Billboards From Hell

Billboards From Hell, Mat Laporte, 28pgs, Ferno House, fernohouse.com, $12

Mat Laporte’s chapbook of experimental poetry ought to have a game associated with it where readers try to slip as many of the book’s lines as they can into a casual conversation before someone spots that they’re not quite making sense. This isn’t a criticism of the poetry found within, but a nod to its sources and methods. Halves of overheard conversations and found texts are twisted, combined and recontextualized into parodies of themselves. And while this sounds grimly procedural, the results are genuinely funny, with lines like: “it’s kind of like the Kraft singles of relationships / if you can handle the doubt, you can handle the anything”.

Billboards From Hell draws on jargon and non-sequiturs from topics such as business, politics, textbooks, the internet, ads and everyday conversation to make blathering and jabbering into, if not anything radically different, at least funnier and more poignant than most blathering and jabbering. If poetry exists to help us discover new ways of speaking and writing, then there are worse and more obscure frontiers to explore than drivel, and certainly few more in need of poetic innovation.

As well as being funny, the book can be surprisingly affecting. The back half of the book is a touch more serious than the first half, featuring moments that are more lyrical and reflective. The switches between topics and thoughts become less abrupt and less frequent, though Laporte’s lines become shorter and more staccato in poems like “Auto Stanzas”, “Get a Hold of Yourself, General” and “Pruning Turner.” We still get bursts of absurd humour and curated babble, but they’re thrown into sharper relief with serious lines to counterbalance them. It’s as if, having explored all possible strategies for not saying anything at all, Laporte is pushed into sincerity simply to keep on writing. (John Bell)

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