Clint Burnham teaches in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. His urban-hipster poetry has been praised as energetic, casually obscene, ironic and cynical. In The Only Poetry That Matters (Arsenal Pulp 2011) he provides the first book-length examination of the Kootenay School of Writing. In his fiction collection Airborne Photo (Anvil, 1999), characters drink rye with Grandma, bite their own penis and spit duck feet bones onto the plastic tablecloth in a late-night Chinatown eatery. The title poem for his volume, rental van (Anvil 2007), arose from a trip to San Francisco during the spring of 2004 when the US Marines made their assault on Fallujah in Iraq. As a visual arts critic, he has written on the likes of Ken Lum (Camera Austria) and Brian Jungen (Grove Dictionary of Art). Working as a publisher, editor, Capilano College teacher and critic, Burnham has also taught at UBC and Emily Carr College, plus he ran a liberal arts outreach program for people on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for three years. His other books include The Jamesonian Unconscious (1995) and his first collection of poetry, Be Labour Reading (1997). Smoke Show (2005), touted as a novel told in conversation, is a sparse work written in 1995.

Burnham was born in Comox in 1962 and has lived in France, Germany, Arvida, Bagotville, Edmonton, Goose Bay, Cold Lake, Regina, Victoria and Vancouver.

White Lie by Clint Burnham (Anvil Press $18)

Beguiling with their brevity, the mini-prose puzzles in Clint Burnham’s White Lie consist of one-paragraph snippets that may or may not be autobiographical.

Described on the book jacket as “part travelogue, part autofiction” as well as “a series of quick bursts,” Burnham’s diary-like observations are connected in terms of tone rather than narrative.

The glue is Burnham’s cryptic, clever, literary gamesmanship. Can you deduce what he’s talking about in these mostly diary-like entries?
For an entry called Mark, he writes:

“In the long run…” the economics professor droned on at the military college, in a lecture hall built in 1930. A wiseass from the back of the room piped up “… we’ll all be dead!” That night he sat next to a literature professor, the poet, Mark Madoff. His colleague, who wore tapered shirts, was named Brodsky, which led to a few russophobic jokes. He asked him what an oak bay was. The poet had been published in 3cent Pulp the previous decade.

Most people nowadays would not know that 3cent Pulp was a Vancouver-based literary publication, created by Stephen Osborne and others, that led to the creation of Pulp Press, which later changed its name to Arsenal Pulp. So White Lie is not for most people.

Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996), a friend of dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, was arguably the greatest (or best-known) poet to emerge from post-war Russia. Soon after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, Brodsky gave a long-winded reading at UBC in 1972. It is presumed you might know this.

Seemingly haphazard but stylishly clever, Burnham’s recollective entries are not connected by personality or plot; instead, they are bound together by his wry, critical eye, a tad elitist to be sure, but often funny and—most importantly—never dull.

It was Joni Mitchell, while giving a rare public address in Sechelt, who pointed out that most of the music we hear is degenerate. That is, it is a copy of something that came before. Hence the job of the artist is to make something new. One suspects Clint Burnham would agree.
For an entry called Roman Idol, he writes:

It was in a small bar in a rough part of town. Port side, near the hostel for destitute sailors, which had computers set up so melancholy Filipinos, crew members for the tankers bobbing the harbour, could Skype home. The bar had an American Idol-type thing going. It was down to two final contestants, Paolo, a construction worker who still lived with his mother but did killer arias, and this satirical guy, Marcel, who did Kenny Rogers. Paolo won, and that’s all she wrote.

While an arch, cleverer-than-thou barrage may turn off some readers, it could fascinate others.

The arresting cover photo by Stephen Waddell depicts a furtive and desperate young couple, semi-clad, escaping via a cement tunnel, seemingly Adam and Eve-like, as if banished from the Garden. It is perplexing. Like the title, White Lie, it does not convey much about the writing within, at least not from the perspective of the Average Joe, Jill or They.
One reader in ten might like it; but that reader might like it a lot. 978-1-77214-174-0

BCBW 2021-22


Fatal Femmes: The Poetry of Lynn Crosbie. An Essay. (Toronto: Lowlife, 1991; Toronto: Streetcar Editions, 1993).
Jamesonian Unconscious: The Aesthetics of Marxist Theory (Duke University Press, 1995).
Be Labour Reading (ECW Press, 1997).
Airborne Photo (Anvil, 1999). Stories.
Buddyland (Coach House Books, 2000). Poetry.
Steven McCafferey (ECW Press, 2003).
Smoke Show (Arsenal Pulp, 2005). Fiction.
rental van (Anvil, 2007). Poetry.
The Only Poetry That Matters:Reading the Kootenay School of Writing (Arsenal, 2011). Literary Criticism.
Digital Natives, Eds., Lorna Brown, Clint Burnham. (City of Vancouver Public Art Program, 2011) 978 0-9866819-1-2
Pound @ Guantanamo 20 Poems: 2005 - 2014 (Talon, 2016) $17.95 978-0-88922-979-2
White Lie (Anvil, 2021) $18 978-1-77214-174-0

[BCBW 2021] "Poetry" "Literary Criticism"