by Rob Winger
Old Hat is the third book of poetry and first collection of occasional poems by the author of the 2007 Globe 100 book, Muybridge’s Horse: Governor General and Trillium Awards nominee, Rob Winger. Driven by an attempt to understand how to reorder common experience, the book’s transitional sections – “Set,” “Re/Set,” and “Lect” – all intertwine and overlap, thematically and intuitively linked by the extensive range and depth of Winger’s poetics.
While each section is discrete, each is also in harmony with its neighbours. The “Re/set” sections revive clichés of Canadian lyricism—landscape and maple syrup, Icarus falling and human-rights rhetoric, war and ancestral migration, death, love, and disease—not only to critique but also to validate the experiential urgency of poetic reflection, while the “Set” sections harness Winger’s vernacular voice in a struggle for self-definition against powerfully pedestrian political and economic systems. “They signed Yu Darvish without seeing his fork,” Winger writes in one poem. “They signed their books without looking up at us./ They gave you fries with that without even asking.” Such a balance of agency and inaction is also central in Old Hat’s final section, “Lect,” a simmering simulation of grad-school jargon, sailor slang, plumbing terminology, and GPS directives that exposes the limitations of esoteric linguistic ontologies by moving from general observations to those of increasingly expert understanding.
While rich with advice to “Keep your personal longings with you at all times,” Old Hat is also generous, incisive, boisterous, and funny, a book about place, but also about understanding and situation. Spoken through clichés, vernacular, and jargon, Old Hat is just as familiar as it is odd, just as comforting as disquieting, an exceptional meditation on what it means to think about writing.