Pregnant / Meaning / Everything

by Jake Morrow

Jake Morrow is a current poet and former brunch cook based in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario. Jake is a PhD English student at Queen’s University and a graduate of the Creative Writing Master’s program at University of Toronto. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in BAD NUDES, Half a Grapefruit Magazine, The Hart House Review, Bad Dog Mag, Funicular, and elsewhere.

All the People Are Pregnant
Andrew DuBois
Goose Lane
2021, 80 pp., $19.95

 

I’m writing this review amid the battle of a lifetime—one of countless currently playing out across the world. On a nearby table, strategically placed just beyond my reach, my phone screen is lighting up again. Somewhere in California—but simultaneously everywhere and right there behind a simple lock-screen—the Metaverse (or whatever you want to call it) is hard at work, fighting to control my day, my life, perhaps even my soul?

Okay. Maybe that seems a bit dramatic, but the reality is that within that little device that I take with me everywhere, nearly every issue, argument, and event is unfolding in real time. Every level of every society is in the balance. The issues of our day are playing out at an alarmingly steady pace, and the social media machine is churning out content with equal speed.

A click away are the hearts and minds of nearly every person involved in innumerable existential battles and political showdowns over life-defining issues. There’s a housing crisis, an opioid crisis, a policing crisis, countless civil rights crises, and the fallout of an attempted coup down south. There is so much hate and so much war, and, behind it all, there are the unfathomable and seemingly endless number of COVID deaths which continue to increase as we hurtle towards the manmade end of the Anthropocene. The consequences are real, they are dire, they are everywhere, and they are here in my phone.

It’s a lot to process.

As a species, we have evolved our capacity to communicate and socialize over thousands of years. Throughout that history, we have never needed to speak to more than a handful of people at any given time; we’ve rarely needed to process more than one or two tidbits of information simultaneously. Suddenly, though, in the last couple of decades, all of that has changed. Our communities have become increasingly massive and ever-present. Our attention is understandably divided.

All the people are pregnant here, indeed: they are full and ripe with meaning, as is seemingly everything.

I begin with this, because this context is the starting point of DuBois’ All the People Are Pregnant, an ambitious debut poetry collection that explores the ways in which we experience and express our existence. At the core of his text are probes into the structures and constructs we’ve built to hold meaning, to hold the self and the other, the natural world, and the very language we use to describe it all. In his work, all things converge to find representation and meaning in poetry. All the people are pregnant here, indeed: they are full and ripe with meaning, as is seemingly everything.

DuBois begins with the titular poem, a stunning piece that sets the table with the confluence of influences, preoccupations, and styles that unravel over the course of the text’s opening section and throughout the larger work. The poem “All the People Are Pregnant” delivers a “hit parade of slummery,” sharply taking on the language of urban growth and gentrification, of simultaneous moral and structural decay. The reader is urged to “[enlist] everyone you’ve ever known to hold / the wires of the balloons, to keep these full / Cartoons from flying off like clean streets / we had a filthy handle on.” Images of the dystopic reality of our present moment bounce and parade through stanzas and subsequent poems, not only as dramatically as giant balloons and floats, the reins of which must be held onto for dear life, but also as the “Refuse collected by accident resting blown, / or having been thrown angry” about our streets.

What we find there, littered about the settings to come, is a dazzling kaleidoscope of Western history—moments, flashes of entertainment, art, human knowledge, and progress all unfold, for better or for worse, before our eyes. The poet and the reader are left grasping for understanding at a time so overloaded with information and consequence that it is impossible for the human mind to fathom.

To be sure, this by no means a gloomy or overly cumbersome collection. Although dense and demanding of attention at times, DuBois’ writing is playful, witty, and deeply referential—a genuine joy to read. It is both aware and self-aware, and DuBois is at his best when he takes in the enormity of the issues he addresses all at once, expanding and narrowing his field of focus line-by-line to capture both context and consequence.

