Life Lessons a stumbling success

Devon Lougheed, ArtSci ’06, in his most pensive pose.
Devon Lougheed, ArtSci ’06, in his most pensive pose.
Cover art from Life Lessons from Your Mucous Membranes by Devon Lougheed.
Cover art from Life Lessons from Your Mucous Membranes by Devon Lougheed.
Supplied by Devon Lougheed

Book Review: Life Lessons from Your Mucous Membranes, by Devon Lougheed A Bicycle Made of Anarchy Press, 2005

“Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content.”

This rather self-conscious quote by Paul Valery marks the beginning of Life Lessons from Your Mucous Membranes, a short poetry collection by Devon Lougheed, ArtSci ’06—also known as MC Buttasmooth—and one half of campus favourite Tomate Potate.

Published by A Bicycle Made of Anarchy Press, an independent student press—administered by Lougheed himself and Grace O’Connell, also ArtSci ’06—this small publication is packed with poems that reflect, narrate, and provoke in ways that are confusing and blundering at times, but often poignant and refreshing.

Many subjects are tackled in this short collection, from postmodern reality to Jim Carrey to the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.

With each poem unique from all others, there exists an underlying tone of dissatisfaction that can be best described as postmodern anguish—from the blatant contradictions (“the copies are fighting the real” in “A Few Apocryphas”) to the ugly truths of today’s world we tend to ignore, whether they be blow jobs or the desolate, yellow-toothed man holding on to his cigarette.

Lougheed seems particularly interested in the paradoxical nature of today’s world, where the future meets the past and forced diversity becomes conformity. This is shown in poems like “sad one” and “rck nd rll revlution.” Often heavy in tone and moving in content (with the exception of “good on ya, jim,” a short mockery of Jim Carrey), the poems leave an impression of sad resignation.

My personal favourites included “the ones I love (perfect props)”—a portrayal of love that bases itself on the empty shell of illusion and routine—with lines like “my aesthetic lump of clay/i will determine what is beneath the skin” and “(the idealist) tell me again ... ” with its startling juxtapositions (“about Venice and/your cousin’s lover/and how/she’s the most beautiful city/but foundationless ...”) and “Delicious Tragedie in Boston, 1919,” his straightforward and descriptive account of the infamous molasses flood that really happened 100 years ago.

Lougheed’s strength is in his words, where he sculpts scenes of vivacity and original comparisons. Where he doesn’t succeed as much is when he veers off into the cryptic and rather arbitrary device of eliminating the vowels from his poems sometimes—most notably present in “rck nd rll revlution”—that achieves no distinct effect but confuses the reader and stalls complete understanding of his message. Why he chose to end his collection with “two telephones” is confusing as well, as the poem itself lacks any kind of artistic merit that justifies its complete incoherence and disjunction. The recording of the poem, included in the attached CD with other original musical pieces from Lougheed, provided no consolation—although the cacophony of two people talking at the same time was achieved more effectively on audio, as opposed to the poem itself.

Aside from “two telephones”, the poems are aesthetically pleasing and carefully arranged, conscious of every indent and caesurae they contribute to the overall appearance. The book itself, which looks more like an ephemeral pamphlet, achieves a simple but sophisticated look with a beige colour and the illustration of two snails, side by side, with one slightly off to the corner. I interpreted them as representing the “together but separate” irony of the postmodern world, where people are more accessible to one another, but more isolated with their own thoughts and overwhelming individualism—but that might be just me reading too much into it. The only complaint about the cover is that the title and the author’s name are hard to decipher, due to their small size and an unclear font resembling cursive writing. The CD, attached with the book, is a welcome and noble extra that I interpreted as covering multiple bases of creativity, but I found many songs blending into one as I listened on.

Despite its glitches, I enjoyed this small publication that made all sorts of insightful statements and explored many faces of poetry. The fact that this publishing press, with its quirky name, is actually run by Queen’s students is a welcoming outlet for many creative students here—I look forward to seeing more of its unique publications around campus.

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