What Stirs is the seventh collection from Toronto-based poet and teacher Margaret Christakos. While there are a few individual poems in the book, this is primarily a set of sequences. Christakos employs an unspecified roster of “procedural poetics” to break apart and reassemble her texts, with the goal of depicting “the sense of self in the modern world 2.0.”
The problem is that the echolalia, decoupages, jarring juxtapositions, and syntactic fragmentation Christakos employs all feel very modern world 1.0. Most of the poems seem not so much the urgent utterance of an engaged individual in the present moment as a kind of generic avant-garde or Dada redux – the product of a procedure rather than a person.
Often, when Christakos’s methods succeed in doing something interesting with the sonic texture of a piece, she takes it too far. The sequences “Turret Door” and “(I Really Don’t Think You’re) Strong Enough,” in particular, drone into monotony through the excessive repetition of the key phrase in each suite. There is a great deal of the writer’s process in view, but generally insufficient regard for the final product.
Christakos’s keen wit is manifest in snippets of otherwise unsuccessful poems; occasionally it helps a piece gel very nicely. The two best poems in the book are “Queen,” a subversive little monologue in the voice of an unspecified monarch “trimming the beard about [her] sex,” and the tour-de-force title poem, which holds together impressively over its 127 lines. There are a few short, sharp lyrics that also stand out, such as “Andalou”: “Eleven weeks to the day, I held/ Her or him like a branch./ Like a tipped word. Through the window/ Is another window.”
But on the whole, this is a collection that could have been stirred a great deal more to get all the lumps out.