Double Helix


128 pages
ISBN 1-55128-122-8
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Douglas Barbour

Douglas Barbour is a professor of English at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Lyric/anti-lyric : Essays on Contemporary Poetry,
Breath Takes, and Fragmenting Body Etc.


Owing something to the fabled Ace SF Doubles of yore, but as much to the
strange workings of Oulipo, Cain and Millar’s Double Helix reads as
written from each end to the middle, while also twisting its way through
a doubled alphabet of titles. In an era of collaboration, this is
definitely a nifty one. These two friends, poets both, decided to write
through these baffles to each other while living in different cities.
The resulting mini-essays or prose poems cover a wide range of topics,
but also turn back on each other in delightful ways.

Under “Ego,” Cain declares that “Egoless writing is what I strive
for. An erasure of impossible presence.” It’s a decidedly anti-lyric
stance, even if also finally impossible. But this writing back and forth
to arcane rules certainly helps, as so many forces other than the ego
come into play. As Millar perhaps replies in “Embraced,”
“Information can be gathered by looking.” Both writers look outward
as much as inward, to the life around them and to the many different
books that dance an odd quadrille inside their heads.

This intertextuality can make for a lot of fun, as authors and titles
mix and match, and allusions proliferate. These writers are fully aware
that their shared experiences include a lot of reading, which is a
highly particular kind of looking. “When it’s all over the writing
remains.” Interestingly, although many of the entries promise
something of autobiography, the collaborative effort allows their styles
to merge.

Double Helix offers more than just the intellectual and literate
company of two fine friends; it provides a suggestive primer on the
possibilities that collaboration in an intense exploration of writing
can mean.


Cain, Stephen, and Jay Millar., “Double Helix,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,