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Guernica’s Book of the Month: September

we are no longer the smart kids in classWe’ve decided to restart our Book of the Month program at Guernica Editions, which means that each month we’ll be showcasing one of our recent releases and we’ll also be giving away copies of our books on Goodreads starting September 8th! Check back each month for our take on new releases!

It’s now September 1st, which means for many people the summer is coming to a close and school is about to begin. In keeping with a “back to school” theme, we’ve decided to spotlight David Huebert’s first poetry collection We Are No Longer the Smart Kids in Class.

Don’t be fooled by the title. David Huebert’s collection isn’t about school per se, despite its recollections of high school love affairs and adolescent ambitions, but it is about a certain kind of learning. Huebert’s poetry also demonstrates that he is still very smart, dabbing his poems with allusions to existentialist philosophers and Greek myths, and moreover that he is still a “kid” for whom adulthood (with all of its sex, drinking, and driving cars) inspires wide-eyed and witty inquiry.

Huebert’s classroom is a roving one, and his poems are courses that take place in cities across Canada. The titles of his poems refer to cities like Louisbourg and Fernie, and more mysterious landmarks like Greenwood Station, Crowsnest Pass, Sailors Memorial Walk, or Bloor Street. Huebert guides us on a journey from place to place, dropping by Nova Scotia for a family Christmas celebration, returning to Toronto from Montreal to reattach a blown roof, and along the way we learn a little about car repair, pubic hair, and how to have sex when there’s company over. We also learn a lot about love, which is a sweet and sticky business, vividly rendered by the last stanza of “what I will remember most about christmas 2011”,

But what I will remember most is you,

naked in the full light of the bedroom,

raising the spoon to your mouth.

Your whole body squirming

against the taste.

Indeed, love and traveling seem to share a mystic connection,

They say the coyotes walked

all the way to Newfoundland.

They followed the moose

across the ice

and if that’s not love

love probably doesn’t exist.

Huebert’s poems also showcase an intelligent wit that is expressed in diverse contexts, from talking about a worrying genital development in “growth”, to the writer’s process in “twenty-four abandoned attempts at the beginning of my first novel”, to the contradictions of nonconformity in “radicals”. This wit is clearly built on top of a good arts education, with requests to “Let us, like good/ Heideggerians, tape our mouths/ and cultivate the ring of stillness”, to mourning a rusty bicycle on Bloor with an uncanny resemblance to “Polynices/ on the battlefield of Thebes./ O, Bicycle, where is your Antigone?”

Yet Huebert’s poems aren’t all fun and games. In “To a Beer-Swillin’ Poet”, one of Huebert’s many poems that engage in conversation with the work of other poets (in this case, Al Purdy’s “The Drunk Tank.”), the experience of being in a drunk tank is given full-frontal exposure,

they’re both face-down in the piss, bleeding.

He bounds over to skinny guy,

starts pummeling his ribcage.

I cringe in the corner, feet on the bench,

flinching with the swings and splashes of piss and blood.

David Huebert’s We Are No Longer the Smart Kids in Class brings the reader in and carries them along. Huebert’s collection is a field trip, one where we fall in love, meet the parents, and watch pornography for the first time, a field trip that takes us from “The cold severity of the Atlantic/ hanging thick as slabs of bacon fat” to “the big, yawning salad/ bowl of Osoyoos Valley.” As the title suggests, Huebert achieves this all with signature modesty, as he explains,

I’m just reaching into

the great refrigerator of existence,

checking for leftovers.

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