John Stintzi's The Machete Tourist

Knife Fork Book - 2018 - $15

Review by Kim Fahner

In the last two years, Knife Fork Book (https://knifeforkbook.com) has made a name for itself across Canada as a cornerstone of the Toronto poetry community. Run by Kirby, a poet in their own right who recently published the sharply turned out She’s Having a Doris Day, the little poetry bookshop that could has also been publishing a sequence of accomplished chapbooks. The Machete Tourist, by John Stintzi, is a real find, made from beautiful paper, with classic type, and stunning poems inside.

Stintzi’s debut collection circles beautifully around thematic notions of searching, longing, definitions of identity, and connection, in a woven kind of way. In the opening poem, “Dayspring,” Stintzi creates a string of metaphors that roll along in waves of imagery: “The tall bridge home is arching its back to kiss the soil. The dead end is still on life support. The motel has nailed its shutters closed…The key is undressing the lock.” It’s the dexterity with image and metaphor evident here that threads itself through the chapbook as a whole. In the closing poem, “War Wounds,” the speaker writes of shaving their legs, like “a machete tourist,” and “marveling in the feeling of the feminine elsewhere,” returning to the unshakeable way in which we all search for ourselves, in both our solitude and in our connection to others.

Expressed longing is a frequent presence, making poems breathe and resonate. Both “To A Sub-Hudson Kindcore Jersey Punk” and “To Be Beside Oneself” vibrate with desire, ringing with those questions of identity. In the first piece, the poet writes of seeing a man in the subway, transfixed by his pink converse shoes and “tattoos of treble clefs.” They say: “I have never written a love poem/for a man before but you/have blue hair.” The object of their desire leaves the train, disappears into the streets, so that his smile becomes a “nasty commuter habit” for the watcher. In “To Be Beside Oneself,” Stintzi broaches the notion of self, how a person can be too taken up by the thought of someone else, and how sometimes a person can mistakenly erase themselves if they are too taken by someone.  They write: “so long as he’s here, I am not,” and then, in the strong, final stanza “I’m completely invisible in orbit of him:/a moon, light-shy, of inconsequential gravity./And everyone in this galaxy-cold city/only ever holds the door open for him.”

Binding these thematic threads is the central concept of connection, not only between people but within, amongst, a world of living things. In “Transmission Lines,” Stintzi speaks of how the trees and plants communicate with one another through the “web of roots,” a “whale-song swimming through dark wet soil.” They formulate similar relations in “An Aubade…”, when they write of how a friend might have hurt themselves: “You are somewhere else/and I am here, worrying you out/in this poem.” These are poignant poems that speak to how our personal connections work, to how deeply interwoven they must be for anything to flourish, and to how poetry can participate in that essential work of weaving.

This debut collection is so deftly crafted that one’s left truly hoping it foreshadows the publication of a full-length book sometime in the near future. Stintzi’s The Machete Tourist sings with thoughtful observation and poetic crafting, asking its readers to examine our own sense of identity, prejudices, and – perhaps more importantly – the possibilities available to us to strengthen our network of a more connected spirit of humanit