Although dense and demanding of attention at times, DuBois’ writing is playful, witty, and deeply referential—a genuine joy to read.

Another highlight, “Infidels over the Hills,” follows soon after “All the People,” again unveiling a guiding theme. Here, DuBois takes on humanity’s inclination toward sensemaking, both to first justify and later explain violence. The poem begins with a search crew laying a grid of string over a landscape, looking for a “smoking gun” of evidence. “Somebody did this, or some poor soul,” the speaker begins, following their “urge to theory” on the nature of death that “forces order in the chaos / That it forces.” The poem again expands to expose the larger systems at play in the act of creating borders and parcelling out land. The speaker says: “I love it when they lay down grids where no grids are, / They once did that on this space too.” Finally, the evidence is unearthed, as the titular Infidels come to violently protect their way of thinking:

                        We are huddled in a little church, dilapidated, the roof unbuilt,
           The walls fall down. You hold me against your wishes. They are
                         Upon us now—horrible, loud, kaleidoscopic: our history.
           Mystified. Outrageous. Now biting my ear – expansion, destiny—
                         Whispering three little words: location location location.

In subsequent sections, DuBois employs an impressive range of lyrical forms and styles, such as those on display in “Genie fur,” “Studies in Neurobiology,” “The Real Morning (after Francis Farmer,” and “Yellow Bird,” a deceptively understated sonnet in which a “bookish hateful hand” forcefully squeezes a song out of a little yellow bird. In an era where code switching takes place without opening our mouths or looking up from our phones as we move between conversations with the swipe of a thumb, DuBois moves competently between styles, dialects, and forms. He is often tender, irreverent, laugh out loud funny, and always sharply, satirically poignant. In “Blood for Wizard Oil,” for example, an auto industry R&D department is forced to find a solution for life after oil and settles on using human blood to fuel its cars. “The civilized woman and man now turn / In their hour of desperate need to the vampire,” the speaker tells us, and later: “that stuff don’t got that evil magic power … it ain’t consistent like good diesel or kerosene evil.” 

This is not a stepping back from the stress and anxiety and hustle of our daily lives. It is a strapping of the self to a bomb and riding it straight into the ground. It is standing in sublime awe, breathless by the grandeur of all that is weighing down the human spirit.

There is a phrase and a philosophy many poets are fond of that posits that the very act of reading and writing poetry is revolutionary. That by taking the time to distance oneself from the “hustle and bustle” and from the superstructures that govern our daily lives, we are reclaiming something of our humanity. In All the People are Pregnant, I find a similar yet opposite notion. This is not a stepping back from the stress and anxiety and hustle of our daily lives. It is a strapping of the self to a bomb and riding it straight into the ground. It is standing in sublime awe, breathless by the grandeur of all that is weighing down the human spirit. While not every poem and moment dazzles, there are more than enough that do, and they all combine to create an impressive debut showing. It is, again, an ambitious undertaking, but the scope of the systems DuBois’ work critiques is huge and dizzyingly. All of human history, all ways of seeing, knowing, and communicating—all action and inaction—has brought us to the present moment, and that is the target of his collection.

And yet, despite it all, there is something reassuring about the human spirit’s ability to still smile, laugh, love, believe and plan, even in the face of death. DuBois recognizes that resilience of spirit and he writes it. At the end of the day, no matter how dire the problems we face are, we still make time for art, for attempting to fathom the human condition and existence. All the people are pregnant, indeed, with something still unexplainable despite billions of unique ways of understanding. We are all still here, for now, and we are still full of life and love and soul. We are all pregnant with possibility and magic.



Jake Morrow is a current poet and former brunch cook based in Toronto and Kingston, Ontario. Jake is a PhD English student at Queen’s University and a graduate of the Creative Writing Master’s program at University of Toronto. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in BAD NUDES, Half a Grapefruit Magazine, The Hart House Review, Bad Dog Mag, Funicular, and elsewhere.

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