Unique Talent Provides Perspective on the World Around Us
Patrick Connors – Toronto: Joe Blades has given readings, performing and publishing his poetry since 1980. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Blades is a graduate of NSCAD (BFA (Studio Major: Intermedia), 1988), and has completed a Film & Television Certificate Program through the NB Filmmakers’ Cooperative. He has recently completed a Master of Education at the University of New Brunswick and will graduate in October 2012. He is also an alumni of the Banff Centre, Maritime Writers Workshop, Sage Hill Writing Experience, and the Simon Fraser University Book Publishing Immersion Workshop.
His poetry and art have appeared in over 50 trade and chapbook anthologies and CDs, and in numerous periodicals. Blades has authored or edited 30 poetry chapbooks and limited edition artist books, and has five full length poetry books to his credit.
His talents are multi-faceted. “I recently completed work as a background actor in a U.S. civil war-era movie,” said Blades, “set in an upstate New York farming community. I have been in about 30 short films, as well as a couple of large ones.
“I appeared in crowd scenes, such as one at a market, and another at the post office checking on a list of the dead. Directed by Ron Maxwell, the film is slated for release in May 2013.”
However, poetry is clearly his main pursuit. “The book came out of an artist residency project of the Fredericton Arts Alliance. This was situated in a building at the New Brunswick College of Art and Design, which was formerly a soldiers’ barracks. They select artists for one-or two-week residencies to create art publicly. Primarily it was about writing poetry, but I also painted the poems on a canvas. It came out pretty abstract in the end, with all the poems layered on top of each other.
“When I started writing them, I didn’t know where they were going to go. I just named them Casemate as a working title. I explored the meaning of this to my art as I explored the history of the casemates.
“rob mclennan (publisher of Chaudiere Books) was responsible for the original Casemate Poems being published. I have known him since the mid-1990’s. He asked if I thought about it coming together into something larger. The irony is that the sequel came out in 2010, while this book has been published since then.”
“Part of the benefit of knowing Joe for as long as I have was I actually approached him for the manuscript,” mclennan said. “I was the one, also, who suggested he send an earlier version of this to Heather Bean, for the first and seemingly only of her Widows & Orphans publications.
“I suppose he furthers credibility to the press, being that he has been establishing himself for so long. We are locally-focused, but not exclusively. We can publish Joe Blades alongside, say, Monty Reid, Anne Le Dressay and John Newlove.
“I’m frustrated by the lack of attention Joe’s work has received over the years. I suspect much of this comes from the fact that his work doesn’t strictly adhere to much of the traditional east coast poetry standards, and there aren’t enough writers outside of this standard around him to be able to buffer him from the exclusion, and/or support him in his activities. It’s a shame.
“Honestly, the sequence as a whole resonated. I’ve known his work for nearly twenty years, and really consider this collection to be among his finest writing.”
Section one of this book is entitled “near ghazals nb”. All the poems throughout the book are simply titled as a number. Number 3 of the first section starts with the stanza:when you chart in fredericton you must feel big in lumsden
This draws an inevitable comparison between music and poetry, the latter rarely producing enough interest to “chart”. “I do a radio show in Fredericton called Ashes, Paper & Beans (http://chsrfm.ca/) which mixes writing and the arts, but also specialty music shows like Highland Radio, celebrating the New Brunswick Highland Games and Scottish Festival,” Blades said.
A later stanza mentions:burning cds to preserve not destroy
This gives a new perspective on words which are a part of everyday lexicon. “Here we think about the contradictions in the language. There is a whole history of burning CD`s or albums, as well as books. I’m exploring what passes by people. They see words and symbols, but don’t think about what they are. This is what I want to record.”
I told Blades that the poem titled 23, located on page 51, near the end of the section called casemate poems (part two), was probably my favourite in the book. It has a real depth of feeling which does not characterize much of his work. “It is a really curious piece,” he said. “I like it a lot, and I’m not even certain where it started from. I was observing a group, a family probably, with a little sister learning to walk on the grass. Whether it is love or riding a bicycle, once you forget something, you have to learn and learn it over and over again.
“There are a lot of things like that in life. You have to slow down and have awareness of breath and heart when learning something, and thus it has some elements of meditation.
“Even if you are sitting there doing nothing, you are hurtling through space at a great speed. The universe is ever expanding, and we may be doing something we’ll never do again.”
I asked Blades why he chose to reprise the Casemate Poems. “Partially, it was to suit the application for a paid residency. Also, it was to explore a different style. I used the Ghazal more in the first series. In the reprise, I was playing on the Anaphora, with a lot of repetition at the start of the line.
“I played off the other artists in the studio. This made it really creative, as well as the whole experience. While this was going on, I was working with Serbian translators on two book,s and getting ready to fly to Belgrade for a book fair.”
Number 32 from the casemate poems (reprise) section features the word because repeated frequently, as it is many times throughout the section, apparently as the answer to an unformed question. This turns this section into a series of list poems.
“A lot of this is an answer to an unstated question,” Blades said, “although the question is often implied because of how it is structured. This structure lets me flow like crazy in my writing and put things together. For example, I wrote this one during the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, actually at the end of it, while they were tearing the tents down. I was able to combine images from the moon landing with a note on the capacity of people allowed in the tent.
“One of the artists at the Casemate was watching a film of the moon landing one day, while another photographed how the projection appeared on his shirt. At the time of the actual landing, watching it on television at school, it was a pretty incredible thing. The novelty of being able to watch something which was happening a quarter of a million miles away.
“Throughout the book, as a whole, the work continues the feel of the long poem. It can be read without the numbers as one piece. I could make a third book out of this concept. I wrote 16 kazamata last week, which can be seen on my blog: http://brokenjoe.blogspot.ca/
“For the work to be successful, it has to be play and it has to be fun.”