The poems in Skullduggery, Asa Boxer’s masterful new book, have a simple warning: trust nothing. Like the book’s hilarious final poem, which recasts Canada’s discovery as a hoax from the Middle Ages-Boxer transforms shortfalls of perception into tour de force performances. Drawing on a deepened range of forms [comic set-pieces, verse-plays, dramatic monologues] Skullduggery embraces deception as both theme and tactic. In poem after poem, encounters test the threshold of what’s real and what’s not; turns of phrase appear to say one thing, but really mean another. What is without doubt, however, is that Boxer strengthens his status as one of our most gifted young poets.
An old idea of reality animates the poems in The Mechanical Bird: things are never what they seem. Opening with a quick-talking disquisition on lying [“Keep it simple, tidy, / take a noncommittal stance”] and ending with masterly mediation on the workshop and its “drawing-board dreams,” Asa Boxer’s debut constantly tests the claims of authenticity over artifice. Objects, settings and everyday details are swept up in an imagination that can never quite shake the sense of the visible world-even nature itself-as an artful mixture of fact and invention. As suggested by the eponymous metal songster, these poems are exquisitely crafted, infused with a sense of kinetic spell-making, and sing with an exuberant trust in their own guile.
Inspired by the medieval journeys of Sir John Mandeville–Endmatter. “In which is mapped the kingdom of the New World, its five Great Lakes, its inhabitants, perils and wonders”–Added title page. “Book design: Caryl Wyse Peters”–Final leaf recto. Published in a limited edition of 150 hand-numbered copies.
Asa Boxer’s poetry has garnered several awards and his work is widely anthologized. His books include The Mechanical Bird (Signal, 2007), Skullduggery (Signal, 2011), and an illustrated chapbook entitled Friar Biard’s Primer to the New World (Frog Hollow Press, 2013).
David-Antoine Williams teaches at St Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo.