By Paul Zits
It’s been four years since Paul Zits has brought his special brand of daring poetry to bookstores. His first title, Massacre Street, was an experimentalist’s attempt to revisit and retell the story of the Frog Lake Massacre, a pivotal moment in Canadian history.
Leap-seconds, his new gift to readers, is less non-fictional in its narrative but no less of a challenge. Its blurb describes it as a love story at its heart, with a “shocking, unnerving narrative” that derives itself from the question of how to represent violence in language.
It’s one thing to have the courage to offer book-length poetry to the masses but something that sounds so academic might be tough for the average reader to digest.
When asked how he would describe his work to someone on the street, the author offered a demonstration of how challenging it might be.
“For some reason, I find it a very difficult thing to do,” the former St. Albert resident said.
“I started writing it pretty much right after Massacre Street had been published. I ended up going through a period of experimentation and exploring without any real direction in mind. That’s where this one came out of: trying to find ways of representing violence and trauma in language. Moving beyond violence and trauma as subject matter but also trying to find a way to allow language to give the reader an experience … to feel those emotions that one connects [to them],” he said, suggesting feelings of anxiety, fear or being upset.
He maintains that it still reads well with a clear narrative arc. It has already won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, so that’s saying something. He keeps vague when describing the plot, however. It follows one character named Bellocq who is in an institution “that is really just comprised of language.”
Much of it is up to the reader. Zits is unapologetic about the gauntlet that he throws down to the people who pick up Leap-seconds.
“There’s stuff that I read and stuff that interests me the most as a reader. It’s that stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into other genres. It is more hybrid. I’m happy about that, I suppose.”
Leap-seconds launched over the summer but he is finally bringing it to a local audience. He will be hosting a book launch along with Deborah Willis and Lesley Battler (who have their own new works) on Wed., Nov. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Audreys Books, 10702 Jasper Ave. in Edmonton.