Crabwise to the Hounds – Jeramy Dodds

Coach House Books, $16.951552452050


The ghost of Glen Gould possesses Crabwise to the Hounds, both as subject and as organizing agent. Gould, the eccentric pianist, was famous for humming and swaying as he moved through his strictly prescribed pieces, adding another simple layer of noise beneath the Bach or Beethoven he was playing; when listening to the recordings now, the listener is compelled by the constant harnessing of the chaotic, the ability to control it into bars and notes; yet always that strip of sound escapes, deep and personal, a steady hum from his lips.


It is that ghostly hum that resonates throughout this work. The pieces in Crabwise often begin with a singular item, then push that object outward to the boundaries of imaginative connection – each poem challenges how far a person can reach from the original object, Carl Linnaeus or the Heimlich Maneuver or a ventriloquist dummy (all titles of poems), before that object becomes obscured by the personal or surreal non sequitur (as in “Bugle Ballad of a Home-Schooled Child”). Like Gould playing the music of other composers, here the reader catches Dodds playing with the objects of others and haunting them his own twisting of association.


Necessarily then, the poems are built around conceits and lists, sturdy, known scaffolding that can support the meanderings and juxtapositions of Dodds’ poems.  The impressive pieces, such as of “Square Grand Piano, Circa 1880” and “Planning Your Seascape,” allow extended metaphors as the organizing element of their logic. The reader can follow the progression from one line to the next, through the list or metaphor, eventually arriving, though unpredictably, at a surreal ending.


Like the distorted mirror of “Pin-Up” the reader is able to recognize the surroundings yet is still shrouded in the confusion of altered angles and distortion. In the background, Gould plunks single keys, familiar arrangements, shifted slightly. It is in this defamiliarizing of the world that the reader can draw the most pleasure, warping his/her own surroundings to the curvature of stray notes and steady hand.