Rental Van: New Poems.


100 pages
ISBN 978-1-895636-81-9
DDC C811'.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.


Clint Burnham insists on not making it easy for his readers; all the energy and wit of his poetry demands equal work from them. Perhaps this reflects his Marxist ideals, perhaps it simply reveals his commitment to the kind of experimentation associated with various forms of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry. At any rate, the works in his latest book, Rental Van, offer readers an intense and intensive immersion in what a fellow poet suggests is an anti-viral language at war with traditional notions of meaning (in a capitalist and consumerist world).


Burnham’s writings are constructed out of fragments of conversation, political discourse, advertising, new lingos, and the clichés that immediately appear in all these spheres. They invite us in, via a continual punning, to an ongoing conversation in which, willy-nilly, we have to participate, or else drop out. Of course, as soon as we get that, he asks, “If a poem is conversation where does the punctuation come from?” It’s a good question, and a tough one, especially in the pieces laid out as verse, where every line contains both beginnings and ends, a fragmentation of the word world that demands we recognize our complicity in the devastation of language that has led our culture to the breaking point.


Readers will not find Rental Van easygoing, but, as is often the case with dark prophets, Burnham provides lots of laughs on the way to perdition. Those who give themselves fully to this carefully torqued conversation will find it a tough diversion.


Burnham, Clint., “Rental Van: New Poems.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,