It is fitting that Snare Books, a Montreal press that produces half-sized books, published the small blue. Jay MillAr’s minimal book produces tiny poems, bit and pieces of sensations and reflection and binds them together around the translation of an Appollinaire poem. From a single line, “le petit blue,” lyrical and strikingly reflexive fragments emerge, peeking through in haunting rhythmic undulations of landscape and language.
This is a soft work, hinging on preservation of phrasing and relying on its own echoes of images and wording. Far from picturesque, the poems do work as photos, vignettes exploring the singular line from a multitude of perspectives. The work gains strength as it progresses, gathering momentum and additional connotations as the poems pile up. The poem “25. the small blue,” scattered down the page is sparse bursts, perfectly summarizes the trajectory of the work as “the giant downward spiral/ elliptical”. The poems then build off each other, looping back to echo themselves, each word or phrase assembling on top of the last, creating a surprising density.
Though the poems are quite lyrical in parts, stringing together tiny scenes or ruminations (such as “11” and “64”), the work itself has no narrative through line and instead depends on the rich sense of mood that culminates from the constant disjointed movement between each poem. The work creates a steady web of similar sensations that is ever expanding. There are echoes of Miles Davis’s Some Kind of Blue in the structure and mood, a chaotically controlled spreading of temper and repetition, a sense of play that balances out some of the more somber pieces. But there is also the grappling with largeness, struggling with the Melville sense of the sublime, that the poems take on, an attempt to understand the complete scope of a simple phrase and returning nearly overwhelmed by its vastness.
Where the work is most effective is where this sensation of the sublime and expansion combines with a concrete foothold, either through the personal or the image. In poems like “19” the reader is given such solid ground to work from:
against an Ontario sky
this rain to wonder
at the marvels of psychic time
in the insect wing
drumbeat of the moment
The book then evokes specific images and tethers those to the more abstract reflections, anchoring the reader to a sensation while still exploring the depths of mood and tone.
It is the personal and sensual resonations that ultimately cinch the small blue for the reader, leaving each with the tiny echoes of contentedness and the individual search for the immense backdrop hiding behind every detail.