Moses Iten reviews Ian Ferrier

28 September 2003

Exploding Head Man by Ian Ferrier
Planete rebelle (CD, Montreal, Canada), 2000

4AM and the walk home laced with an icy rain. This line begins Ian Ferrier's Exploding Head Man, the author's wild, Canadian environment making itself felt right from the outset of this journey that is both physical and philosophical. From Montreal to Baja &#151 Canada to Mexico &#151 Ferrier's work is a road trip of fire and ice, passing under the desert sun and ploughing through snow storms.

The poem of the CD book's title clearly describes Ferrier's restlessness. He is a man on the run, even when sitting still:

I am exploding headman
holding the fuse that blows the universe machine
till space and time spill out and freeze
and fill the nothing with a million tangled
molecules of you and me and it and what and how and us and thee and why and now

                            ('Exploding Head Man')

Along the way Ferrier does occasionally slow down and in 'This Fire', he whispers in his hauntingly deep voice, 'And in this icebound house I'm listening'. Yet, even when static, Ferrier is possessed by motion:

and I'm lying here on my back
and having carved a skylight out of winter
I'm driving down some back road

                            ('This Fire')

Although the wintry setting appears inert, the ice quickly melts: 'What is this motion to pull the belly out from me, / that heats my legs into some crazy bent outdated dance?' Hence the journey continues 'along the snow-filled avenues /of lovers she held too long' and 'on an endless train rolling through Colorado / Utah Nevada New Mexico'.

Ferrier speeds up until &#151 to my mind &#151 he climaxes with 'Too Fast and Liquid to Hold On', describing his own life as rafting trip through the raging white waters of the Colorado River. Like getting stuck in an eddy, Ferrier relishes the circularity of life: 'of living at a pace where nothing can begin / when nothing ever ends'.

The only poems that might fail to grab are those that feel as if they were written after Ferrier had locked away his backpack in the cupboard and stopped thumbing rides &#151 poems such as 'Courtship', 'Jericho', 'The Crowd Shouts' and 'Hear Your Child Call'. Ferrier's book concludes with 'Hey You Old Man', which alludes to the only inevitability in life we all face and are ultimately forced to succumb to, while also understanding that the journey of life never ends as long as that sail is hoisted in the wind.

What can we do so we don't fade away? And hearing no answer, still we sing and scratch our stories on the rocks as if all of us knew the reasons why we've come and even our evolution was no accident of place or time. And the older we become, the more the song itself seems quite enough &#151 the tale and the teller, the ocean and an old man when it's late, when the stories he tells all last all night Though the night holds a sleep a thousand years long when his ship is this voice, when its wake trails silver on water in motion you are the sail.

                            ('Hey You Old Man')

Ferrier questions life by being that sail, and his answer is this book. Exploding Head Man is a collection of 17 poems or songs in which he mostly exceeds his own aim: 'I grew up in an age where song lyrics were (and are) more central to the culture than poems. And for all the subtlety and power of the music I listened to, the lyrics were for the most part awful'.

Ferrier speaks to people lured by the sounds of jamming jazz musicians &#151 the lyricist with a voice deep in sound and thought &#151 inspiring a crowd gathered round in the smoke-filled room, all in different phases of their journeys but nodding to each other.

To stay on the road is to sprout roots within yourself.

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