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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 1, March 2019
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Mike Montreuil, The New Apocalypse: haibun, Editions des Petits Nuages, A Review by Tony Beyer

Mike Montreuil, The New Apocalypse: Haibun, Editions des Petits Nuages, Ottawa, Canada, 2018, 19pp, ISBN 978-1-926519-36-4 (Book); ISBN 978-1-926519-37-1 (PDF).

Any genre of poetry stays alive while writers keep experimenting with it, testing its boundaries in the light of both their own imaginations, and the traditions and practices of the genre itself. The New Apocalypse is a handsome, slim pamphlet in which the expected prose sections resemble single-sentence free verse stanzas, set with hanging indents, usually concluded with three-line haiku or senryu. As much in content as in form, these passages recall the work of poets like Allen Ginsberg, rather than Bashō or Issa.

As the title suggests, Mike Montreuil’s focus is very much on the possibly terminal ills of the modern world, including capitalism, climate change, war and social inequality. Not surprisingly, his tone is more often rhetorical – sometimes stridently so – than reflective or lyrical. There is an assumption that the reader will agree with his point of view or find herself excluded if she doesn’t. Again, this bias is part of the polemic stance: a side has already been chosen. On the other hand, there is a lot wrong with the conditions many of our species find themselves condemned to live in, to say nothing of human impact on other species.

Where the politics of The New Apocalypse become murkier is in Part II of the text, when we read:

the masses will gather to hear a voice; a man who speaks for them.

This starts to sound like dangerous, old-fashioned demagoguery: as we know, the masses aren’t always too reliable when it comes to producing a leader. Various Adolfs, and even Donalds, spring to mind.

Overall, though, Mike Montreuil’s is a vigorous, youthful voice. He has not, perhaps, selected the most effective medium for his message. The survey of planetary dysfunction in Part I and the call to arms in Part II are stimulating, but the impression of cyclic human suffering suggested by allusions to Hittite kings, Pharaohs and Mayans hints at a wider context the wisdom of the Asian classics explores more convincingly. There would be no recurrence, however, without revolutionary change, or the genuine desire for it, in every few generations. This fierce intensity is at the core of The New Apocalypse.

The speaking voice of the poem is consistent in its own terms. While the embedded haiku/senryu don’t always afford enough contrast with the style and view of the main text, they can at times draw vivid and appropriate images from the natural world:

on a rocky ledge
an old eagle
surveys Badlands

Nor is the outlook entirely pessimistic. Animosity towards those in power (military, monetary and political) is moderated by a more Utopian vision of return to simpler ways of life (fathers who teach sons, old crafts, beliefs and characteristics passed on). The sequence ends on an alleviating note of hope:

bird song
in the morning
spring once again

Here the true cycle is restored: something to do with what the earth is supposed to be about, with or without human intervention.

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