Contemporary Canadian Literature with a Distinctly Urban Twist

Anvil Press

The Inflatable Life

The Inflatable Life

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Mark Laba’s second full-length poetry collection—and his first in seventeen years—brings to life the old variety shows he watched on TV as a child, shows forgotten in the vault of broadcast history. In The Inflatable Life, the reader will find a little singing, a little dancing, a little drama, a little comedy, a little experimentation. Laba draws on everything from gritty pulp fiction to Borscht Belt humour, from dime-store ventriloquism to twelve-cent comic books, hurling his surprising and often shocking vaudeville narratives from the peak of the Jewish Alps. Some may call these surreal poems literary atrocities while others hail them as lyricism for an impossible century. Thing is, if Mark Laba didn’t write these poems, no one else would.


“Laba is a virtuoso philosopher clown, the lovechild of John Ashbery and Groucho Marx, the Coen Brothers and James Tate, dancing on the jiggly high wire of our absurd, troubling, and hilarious carnivaleque times, his poems finely attuned to the tang, the joy and sorrow, the nostalgia and surprise of our present moment. With disarming depth and insight, these hilarious yet strangely probing poems show us what it means—what it can mean—to live in a semiotic funhouse, to have language and be alive with its crazy delight.”

The Inflatable Life is a dizzying literary dream world where one moment you’re in a retelling of ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ but the wine cellar is a wall unit and the murder story narrated by a wall-unit emporium owner named Phil—and the next you’re in ‘Tolstoy’s Leech Farm’ with a sprained ankle who grows a beard and a poet who ‘belches insignificantly.’ Laba presents uncanny poetic reveries with humour reminiscent of Russell Edson and James Tate. He always delights, occasionally disturbs, and often surprises. Read this book. Please.”

“The Wikipedia article for bathos adds a caveat that it contains ‘indiscriminate, excessive, or irrelevant examples’ and asks users to ‘please improve the article by adding more descriptive text and removing less pertinent examples.’ With his late-career masterwork, The Inflatable Life, Mark Laba shows us he is the crown prince, nay the poet laureate, of his own brand, call it labathos, of sudden, gear-clashing shifts from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. Readers will find encomiums to luncheon meat and hot sausages, imprints of anchovies dreaming of hamburger meat, the odd swipe at Nazi artifacts and the ‘monster of Baden-Baden,’ Wallace ‘Beery’ Stevens. Please improve these poems by reading them.”
CLINT BURNHAM author of Pound @ Guantánamo

A Feed Dog Book / An Imprint of Anvil Press / Imprint Editor: Stuart Ross

  • Publication: May 2019
  • ISBN: 978-1-77214-142-9
  • Pages: 80 pp.
  • Size: 5.25 x 8.25 inches

Mark Laba is a writer and artist living in Vancouver. He cut his teeth in the early ’80s Toronto small press scene before hightailing out to the West Coast. His early published work is ephemeral in nature, taking the form of leaflets and the odd chapbook. His first poetry chapbook, Movies in the Insect Temple (Proper Tales Press) appeared in 1981. In 1985, his chapbook The Mack Bolan Poems (Gesture Press) won the first bpNichol Chapbook Award. After a long hiatus, Dummy Spit (Mercury Press, 2002) was published, and Mark again went into hiding, emerging now and again to be included in the anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence (The Mercury Press, 2005) and Stuart Ross’s collection of collaborative poems, Our Days in Vaudeville (Mansfield Press, 2013). His most recent chapbook, Tuska-loose’a (Puddles of Sky Press), appeared in 2017. Mark has a long, storied career as a jackass-of-all-trades, working as a watchmaker, anatomical model painter, name-tag maker, faux finisher for artists’ wall tiles, stock and bond messenger, vertical-blind assembler, darkroom technician, and scriptwriter for animated films on how to deal with conflicts in the business workplace, a topic about which he was ill equipped to give advice. But he forged on and in 2000 talked his way into being the restaurant reviewer for the Vancouver Province newspaper, where his column, “Mark Laba’s Adventures in Dining”, ran until 2009. He disappeared after that.

Books by Mark Laba