Lazy Bastardism is an anthology of essays on poetry that date from 2004 to early 2012. The writing is consistently strong in every respect: well-crafted prose glimmering with insight, brimming with rhetoric. Lazy Bastardism is also a formidable book by a formidable figure.
Montreal resident Carmine Starnino’s opening description of a working class Italian-Catholic upbringing is instantly recognizable: the author contrasts the way his first poetic inclinations emerged from the richness and heaviness of liturgical language with the clear-eyed practicality of a solidly working-class community. Starnino’s writing continues to be imbued with these formative cues. As a result, his commentary shifts frequently and suddenly between denunciation and reverence.
It’s been said that Starnino is at his finest when his knives are out. For some, there is a certain schadenfreude in seeing a seemingly untouchable icon like Margaret Atwood castigated for her “waning vision and waxing vanity.” Al Purdy and A.F. Moritz are also chipped away at. Sometimes, the excessive rhetoric roils into hyperbole, and loses some of its persuasive charm.
However, Starnino’s ear is a tuning fork when it comes to studying the notes of the lyric. In these pieces he shows the reader how to hone the skills necessary for poetic appreciation. His work is most rewarding when he is celebratory. Starnino is generous in discussing the Montreal poets in general, and younger poets, such as David O’Meara or Karen Solie, specifically. This makes sense, given that he also edited an anthology of Canadian poetry called The New Canon. Starnino is a believer, but also a reformer.
Although this collection serves as a general overview of Starnino’s critical work, it takes a sophisticated approach to its subject. Readers not well versed in the work of the poets discussed (or their influences), could very well find themselves lost. This challenging book will prove rewarding as long as the reader understands that it isn’t a primer, but a compendium.
From Quill and Quire. Reviewed by Stevie Howell (from the January 2013 issue)