A review of The Debaucher by Jason Camlot
Published on September 1, 2008
Jason Camlot’s The Debaucher
is filled with Montreal atmosphere: streets, schools, and, inevitably, Moe Wilensky’s. One amusing poem is a “A Petition to Be Entombed at St. Viateur Bagel.” Another poem, “Côte St Luc,” is a delightful reminiscence about 15-year-olds jamming rock music not far from where a street would be named avenue Irving Layton
. Camlot’s muse wanders through various tones but her home key is humour. He is at his best in the poems inspired by French poets like Théophile Gautier (he has a real affinity there), Baudelaire, Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine, and Émile Verhaeren. The concision and pointedness of the models keep his imagination focused. His sprawling and ineptly rhymed original works like the title poem and a very whimsical tribute to Artie Gold are not as interesting, and his modernizations of the medieval narratives of Olivier and Roland are just too campy. The title poem seems to be a diagnosis of the seven year itch and ways to scratch it. Rhymes like “wooer” and “screwer” don’t quite reach the level of Lord Byron’s marvellous doggerel romps in Don Juan
. A better treatment of the debaucher theme is the couplet entitled, “Debaucher’s Epigram for Muses,” which says, with a neatness Gautier would envy, “Missed the dead things at the museum. / Had to see about a carpe diem.”
The book ends with the “ADIOS SONNETS,” a sequence dedicated to the highly respected Concordia University professor Robert Allen, who was a poet, fiction writer and editor of Matrix. (The Montreal Review of Books published an interview with him – “Song of the Sea” – in the Summer 2006 issue.) The sonnet is an appropriate form for these elegies, as Allen himself wrote a brilliant sequence, “Sonnets from Jimmie Walker Swamp.” Camlot’s sonnets are relaxed and colloquial rather than highly wrought. He likes to let one quatrain run into another, emphasizing flow. We learn much about Allen’s life and his dying. As in other poems by Camlot, tone in this sequence is crucial: sometimes it is mawkish or whimsical; often it is dead on. As Frank O’Hara – another poet fond of popular culture and local references – said once, “You just go on your nerve.” mRb
Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.