Finding Ft. George
November 4, 2013
Review By Mark Diotte
One challenge of writing a poetry collection that centres around rural life is that the poet is automatically engaged with debates between centre and periphery, between the urban and the rural, and, in the case of Rob Budde’s Finding Ft. George, between the small northern town of Prince George and larger urban centres such as Vancouver and Toronto. One of the things that seems crucial to Budde is the destruction of such artificially constructed debates and categories. Indeed, Finding Ft. George is as much about breaking through the centre-periphery divide, about breaking through perception, as it is about Budde’s “love of Prince George and the Cariboo north-central region of BC” (back cover).
Budde’s concern with breaking tradition and blurring boundaries is no surprise, given his poetic influences. Even a cursory survey of Finding Ft. George makes Budde’s poetic allegiances clear through dedications to Fred Wah, George Bowering, Ken Belford, Barry McKinnon, and Si Transken. In the poem “did you say” Budde even lists his poetic muses and support network: “miki olson nichol bernstein stein silliman hejinian derksen marlatt mccaffery” (43). At best, his explicit overtures to other poets, critics, and theorists evokes an interest that can be explored at leisure and creates a sense of collaboration and community; at worst, this technique creates a sense of exclusion that may perplex readers unfamiliar with these people and close down the very dialogue he is trying to create.
While Budde operates within the frame of the avant garde, in the strain (or under the label) of l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poetry (or perhaps closer to Ken Belford’s lan[d]guage writing), it is important to note the sense of connection and collaboration Budde shares with other “westcoast poets” and writers who share a similar position or intersection of poetic, social, political, and cultural interests. Not that Budde falls into these categories precisely, or that the categories of avant garde or l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e poets are stable and agreed upon, but that the power of such a collective or collaborative group is the internal contestation, conflict, articulation, and continual development of their poetics and political work.
One strength of Finding Ft. George is that it resists canonicity through self-stated allegiance to west coast l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e/lan(d)guage writers and their poetics, while another is that it breaks with these influences and techniques by incorporating images of the rural and the local resource economy, thereby evoking the more traditional poetry of writers such as Earle Birney, Peter Trower, and Patrick Lane. Budde’s poetics mirror his content: he evades concrete definition in terms of this or that poetic and rejects definition as simply a rural poet. In other words, while he is actively engaged in writing the rural periphery – Prince George – he is writing it as a centre, through a poetics concurrently avant garde and traditional.
Looking outward from the centre of Prince George rather than inward from the urban, Budde surveys the landscape and sees “an intersection of opportunity, / garbage, vantage, and disinterest” (39), where the “local grocer” is “bulldozed under by the 7-Eleven,” “fast food and box stores smile, / give back to the community in charity, / overload the landfill” (32), and where “the bulldozer driver is / an editor confident of his terrain, / and he leaves three trees out of every three / hundred” (20). With detail-oriented precision Budde writes back to a romanticized nature of the rural landscape and describes a community concerned with waste management, greed, the domination of global corporations, and a sustainable natural environment – in short, a global community facing global concerns as much as are the urban centres of Vancouver or Toronto. While some sense of the clichéd “supernatural British Columbia” remains in Budde’s poems through short bursts of vivid imagery – “river cottonwood esker versus sky behind / sun shook, shimmered” (11), and in the imagistic short poem “ends of the earth” where “toad licks her lips / slouches in the mooseprint / hoping the earth holds on” (25) – the sublime northern landscape of British Columbia is not a central theme in the volume.
Budde is strongest when he positions northern British Columbia as a centre facing global concerns such as labour outsourcing – “we send raw logs, fire them / straight out to China” (32) – and describes the “muggings and decades old vomit” (94) of Prince George as though he were training his critical lens on a major urban centre. While at times Budde has too much poetry in his poetry, is too much concerned with making himself heard through the invocation of others, he is nevertheless successful, persuasive, and insightful in dealing with the intersection of global concerns and local community, creating Prince George as a centre, and deconstructing the artificial separation of urban and rural, of periphery and centre.