by JAMES M. FISHER
INEVITABILITY AND EXILE AS ARCHIVE:
MIRAMICHI REVIEWS HAMILTON
The Perfect Archive
[Oakville: Guernica Editions, 2019, $20.00]
Paul Lisson’s The Perfect Archive is an unusual work in that he uses his professional skills as a librarian and archivist to create a work of mystique that is strange and darkly foreboding. The unnamed archivist in question is “reviled for the careful cataloguing of our atrocities; condemned and forgotten.” Yet the archivist – in a notes section, we are informed that the personal archive is written by a Dawson Birk, DPhil, Director of some assumed Fascist state – has left behind poems, marginalia, sketches and other ephemera all ‘carefully catalogued’ as per his training. Nevertheless, it does tell a story of a man on the run, then incarcerated (his surrender was “unexpected and unwanted”), and lastly dying.
Having sketched the frame for The Perfect Archive, we can now delve into Poems (Part 1), Marginalia (Part 2) and (again!) Poems (Part 3). I will linger with a sequence called “The Inevitabilities” because it is particularly poignant and accessible to the casual poetry reader like me. They primarily document the downward spiral of life toward death, such as this tersely constructed excerpt from The Eighth Inevitability:
Man gave me a shave.
Dressed me in my clothes,
Powdered my nose.
Put me in a box.
Aside from “The Inevitabilities,” the poems in The Perfect Archive are in blank and free verse format interspersed with some brief archival instructions that read like strict laws. (See “The Station Guard.”) Other personal favourites of mine were the nursery-like rhyme of “Will Not Wash,” the screaming of “Winter,” and the “forgetting and lost remembering” of “Plateau.”
The text is interspersed with several deliberately out-of-focus black and white photos that add to the mystery: perhaps these are images of the Archivist in exile? Simply put, a wonderful and inspired work, and although confoundingly cryptic at times –no doubt there are some professional “inside jokes” inserted amongst the dense archival language – The Perfect Archive will hold your interest throughout its 90+ pages.
James M. Fisher is the owner and chief editor of The Miramichi Reader, a book review website that has been posting reviews of CanLit since 2015. Originally from Ontario, James and his wife Diane moved east to Miramichi in 2008 and have called it home ever since. Aside from reading, James works as an MRI/Radiological Technologist at the Miramichi Regional Hospital.