Published October 4, 2022 at 2:37 p.m
A Hamilton wordworker’s latest tome currently outshines some of poetry’s monsters.
Darrell Epp has published his fifth book, Permanent smoke, which is touted as using “poetry as a scalpel to dissect our present moment in all its horrors and joys”. As of this writing, Epp’s book is #1 in Amazon.ca’s Places Poetry category, ahead of collections by big names like Charles Bukowski, Métis Cree author Jesse Thistle, and Robert Frost (of Walking Through The Woods On A Snowy Evening” immortality). It has also debuted at number 8 on Canadian Poetry.
Sitting on traditional Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Mississaugas territories, Hamilton may not come as a surprise as having much to offer a poetic mind in 2022. Deindustrialization and automation in heavy industry have transformed the local economy. Also — although individual perspectives here are likely to differ — the southern Ontario city’s unique natural environment of aggressive motorists, condominium construction, empty tracts of land with approved building permits, and industrial smokestacks is increasingly threatened by the desire for fertile farmland needed for the becomes a climate emergency, affordable “missing middle” housing, a larger tree canopy and improved accessibility.
How people are affected by the city’s key dilemmas is an issue former steelworker Epp addresses in his writing, he told a US-based literature podcast.
“The reason (for the title) is because I live on the western tip of Lake Ontario in an industrial town,” Epps said on an episode of Quoir. “One time (the avant-garde filmmaker) John Waters came here and said he liked my neighborhood because it reminded him of Baltimore, which is kind of a place in Pittsburgh, Erie, Pennsylvania. Here down the road from me we have Dominion Foundry and Casting Co., Dofasco, which used to employ 18,000 people. It now employs 3,000 people and makes more steel thanks to robotic arms.
“…Hamilton was always kind of a sideline for air pollution, workers. What do you do when a generation of men is unemployed? It also means Permanent smoke for smoke is not permanent – it is ephemeral. But it is also the memories that we use to construct our worldview. I wanted to speak about these changes happening on the western tip of Lake Ontario, echoing through the thin air of poetry throughout the hemisphere in a way that makes it universal.”
— Darrell Epp (@DarrellEpp) October 4, 2022
Permanent smoke costs $28.87 in paperback and $9.99 in Kindle edition. One reviewer compared it favorably to Denis Johnson’s short story collection jesus sonwhich was adapted into a 1999 film of the same name starring Billy Crudup, Dennis Hopper and Holly Hunter.
Epp’s first book Imaginary Cards, was released in 2009. It was eight years before he published his next work – or “gave it up,” as the 20th-century poet WH Auden famously said of his completed work. He has published four books in the past six years, including After hours (2017), Dance of the sinners (2018) and Mechanical Monkeys: Poems (2021).
The latter is described as “an act of resistance to the war of technology against the sacred.” The poems rage against the way we have replaced humans with robots, the real with the replica, defiantly insisting “without love / it’s all just paperwork”. ”
Epp told the Quoir podcast that sooner is better than later for anyone with a creative spark, regardless of the literary, spoken or visual form.
“If you want to do something, start now,” he said. “Everything gets harder as you get older.”
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