Venright, Steve: Spiral Agitator
Coach House Books, 2000
Softcover, 125 pages
First published in: Haliburton County Echo, County Life
Review by: Kerry Riley
What Diana Hartog does for animals, Steve Venright does for words themselves — stretches and pulls, taunts and tickles them into something more than they were before. A true lexiconjurer (his word, not mine) Venright’s fertile imagination cross-pollinates words with abandon — “deliriomantic,” “molecular tremendum,” “narchitects,” “pachydermatologists,” and “accidentist,” being a few of the recombinant results. Any consideration of his work inevitably sends the spell check into overdrive.
With hints of a psychedelia inspired “insanity rules” school of philosophy, Venright invites his readers to explore, in the pages of Spiral Agitator, a “neureality” or “new reality” by challenging and altering every day perceptions and by considering the possibility that the mind and the imagination determine reality.
A piece entitled “Random Selections from the Arbitrary Directives of Carvolius,” which could be alternatively titled “Random attacks on ‘Normalcy'” is a personal favourite, particularly:
“Address every cat you see today with the greeting, ‘Good afternoon, Mr. Ravenscrofte,’ even if the cat is female and even if it isn’t afternoon. Doff your hat if you’re wearing one; click your heels if you’re not.”
Directive #158: “Add a few extra syllables to every verb you utter today, e.g. enscrubulify, intellarialectualizate, disunstrangulatize.”
While I have focused on Venright’s humour and word play, the writing also offers moments of stark imagery and fresh and occasionally disturbing insight, all playing with the idea of perception.
At times audacious and outrageous, these works are also witty, sly, indisputably mind-altering and, for the most part, thoroughly entertaining. With a sharper, more manic and cynical sense of anarchy than than found in Hartog’s poetry, their appeal may, however, not be as broad.