Dummy Spit


72 pages
ISBN 1-55128-099-X
DDC C811'.54






Ronald Charles Epstein is a Toronto-based freelance writer and published poet.


North American culture is an edgy, postmodern brew that recasts familiar
icons. For example, Kojak, CBS-TV’s Greek-American N.Y. police
detective, may reappear as a black man. Canadian literature may be
following this trend by postmodernizing classic American comedian Henny
Youngman. Meet Mark Laba, 1980s Toronto New Wave poet and the Vancouver
Province’s food reviewer.

Unfortunately, Laba’s poetry can be understood only by the more
unconventional reader. Couch potatoes may be enticed by “The Telly
Savalas Poems,” but their abstract style may drive them to TV Land or
other nostalgia channel. Their favourite lollypop-sucking lieutenant
would never say “forget / the gorilla / exterior, / he / trod water /
peeing / everywhere.” The poet seeks inspired nonsense, but usually
finds only the latter.

The poet’s abstraction does not imply a total absence of ideas. His
incomprehensible verse does not imply an intellectual void. In
“Blemishes of the Prairie Hen,” he refers to “two young
secretaries” and their “bosoms in the soup.” Readers may assume
that he is sexually, not socially, “straight.”

“Benzene Waterfall” begins with the phrase “scarier than / a
train conductor in / Germany.” Although the ghettoized Jews of Nazi
Europe were deported in cattle cars, this phrase evokes the Holocaust.
In a time of increased anti-Semitism, Laba’s introduction may resonate
with his Jewish readers.

The concluding section, “Footnotes,” recalls the National Lampoon
humour piece “The Churchill Wit,” which presents famous anecdotes
about Britain’s heroic prime minister that are drained of
intelligence. These so-called footnotes are actually 29 jokes, stripped
of laughter and, in some cases, logic. Neither concept works.

This book is recommended for nostalgic Toronto New Wave fans and
contemporary Vancouverites who want to know what type of person is
judging their local cuisine.


Laba, Mark., “Dummy Spit,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17801.