Happinesswise

By Jonathan Bennett

Happinesswise
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“Bennett’s artistry lies in his ability to create poems that shatter complacency with bricks of loaded language.” — Quill & Quire on Civil and Civic

“How are you doing, happinesswise?” This is the unifying thread, the casual-sounding but slant and penetrating ... Read more


Overview

“Bennett’s artistry lies in his ability to create poems that shatter complacency with bricks of loaded language.” — Quill & Quire on Civil and Civic

“How are you doing, happinesswise?” This is the unifying thread, the casual-sounding but slant and penetrating question posed by these poems as they interrogate what we tell ourselves about happiness, about its opposite, and about ourselves in the process.

Happinesswise is both cacophony and chorus: it’s the voices of palliative patients and physicians, and the place where the dream state of a young pregnant woman clashes with the online reality of daily life. It’s personal too: a suite explores a five-year period of Bennett’s autistic son’s childhood, charting a journey of love and misunderstandings, of anxiety and celebration as the wonders of neurodiversity unfold.

There are elegies too. And confessional poems, like “On the Occasion of Her Swearing In,” where Bennett witnesses up close his friend’s remarkable transition from Afghan refugee and grassroots activist to member of parliament and cabinet minister. Other poems demarcate the gaps (literal and less so) found every day in rural Ontario, or consider personal, political, and cultural history within a series of loops and twists.

Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is the author of five books including the critically acclaimed novels EnTitlement and After Battersea Park, two collections of poetry, and a collection of short stories, Verandah People, which was runner up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He is a winner of the K.M. Hunter Artists' Award in Literature. Born in Vancouver, raised in Sydney, Australia, Jonathan lives in the village of Keene, near Peterborough, Ontario.

Excerpt

Unassumed Road

That day we lost the hound down the way,

watched it bound tongue-slack, freedom-struck

beyond the yellow wood and lichen-crusted

boulders of pink shield rock and undergrowth.

That day we took chances, pressed on.

That day made no difference, even as you

plunged into a field of bemused heifers,

cursing all dogs, as it rolled in steaming dung.

 

That day we bushwhacked calling its name,

calling it names, until it returned

with a meaty bone that looked like a rib.

A last laugh that day, when glibly

you said, the person who nailed the sign

This Road is Unassumed, has trust issues.

 

Vegetarians Use the Back Door

The cedar smoke and truck exhaust

of a ribfest at hot noon and white

Canadian men lick fingers

and use lite beer as mouthwash,

cupping the rolls of themselves—

or the wife—giving the flesh

a bit of a jiggle, having a good laugh.

 

Pre-diabetic with gorgeous tits this one

guy talks so loud not even Stevie Nicks

from the Jimmy six down drowns him out.

Prolly won’t run coon. Might run bear?

Then he shoots you a look. Yes you,

broccoli boy. Come party with us then.

Just how were you holding your face?

 

Traffic Calming Ahead

I see the laser eye, like a bindi

between descending digits each

an eyelid batting numbers until

I back off to rickshaw speed,

enter a village that will not long

accept an oriental trope.

 

Nothing here is foreign.

Everything belongs.

 

Yes, but the couple who own

the general store are Goan,

originally, and there’s a roadside

rib shack, real Louisiana bark

to tempt bass fishing southerners,

or hungry Yankees up after deer.

 

I see a harvest moon,

like a Harley’s headlight.

 

It crests a pitching Otonabee hill,

makes a cow a ghost in a field

a smudge that comes, goes

behind clouds, between firs,

shafts of light climb the ridgeline

until it turns away. Then nothing.

 

I enter the village late.

Later than anyone else?

 

Signs for butter tarts and bait

glide by until the exiting traffic

from the arena parking lot halts

progress. A wedding dress and tux

teeter in the back of a Ford F250.

The truck nuts swing. Locals cheer.

 

 

Fresh Cut Fries

A hairpin turn dragged the escarpment’s

serrated edge, scoring sky. A chip truck.

You and I argued road sign grammar.

(I bemoaned the lost art of the adverb,

you advanced the hyphen, either way.)

 

Shield rock nursed pockets of April snow

in its nooks of dark. We were so remote.

We ate at a picnic table, by a lake

that we could agree was not lead grey.

 

Your salty mouth now unlocked, eager

to lick me clean. So, jump cut to me

in a middle-distance, dappled remove.

My point of view is a weak shaky-cam,

as even the ending was wrested away.

Reviews

PRAISE FOR HAPPINESSWISE

“Incisive, elegant and fierce, Bennett’s Happinesswise tackles the most illusive and illusory aspects of our culture. It ranges widely in terms of style and theme, but will nonetheless leave readers with the distinct impression of having encountered something wholly real.” — Johanna Skibsrud, author of The Sentamentalists

PRAISE FOR PREVIOUS WORKS

"Bennett's artistry lies in his ability to create poems that shatter complacency with bricks of loaded language." — Quill & Quire on Civil and Civic

"Jonathan Bennett has cleverly and sensitively described the many types of love tested by war. The result is a rewarding and intensely moving read: deceptively gruelling, given its slim dimensions, but also — like its heroine — devastatingly beautiful." — National Post on The Colonial Hotel

"A solid novel on morality in our not-quite-postcolonial world." — Globe and Mail on The Colonial Hotel

"This short novel is at once lyrical and brutal, alluring in its spare, elegant prose and shocking in its honest portrayal of the realities of political corruption and duplicitous leadership. Bennett is able to demonstrate the timelessness of the themes of the original classic story in this contemporary setting, offering both emotional depth and universal truths about the human condition." — Waterloo Region Record on The Colonial Hotel

"Bennett has presented a compelling, lyrical novel of love, suffering and reconciliation." — Winnipeg Free Press on The Colonial Hotel

"Entitlement is an attractive read, and nicely covers a world that goes often uncovered in our own literatures." — National Post

"Bennett's storytelling is effortless in its pace and time shifts, and his dialogue glints like a sharpened knife." — The Walrus on Entitlement

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