Whistle Stops: A Locomotive Serial Poem

Whistle Stops: A Locomotive Serial Poem



About the book

Whistle Stops: A Locomotive Serial Poem occurs over a series of train rides between Toronto and London, Ontario. Each segment of the poem, marked by a time stamp and train number, occupies one train ride. Jack Spicer's concept of serial poetry combines with Charles Olson's "projective verse" in a dynamic that resembles the momentum of a train as it carries the poet speaker towards and away from her love interest. Whistle Stops is also informed by Philip Larkin's "The Whitsun Weddings", Thomas Hardy's "On the Departure Platform", and Allen Ginsberg's Iron Horse, works in which these male poets incorporated the train as a phallus image into the railway poem tradition. Even so, Izsak responds to critiques of the poetic movements she clearly reveres with unbridled (and surreal) female sexuality. In "Nov. 12th to London 16:36", she writes, "Oh train / it is strange for your shape / that I / am inside you". In Whistle Stops, sex—like rail travel and serial poetry—hurtles forward in non-narrative fashion, as a rhythmic train of thought offset by purely poetic spasms. Whistle Stops is not a reaction against the railway tradition or the Olsonian tradition, but an unapologetically female addition to a movement that is and should be still in motion.

About the author

Izsak, Emily

Emily Izsak was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, where she recently completed her first year of the University of Toronto’s MA in English and Creative Writing program. Her work has been published in Arc, The Puritan, House Organ, Cough, The Steel Chisel, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and Hart House Review. In 2014, she was selected as PEN Canada’s New Voices Award nominee.


from Oct. 22nd 83 to London 16:35

Daughters of impulse
in rarely shameful primacy
your precipitous vertebrae
heighten the ball game

Agony of lateral movement
versus the dialectic in and out
come and go
thumb and clitoris

In gentler times in a better
train car
the music may develop


For some time now I’d been looking forward to Toronto poet Emily Izsak’s first trade poetry collection, Whistle Stops: A Locomotive Serial PoemWhistle Stops is constructed out of an extended sequence, with a shorter sequence included as a kind of coda. The poems in… >>

— Rob McLennan Rob McLennan's blog

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