New book by Hamilton poet is No. 1 on Amazon Canada today


Published October 4, 2022 at 2:37 pm

The latest tome from a Hamilton word-worker is outselling some of the monsters of poetry right now.

Darrell Epp has released his fifth book, Permanent Smoke, which comes touted as a use of “poetry as a scalpel to dissect our present moment in all its terrors and delights.” At this writing, Epp’s book is No. 1 in’s Places Poetry category, ahead of collections from big names such as Charles Bukowski, Métis-Cree author Jesse Thistle and Robert Frost (of “Walking Through The Woods On A Snowy Evening” immortality). It has also débuted at No. 8 in Canadian Poetry.

That Hamilton, situated upon the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas, offers much for a poetic mind in 2022 might come as no surprise. Deindustrialization and automation in heavy manufacturing industry have changed the local economy. As well — although individual persectives likely vary here — the city’s unique Southern Ontario natural setting of aggressive drivers, condo construction, empty tracts of land with approved building permits and industrial smokestacks is increasingly threatened by a desire for fecund farmland that will be needed for the climate emergency, affordable ‘missing middle’ housing, a larger tree canopy and improved walkability.

How people are affected by the city’s central dilemmas is a theme that ex-steelworker Epp addresses in his writing, as he told a U.S.-based literary podcast.

“The reason (for the title) is that I live on the western tip of Lake Ontario in an industrial town,” Epps said on an episode of Quoir. “One time (avant-garde filmmaker) John Waters came here and he said he liked my neighbourhood because it reminded him of Baltimore, kind of a Pittsburgh, Erie, Pennsylvania kind of place. Here down the street from me we have Dominion Foundry and Casting Co., Dofasco, where it used to employ 18,000 people. Now it employs 3,000 people and makes more steel thanks to robot arms.

“… Hamilton was always sort of a byward for air pollution, blue-collar people. What do you do when a generation of men don’t have work? It’s also called Permanent Smoke because smoke is not permanent — it’s ephemeral. But it’s also the memories that we use to construct our worldview. I wanted to talk about these changes that are happening along the western tip of Lake Ontario and are being echoed across the hemisphere, through the rarefied air of poetry, in a way that makes it universal.”

Permanent Smoke retails for $28.87 in paperback and $9.99 in the Kindle edition. One reviewer compared it favourably with Denis Johnson’s short-story collection Jesus’ Son, which was adapted into a 1999 film of the same name that starred Billy Crudup, Dennis Hopper and Holly Hunter.

Epp’s first book, Imaginary Maps, was published in 2009. It took eight years for him to publish his next work — or “abandon it,” as 20th-century poet W.H. Auden was known to say of completed work. He has published four books in the last six years, including After Hours (2017), Sinners’ Dance (2018) and Mechanical Monkeys: Poems (2021).

The latter is described as “an act of resistance against technology’s war upon the sacred. The poems rage against the way we’ve replaced people with robots, the real with the replica, and defiantly insist ‘without love/ it’s all just paperwork.’ ”

Epp told the Quoir podcast that sooner is better than later for anyone who has a creative spark, whatever the literary, spoken or visual form.

“If you want to do something, start now,” he said. “Everything gets harder when you are older.”

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