Cathexis Northwest Press

© 2018 

The Bibliographer’s Dysmorphia
00:00 / 02:20

this painful slouch

is also my crouch for working

each laborious hunch

into a molten line of type

a proper printer’s devil

in shape and ancestry

but a poet at heart

I reverse my “p”s and “q”s

cross my “i’s and dot my “t”s

spell out my problems under protest

I misquote the proof of my heart 

introduce some addled signature

as evidence of a volitional error

hoping someone mistakes it for genius

when it is merely the flop-sweat 

of failing inspiration

no great artist had such clammy hands

or inkstained teeth

think of Blake with only a gift 

for ungainly names of the godly

a Nobodaddy of the worst quarto

you have ever imagined

and no original or reliable alternate folio

to consult or console you with

if you feel that it hurts you to read this

just try setting it down with a straight face

and a distended poisoned stomach

what a wretched life 

writing for mass reproduction 

a broken cog in the grammar machine

fighting for space to fit one stylish colophon 

into this twisted and thunderous frame 

Brad Buchanan's poetry, fiction, and scholarly articles have appeared in nearly 200 journals, among them The Antigonish Review, California Quarterly, Canadian Literature, The Dalhousie Review, Event, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Journal of Modern Literature, The Portland Review,The Seattle Review, The South Carolina Review, Twentieth-Century Literature, and The Wisconsin Review. He has also published two book-length collections of poetry (The Miracle Shirker and Swimming the Mirror: Poems for My Daughter) and two academic books. His third book of poetry, The Scars, Aligned (A Cancer Narrative), is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press (2019). He was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2015, underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016 (leaving him visually impaired), and is currently in remission.

"This poem has an autobiographical element (I have terrible posture made worse by my work habits, as well as stomach problems due to a chronic illness) but it is written in the voice of a specific persona. The Bibliographer is an alter ego I have created/evolved to explore and indulge some of my book-nerdy obsessions (in this case the process of composing and printing texts on an old-fashioned press). In writing this poem I was inspired by some of the controversies surrounding early Shakespearean quartos (i.e. the First “Bad” Quarto) as well as by William Blake’s visionary illustrated prints of his own poems, and by James Joyce’s remark (made through Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses) that a genius makes no mistakes, that any “errors” are “volitional” and thus become the “portals of discovery.” Basically, the conceit of the poem is that my physical body has taken on some of the characteristics of a malfunctioning and outdated printing press. I sometimes worry that poems like this one are private and inaccessible, so it is very gratifying to see it published (in print, so to speak)."