Finally, a poet for biologists, geneticists and physicists, or for those who feel that lately modern poetry has been too wrapped up in self-conscious sentiments. Concordia master’s degree candidate Larissa Andrusyshyn focuses the microscope on the relationship between art and science, loss and expression, Darwin and the human impulse in her newly published poetry anthology, Mammoth. Andrusyshyn appeared for a reading at Concordia Co-op Bookstore’s Local Legends Reading Series.
Mammoth is a stunning and inventive study in concise, efficient language. It seeks to express the wish of those who suffer incomprehensible loss to quantify emotion in principles of physics. If it is not to gain perspective, it is to better understand principles of human nature. The book’s loose narrative follows the lumbering, yet sympathetic mammoth character from his discovery in the Siberian permafrost, as he walks among Cro-Magnon exhibits at museums, as he first goes to school, becomes a geneticist, and contemplates the world that exists in the petri dish.
Andrusyshyn explained her fascination with surrealism in Grumpy’s Bar on Bishop Street, nursing a pint, talking excitedly. The mammoth, she said, is a surrealist device to explore social assimilation; he is trying to find himself in a world 35,000 years after his time. Having experienced the loss of her father at an early age, Andrusyshyn’s uses her mammoth as a liaison between extinction and the fascination with which we treat the extinct. The mammoth’s bizarre actions highlight the absurdity of loss and grief. When trauma steals away words, Mammoth uses numbers, formulas and probabilities that calculate the unlikeliness of life and the subsequent likeliness of death.
With highly stylized, innovative imagery and effective experiments with syntax, Andrusyshyn is liable to bring readers to their knees. It is easy to get lost in the quirkiness of the mammoth, but the themes addressed in Mammoth register at a visceral level. If the beast can struggle with the human need to bring order into chaos, then so can we and so can the poet.
When asked if Montreal has any particular impact on her writing, Andrusyshyn answered that her characters exist in a kind of “nether-space” where time and specificity of place are not important. However, she did hint that any city offers material for the artist. Montreal is a microcosm bustling with carbon-based species and sub-species that beg a closer look with the precise eye of a poet or a scientist. These are walking experiments, representations of principles, living, breathing examples of cells splitting rapidly in petri dishes.
Mammoth is Andrusyshyn’s first poetry collection for which she has been shortlisted for the Quebec Writer’s Federation First Book Award. Her work has appeared in publications such as Versal, Headlight, The Future Hygienic, and Rogue Stimulus.
You can pick up a copy of Mammoth at the Co-Op Bookstore, 2150 Bishop St.