Burnham's poetry works at the edges of meaning, propriety, and the commodification of language. Combining elements of found textthe overheard, the over-readhe recasts his findings in various combinations that are unique to their presentation on the page. The essentials of language, how people use itand how it uses themis Burnham's main concern. Whether inspiration arises from a 1920s newspaper clipping (poems formulated in the structure of newspaper columns that can be read either horizontally or vertically), as in "98Ruskin," or grows out of interactions with street youth in poetry workshops in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, "Poverty Pimp," or is diffused from snippets of conversation on a bus, the nuances of speechrhythm, inflection, insinuation, the multiplicity of meaningget filtered down and assimilated with the daily hum and buzz of the immediate world around him. "Chicken Fallujah" and "Rental Van" grew out of a trip to San Francisco during the spring of 2004, when the US Marine assault on Fallujah in Iraq was in full swing. In a text replete with cultural references and riffs on the morphing of language, Burnham shows us how words are powerful implements that are invariably wrenched to accommodate the needs of the user. From gang lingo signifiers to urban iconography, Rental Van demonstrates that language is indeed the "nurse and oxygen tent of epistemology."
“For its part, Clint Burnham’s Rental Van largely eschews a stable subject position. In this restlessly experimental book, language itself is a rented van, of which we only have temporary use. While this collection offers poems in various formats, including columns, blocks, and giant fonts, it steadily treats language as a kind of mechanism: a set of grammatical rules and lexical options that function quite apart from their content. Bits of narrative and snippets of voices briefly surface before being lost to new contexts: “he drives the suv in the family the blank look of a progressive house dj cd cover next to others just like him nine opposing biceps …” In this sense perhaps Rental Van is more like a bus which, regardless of who is aboard, pushes on to the next stop.”
Clint Burnham was born in Comox, British Columbia, which is on the traditional territory of the K’ómoks (Sathloot) First Nation, centred historically on kwaniwsam. Since 1995 he has lived in the Mount Pleasant district of Vancouver. Books include Airborne Photo (stories, 1999), Smoke Show (novel, 2005), Rental Van (poetry, 2007) and The Benjamin Sonnets (poetry, 2009). He has taught at the University of British Columbia, Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Capilano College, and, since 2007, at Simon Fraser University.
Author photo: Chris Brayshaw