Fall Poetry PREVIEW: Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina by Shannon Maguire

Following her ambitious and otherworldly debut,  fur(l) parachute (BookThug, 2013), Shannon Maguire returns with Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina (available now). 

Part two in a planned medievalist trilogy, Myrmurs seizes upon the twelfth-century poetic form of the sestina as a starting point for an exploration of living systems: cities and languages as self-organizing entities; the agency of ant colonies; post-human entanglements and attachments; neocolonialism, and how to break free of it.

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Shannon Maguire on the poem’s genesis:

“I was sitting in my favourite Junction coffee shop one late October day in 2010, double-fisting books and four-shot Americanos in the effort to get inspired … reading medieval poetry and Deborah Gordon’s fascinating Ants at Work: How an Insect Society is Organized, in which she argues that the ant colony itself has a life-cycle and that, contrary to popular metaphor, there is no “queen” and no central organization … [this] got me thinking about mutualisms and parasitisms and living structures … and boom! A sestina exploded.”

For readers a bit fuzzy on medieval European poetic forms, the traditional sestina is a poem of six stanzas followed by a three line envoy (or “send off”), in which the six end-words of the first stanza recur in different order in subsequent stanzas. Like the villanelle, the sestina is powered by accumulated repetition—the path the poet must take to get back to the repeated end-words emphasizes the perforations and connective tissues holding the poem together. It’s a form all about pathways and motion, straying and returning. Myrmurs blows up the traditional sestina into a book-length poem in seven sections, where each section repeats the same six titles (“Noise,” “Letters,” “Pleasure,” “Volume,” “Crowd,” and “Incorrigible.”).

Drawing by David Bateman

Drawing by David Bateman

Maguire selected several specific vocabularies to populate her explosion. Myrmurs is a stunning specimen box of rare words and terminology (words like fipple, thallus, sporophyte, lexeme, epiphyte, syndicalism, and slag). Eschewing traditional poetic lexicons of religion and ancient mythology, in Myrmurs, when Maguire makes an allusion, it is often to the hard sciences (physics and biology), pseudo-science (hydrology, myrmecology), and queer slang. When there are allusions to other poets, they are mostly formal in nature. These elements are choreographed to the “circular dance” of the sestina, hence the titular reference to myrmecochory (mur-Me-coc-KORE-y)—the dispersal of seeds (& fruits) by ants.

By exploding her souped-up sestina, Shannon Maguire shatters the system-environment dichotomy, engaging in, rather than solving, our most contemporary dilemmas. Buzzing with information, style, and lifestyle, Myrmurs is a playful and virtuosic meditation on the serious problems facing us as a species.

Praise for Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina:

“What a relief to find ant traffic arriving at our picnic. Maguire’s poems are acrawl with chaser light shuttles and swaps and deep-kissing industry. Lie back on the cat lick pen nib and let the interswarm of city and green, dream and wake, queer and norm work through your ears, yielding nothing but gorgeous trouble.” —Susan Holbrook, author of Joy is So Exhausting

“Imagine a sestina taken apart by ants and reconfigured as segmented fruit. Imagine empty anglophone calories exposed as petroleum rainbows. Imagine a poetics propelled not by sensitivity to comparison or likeness, but instead by pheromones and their incommensurate, contrapuntal perceptual worlds. Shannon Maguire’s Myrmurs experiments on a culture of experimentation. The result is a diffractive study of bodies of noise—in all their queer, incorrigible biological and linguistic volumes. This extraordinary book will crawl all over you.” —Adam Dickinson, author of The Polymers, Finalist for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and the 2014 Trillium Book Award for Poetry

Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina by Shannon Maguire is available now. Order your copy here.

Upcoming events for Shannon Maguire:

Monday November 2, 2015
Border Blur Reading Series presents Shannon Maguire, author of Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina

Also reading: Jeff Latosik, Sachiko Murakami and Christopher Dewdney
Where: Niagara Artists Centre (354 St. Paul Street, St. Catharines, ON)
Time: 7:00 PM
Free
For more info visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1043081545756046/

Tuesday November 3, 2015
Waterloo Joint Launch for Myrmurs by Shannon Maguire, with David Bateman, and The Poison Colour by Maureen Hynes (Pedlar Press).

With guests Emily Bednarz, Maggie Clarke, Phil Miletic, and Sanchari Sur.
Where: Veritas Cafe, Wilfried Laurier University Campus (75 University Avenue, Waterloo, ON)
Time: Doors at 7:30 PM. Readings at 8:00 PM.
Free. Refreshments will be served.
For more info, or to RSVP, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1509929515998008/

Thursday November 5, 2015
Another Story Book Shop, in partnership with BookThug and Pedlar Press, presents a joint launch of Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina by Shannon Maguire (BookThug, 2015) and Tell by Soraya Peerbaye (Pedlar, 2015). Featuring special guest David Bateman

Where: Another Story Book Shop (315 Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto ON)
Time: 7:00 PM
Free. Refreshments will be served.
For more info visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1509929515998008/

Tuesday November 10, 2015
Art Bar Poetry Series presents Shannon Maguire, author of Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina

Also reading: TBA
Where: The Black Swan (154 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON)
Time: 8:00 PM
PWYC
For more information visit http://www.artbar.org/

Sunday November 15, 2015
Reading with Shannon Maguire, author of Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina and Jennifer Nelson, author of Aim at the Centaur Stealing Your Wife(Ugly Duckling Presse)

Where: Videofag (187 Augusta Avenue, Toronto, ON)
Time: Doors at 7:00 PM. Readings at 7:30 PM.
Readings with Q&A to follow. Free. Books will be for sale.
For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1501495943482362/

Tuesday November 24, 2015
Montreal Double Launch for Myrmurs by Shannon Maguire and A Spectacular Influence by Chantal Neveu, translated by Nathanël.With special guests Erín Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei.

Where: Librairie Le Port de tête (262, avenue du Mont-Royal Est, Montreal, QC)
Time: 5:30 PM
Free. Refreshments will be served.
More info coming soon.

Excerpt from Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina by Shannon Maguire


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Photo credit: Tanis MacDonald

Photo credit: Tanis MacDonald

Shannon Maguire’s first collection, fur(l) parachute, was a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Her Fruit Machine was a finalist for the bpNichol Chapbook Award, and “The Fur Parachute Suite” in CV2 was a finalist for the Manitoba Magazine Award for Best Suite of Poems. Maguire’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including the Best American Experimental Writing of 2014,Jacket2, Event, among others. Maguire, who has taught Creative Writing at Algoma University, holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and an MA in English from Brock University. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, where she studies noise and queer and Métis poetics. Connect with Maguire on Twitter @avant_elle

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