buj’s poems being in it.
From Hardcore Punk to Hardcore Scholar, the poems in Earlybloom Bombs walk a tightrope act between all sorts of contrasting tendencies, what Mr. Buj refers to as “incompatible objects.” In such a space, erudition is balanced against the vernacular as one possible way of being present in the world but not being made ignorant by it. Here, “rhyme bursts” pure and impure, burst all around (like early bloom bombs?). Of course, this again is the stuff of poetry, as poets all along have been masters of gathering intractable materials. This is why under normal circumstances it would be hard to take seriously (or to trust) a book of poetry that features a photograph of the poet on its cover from over 25 years ago. In this case we’d be well advised to make an exception. As of late, Mr. Buj has been through a lot, maybe too much, and what he has been through has altered him physically, to the point where it comes as no surprise that he should want to remember, and be remembered by, his younger, healthier self. Mr. Buj’s meditations on the passage of time are warranted by his own direct involvement with what that passage of time actually does to us as biological entities. As he puts it in ‘Longue Durée’: this “tendency to demean appearances … comes from some suspicion of our ghastly emptiness / and the hope that charity must be mysterious.” There is in Earlybloom Bombs the inescapable feeling that the book is some sort of testament (this is why it is appearing now!). It is most difficult to separate out some of the elements in the book from the subtext of suffering in the poet’s life. Poems like ‘Hands’ or ‘Assisted Living’ provide us with a few of the clues. Yet it is still hard to know what to do with all the grief that accumulates over the course of a life. One possible answer is to attempt to locate some of that grief into a volume of poetry where it can be shared so that some possible sense can be made of it. In this way may we come closer to coming to grips with what of life so disquiets us.
Life, for all its aching poignancy and for what makes it so cruelly bittersweet, always has a place to come to rest in a book of poetry. Life is, of course, the proper subject of poetry; love (‘Janie’s Garden’), war (‘Firings’), friendship (‘Interfaith’) and crops (‘Longue Durée’) are merely some of the bigger containers we fit pieces of our lives into. Poetry at its best may suffice in offering solace to those who would come to the end of their meditation requiring a vessel to vouchsafe those conclusions that may have been drawn about it. I don’t know why the shadow of death hangs so heavily over the act of poetry. It may well be that poetry is the one place where it is prudent, proper and even encouraged for us to let our thoughts of death run riot, if only to better grapple with the larger meanings of this whole area of our human experience and existence. Since they tend to have no other choice, meditations on death all have a knack for being profound. “Do you prefer your politics refried or raw?” Mr. Buj asks us in Earlybloom Bombs. Catharsis is an important thread running through this book, and may help to account for why Mr. Buj has chosen now to release his first book, both as a loving memorial to his deceased mother, but also as an act of defiance toward death itself by one busy facing it down. Earlybloom Bombs is also published under the shadow of our times, the coronavirus. These days nearly everyone is overly preoccupied with death, but surely that does not make for a better class of poetry. We require a poet to tell us: “The kingdom of death isn’t some kind / of esoteric dimension / it’s a pulverized nowhere / full of virile nothing / dreadful / stupid / shitty.” I fully concur, Mr. Buj, and it’s hard to carry that remark any further. After all, “we’re all heading for vapour.”