Playfulness and wit woven with self-deprecation, and a call to action

Colin Smith examines typos, chronic illness, and the Winnipeg General Strike

“We are made of language and we live in time, and time is nothing but flow,” says Colin Smith, the Winnipeg-based author of the new poetry collection Permanent Carnival Time.

  • Permanent Carnival Time
  • Colin Smith
  • Arbeiter Ring Publishing Ltd.
  • $18.00 Paperback, 128 pages
  • ISBN: 978-19-27886-45-8

A longtime card-carrying language poet, Smith revels in the freedom to play with form and constraint as he wrests individually permanent lines into text where, as he says, “the idea is key and the writing is all just raw potentiality towards – crossed fingers – an engaging poem.”

Infused throughout the collection is Smith’s characteristic playfulness and brilliant, wry wit, such as in the “Folly Suite,” which contains poems structured around print media typos such as a correction in a Vice Media article that originally stated, “Pasolini was eaten to death.” Smith says this “accident as suite” commentary is “intended to show off, in perverse ways, things that should be taken seriously but aren’t, and things that shouldn’t, but are.”

In “Essaying Fun,” a name for a perfume called Exquisite Corpse is pitched among a rapid-fire list of clever one-liners and non-sequiturs. Smith says the poem’s title deconstructs the word essay to uncover a root meaning that “speaks to a process of meandering, rather than the programmatic way we’ve been taught through numerous levels of our schooling.”

It acts as a purposeful titular counterpoint to “Essaying Pain,” the poem he describes as a “claustrophobic portrait of significant darkness.”

In this portrayal of limitation and what it costs to suffer chronic and catastrophic pain, Smith breaks a personal rule and places his voice at the forefront, sharing actual MRI reports and disturbingly honest thoughts on living with his degenerative spinal condition.

Colin Smith
Colin Smith

Despite the tone, Smith weaves in lines that are darkly funny and self-deprecating, if not therapeutic. Smith says he puts a lot of stock into humour and truth, both of which reflect the homeopathic model of “taking a distillation of something that would otherwise make you sick, to make you feel better.”

He says, “If there are secrets to be exposed, expose them. If there are abusive systems of power to be called out, call them out. Put it all on the table. See what there is. Make fun of what needs to be made fun of. Give it the abuse or the love that it so righteously deserves.”

This personal and artistic philosophy particularly resonates in “Necessities for the Whole Hog,” with the opening line “Because 100 years of capitalism is more than enough.” In this superimposed portrait of Winnipeg between the General Strike of 1919 and the time of writing the poem in 2019, history remains relevant in the mind-shaking experience of the present day.

As the outcomes of the pandemic have further revealed the brutal inequalities in our society, Smith calls on us to reflect back to how labourers managed to shock the government system despite the strike being broken.

“As a failed event [the General Strike] can and maybe should be seen as a partial success,” he says, “and its partiality is something we need to go back to, to improve on, and repeat, repeat, repeat.”