Nov 4, 2008
I first heard about Michael Lista in a workshop conducted by Meeka Walsh, Editor of Border Crossings magazine. She raved about him: "Michael is a remarkably gifted young poet who lives in Montreal. He has a special interest in the points of intersection between science and poetics."
These points live dramatically in the person of Louis Slotin, a scientist from Winnipeg involved in the Manhattan project and development of the atomic bomb, and Lista’s desire to capture a day in his life. On May 21, 1946, Slotin conducted a dangerous experiment referred to by his fellow scientists as "tickling the dragon’s tail." Using a framework of existing poems, in the way that James Joyce used Homer’s Odyssey, Lista has borderline plagiarized them in a collection which documents this May day. The book will be entitled Bloom. Anansi will publish it.
"Out of admiration for the virtuosity of Slotin’s achievements - with the attendant hubris and arrogance necessary to take risks and make anything new - and taking on those qualities in his own work, Lista’s poems do glitter, but more lastingly than that word would suggest. Dazzle too has a showiness I don’t mean to imply but the wit is so apparent. At the same time the tone is held and is exactly what the subject requires in this poetic construction."
Revisiting my Salon des Refuses experience, I am reminded of how rarely one encounters great literary work, in poetry especially. Pablo Neruda, Ted Hughes, Robin Robertson…I knew immediately upon first reading their poems that something extraordinary was happening. Their words rubbed up against my experience and sensibilities in ways that satisfied like few others.
I felt something of this while reading the handful of poems Michael sent me in advance of our conversation. We talk here about the suicidal dangers of emulating Joyce’s Ulysses, and the book’s un-approachability; punning, the multiple meanings of 'bloom'; epiphanies, coincidences, translation, sex and physics, life and death.