Knotting-Off the Aughts: #10, Jason Camlot’s The Debaucher
Year of Release: 2008
Place of Creation: Predominantly Montreal
Press: Insomniac (Toronto)
Mode of Acquisition: A gift, from his editor and noted Vox Pop roommate, Paul Vermeersch.
Status of Personal Copy: On my poetry bookshelf, misfiled out of alphabetical order between a Ms. Christie and a Mr. Crummey.
The debaucher understands
each moment is just once.
His understanding is chronic.
-from The Debaucher, pg 14
Jason Camlot’s relative position in the pride-structure of Canadian poets is sometimes difficult to track. His books, including Animal Library and Attention All Typewriters, have gone un-trophied by the uppermost tier of literary awarders, but he is often mentioned as being among our great voices by other poets who see his easy musicality and unique, persuasive manner as integral to our poetic culture.
The Debaucher is Camlot’s newest book, and his best. It is thematic without coming across as over-compliant to its themes and constraints. What’s more, its theme is an oft-used one (debauchery) that could always use an injection of intelligence. It is also broad enough to give Camlot a lot of wiggle room to write poems about both masculine playfulness (the title piece) as well as laments for friends lost amid the hard-edged world the title poem celebrates (the last section is entitled “Adios Sonnets”).
Most interesting, from a purely aesthetic perspective, is the casual relationship Camlot has with rhyme. A poem like the opening eponymous piece (“The Debaucher”, pgs 13-24) is full of end-rhymes, but so flippant in its use and non-use of them that it’s impossible to think of the poem’s formal structure as having any sort of rhyme “scheme”. A couple of its short lines will form couplets, then a couple more, then the poet will open up into free-verse for a bit, then the structure will be re-introduced. It’s a songwriter’s relationship to form, and one can see Camlot the musician influencing Camlot the poet in productive and inventive ways.
While The Debaucher’s chief considerations (both material and aesthetic) place it on a shelf shared by books like Don Patterson’s God’s Gift to Women, he differs from Patterson in his use of form. He’s not really a formalist, even though the book contains maybe thirty sonnets, and a handful of other formal experiments. His use of formal tools (at different points in the book: meter, rhyme, feet, and repetition) is so occasional and playful that a closer cousin would perhaps be Todd Swift, his collaborator on the Anglo-Quebec anthology Language Acts.
What makes The Debaucher special to me, surrounded as it is by many other books that achieve the same sort of thing with similar degrees of success, is its willingness to look on adult masculinity as a home to many different kinds of adventures. The Debaucher is often a book about hard-partying, about foolishness, but it is presented with such a subtle and elevated palette that it makes the accepted timbre for this subject (mumbled, hungover, simplistic, self-deprecating, jokey) look empty and completely inflexible. The title poem alone contains more shades of both euphoric and post-euphoric mindfulness than 98% of the career output of one Charles Bukowski, without seeming in any way less honest or (and here comes the worst word in the whole of poetic criticism) “raw”.
That the come-down from Camlot’s narratives is both measured and contemplative (that last section of sonnets are all written upon the death of Camlot’s friend Robert Allen) does not lessen their lived-in, experienced feel. The great lesson of The Debaucher is that you can be a grown-up, you can write like one and talk like one, and still map out peaks and valleys as dizzying to move between as those in any adolescent love song or confessional monologue.
Bonus Round: Well, you’ve sat through several paragraphs of critical discourse like good boys and girls, how about a song by Camlot’s band, Puggy Hammer (fronted by fellow poet, professor, and frontrunner among possible inspirations for The Debaucher’s title character, David McGimpsey). Here we go!