Expressway drives the point home for Eye Weekly
(Four out of five stars)
There's a built-in speed bump to any road novel or film: the setting is inherently false. Much like the whitewashed walls of a gallery, the road is a placeless place where any object or thought takes on an artificial grace or grandeur by virtue of there being nothing else around to compare it to. The worst works of the genre (On the Road and the Smokey and the Bandit cycle are, in my mind, tied for the honour) exploit that flaw. The best works present the road as an anti-state to escape from. 'If I'm not grounded pretty soon,' Warren Oates says during a Benzedrine jag in Two-Lane Blacktop, 'I'm gonna go into orbit,' not realizing he already is.
In her third collection of poetry Sina Queyras also goes into free orbit to examine the true qualities of the road: its transformative lethality and ability to twist time into ontological knots.
As a poet, Queyras is secretly romantic, writing with lyricism and a voice that's unafraid of sentiment or emotion. But that voice is chameleonic more than anything else — styles are just places along the road for her, where she dwells only long enough to take in the view, fuel up and drink some scorched coffee. Of course those two most dominant liquids of the road make multiple appearances. Coffee is venerated and granted fealty while gas is a spoil of ceaseless plunder in the collection's more strident moments.
Mid-book, Queyras goes off the map into non-linearity with 'Crash,' a work hewed out of reports and news fragments of car crashes. Queyras is savvy enough not to fuck with the syntax of found words and this piece hums with perfect detachment and — maybe I'm imagining it — radio static.
Queyras' Beat tendencies come to the fore with 'Progress.' although truncating the word America throughout to 'A' is a wonderfully Warholian gesture, 'Progress' rambles more than it builds a statement. 'What citizens of A lack in political opinions,' Queyras writes, 'they make up for in pastry choices, in supermarket items.' True, but what's missing from that supermarket is levity along the lines of Allen Ginsberg's vision of Walt Whitman cruising the stock boys, though there is an enigmatic cameo from a cowgirl. On second thought, maybe Queyras is writing about Alberta.
Her work has a direction that culminates in her final section of apocalyptic prophecies. 'Three Dreams of the Expressway' announces, 'Women appear one by one, / Despite our best theories, they drop their / Laptops and iPods, they leave their magazines, / They step down from elliptical trainers, out of / The boxing ring, tummies flat and minds sharp / ... Down to expressways with pickaxes, they come / With hammers, they come, suddenly clear, Suddenly swinging hammers, they say, This / Is a metaphor too unwieldy.'
At their best, Queyras' words spark like pickaxes on old asphalt.