by Billeh Nickerson
c.2014, Arsenal Pulp Press;
$14.95; 96 pages
A little of this and a little of that.
It’s the way conversation flows when you’re with a friend. You mosey from subject to subject, you touch upon a funny story which leads to another topic you can both gnaw on before you move to something totally different.
That’s a glue that holds you together. It’s the stuff of friendship. And in the new book Artificial Cherry by Billeh Nickerson, it’s several points to ponder.
In his travels, poet and spoken word artist Nickerson has seen it all. More or less.
He’s seen interesting things done with a glass eye, an object you almost never hear about unless it has to do with a certain actress. He’s seen buildings that have been gentrified, and remembered the particular reason why they resonated so well in his memories, struggling not to blurt the truth to his unsuspecting host. He’s been asked peculiar questions by a doctor in Montreal just before he “fell in love with the possibility of what a misplaced medical chart could offer my anatomy…” And he’s pondered the usefulness of thumbs (imagine hitchhiking without them).
His experiences haven’t all been odd: while apartment hunting, he noted the dirt and other objects left behind by previous tenants. He couldn’t ignore something so poignantly personal, though; something that “shadowed everything in its wake.”
And then there was the Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival, held on the “shores of Okanagan Lake” in Canada and filled with fun and food. More than twenty Elvis impersonators gathered to entertain fans of the King. The most impressive thing about those fans, says Nickerson, was that they actually cleaned up after themselves.
In this book, Nickerson pens poems and short essays about these and other things. He writes about poetry that he couldn’t bear to read publicly in the days after 9/11 and that was uncomfortable, even years later. He wonders what would have happened if Mary had named Jesus something else (knowing, surely, that the name of a Montreal credit union would have to change, too). And he writes movingly of his grandfather’s dream of running with dogs, his grandmother’s dreams of dancing, and he hears the music to accompany both.
Though it’s brief—a little too brief, I thought—“Artificial Cherry” contains plenty: sass, silliness, a bit of the scandalous, wry observations, “irony,” laughs, absurdity, sadness, and observations that will make you stop and think.
Author Billeh Nickerson has a great eye for what most people don’t notice, in fact, and his poems bring those things to light. There’s really no theme to this book—just poems and very short musings on whatever Nickerson deems fit, which gives it a good browse-ability. No matter where you jump in, though, the rest of his work will beg to be read and you’ll happily oblige.
At well under 100 pages, this book won’t take you long to read…the first time. Past that, it’s something you’ll want to read again and (maybe) read aloud because Artificial Cherry is the real deal.