Poetry, November 2011, 128 pages
Cover Art by David Poolman
Onion Man is a sparse and intense series of linked poems told from the point of view of an eighteen-year-old girl working for the summer at a corn-canning factory. The poems follow her relationships with her factory job, her boyfriend, her alcoholic mother, her terminally ill grandfather, and the man who every night “peels an onion and eats it as if it were an apple.”
“In Onion Man Kathryn Mockler takes an age-old metaphor and applies it to the construction and consumption of the book: each page turned a layer peeled away, revealing through subtraction a poignant coming-of-age story and a razor-sharp dissection of gender and class relations set in late-1980s Ontario. Unlike much of the ‘work writing’ popular at that time, Mockler’s single stanza texts, solid as the cans of corn her narrator pushes down the line, transcend the story of their production, allowing for overtones many of us will recognize from our own teenage years. Wise, honest, familiar and insightful, this is a book I will read more than once.”
Michael Turner, author of Hard Core Logo and The Pornographer’s Poem
Buried in Print, June 2015
GIF: In the workplace, on the page
Kathryn Mockler’s Onion Man (2011)
“The first night, time went
by fast because it was new,
but since then, the hours
drag on the way I imagine
seconds do for kittens
drowning in a burlap bag.
When I’m at the factory
everything feels as if it’s
in slow motion, but when
I’m off work time moves
Kathryn Mockler presses the monotony of factory work between the pages of Onion Man; every aspect of the job, from the break room to the line, is presented for the reader’s consideration. The language is suitably ordinary, but the selection of details is remarkable, for the reader truly feels the stifling energy of that long, tedious summer.
Hazel Millar, 49th Shelf, League of Canadian Poets: Food and Poetry, April 2, 2015
Onion Man is a series of linked poems told from the point of view of an 18-year-old girl working a summer job at a corn canning factory. In it, we meet a quiet immigrant named Onion Man who is in "a country where/ he doesn't speak/the language" and "every night he/peels an onion and eats/it as if it were an apple." A very powerful and intense collection from one of the most exciting and fresh voices in CanLit. Read More
Jason Dickson, The London Yodeller, February 27, 2014
"Kathryn Mocker is easily one of the more interesting artists to come from London, Ontario in quite some time. I came to know her peripherally through the Forest City Gallery and anecdotally when she and her husband David Poolman (another one of the more interesting folks to come from London) rented an apartment from a friend. They both give very good Facebook, are genuinely funny and interesting, and are each producing a very impressive body of art and literature. Kathryn’s first book, Onion Man, is a highly readable, interesting, anecdotal - as well as locally set - collection of narrative poems. It might also be one of the few published descriptions of what it was like growing up in downtown 1990s London as it includes a bit about dropping acid in Galleria Mall - I don’t know what YOUR nineties were like, folks, but . . . It also includes a shout-out to the program Brave New Waves, a cultural institution - much missed - of my friends and I, as well as scenes set at Call the Office and the old standby, the Brunswick Hotel. It is also very, unexpectedly, sad." Read More
Tanis MacDonald, Lemon Hound, June 14, 2013
"The individual poems of Kathryn Mockler’s Onion Man, which hover between a novel in verse and a long poem sequence, appear on the page in vertical chunks of text, rarely taking up a whole page or even venturing out into a long poetic line. One reviewer has compared the poems’ appearance to the cans of corn produced at the factory at which the protagonist works, and while that is true, the silence around each poem is as intriguing – and as fiercely frustrating – as the poems themselves. This unused space stands out as an eloquent refusal to explain; and it says everything about how young working-class women are trained to think about the future: as full of nothing." Read More
Dawn Leas, Contributing Editor of Poet's Quarterly, June 30, 2012
"There are topics that authors explore which have the ability to transcend boundaries - cultural, socio-economic, and geographic - because they are experiences that know no boundaries, ones that most readers will identify and connect with, whether based on personal experience or second-hand knowledge. Alcoholism. Teen drinking and drug use and sex. Infidelity. Families split by fissures. Alzheimer's Disease. Kathryn Mockler guides her readers through the waters of several of these universal topics with equal measures of grit and grace in her debut collection of untitled, linked poems titled Onion Man." Read More
Amy Stupavsky, Broken Pencil, 55, Spring 2012
"Like all good writers, Mockler shows more than she tells and in as few well-chosen words as possible. "In all,/the world/ is just/ really/ sad and/ lonely," she writes in one poem. Occupying a tiny corner on the page, the vast white space of the page communicates the emptiness and isolation of the narrator. Her economy of language also echoes a teenager's own laconic verbiage, as well as the futility, outrage and excitement that mark the years leading up to adulthood."
Review by Kane X. Faucher, Western News, January 26, 2012
"I remember a time built for cynical anthems, when I would mope and skulk about in a moribund part of town with an audio cassette copy of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures piping in my ears (I had the original LP). Gritty. Urban. Complicated. Hopeless. This is precisely the timbre of Mockler’s episodic collection of industrial one-stanza poems, every brittle-shard moment tinged with the grey monotony of working in a canning factory, adventures run afoul, a mother’s bouts with alcoholism, a frequently tactless co-worker boyfriend, and the feeling that there is really nothing much to hope for so might as well sneer and bear it."
Review by Mike Landry, The Telegraph Journal, November 26, 2011
"The 128-page narrative poem tells the first person narrative of a southern Ontario teenage girl in the late '80s or early '90s who's in a terrible relationship, has alcoholic mother and works at a factory processing and canning corn. It's a world full of such bleakness it could be taken from a Lars von Trier film. It'll make your eyes well like it's a fresh cut onion under your eyes and not the book. But you won't cry. Mockler, and her narrator, aren't seeking your sympathy. This is teenage angst, and teens don't want your pity. Mockler's short, diary episodes ring so true you only wish you could chuckle at the melodrama - "In all, / the world / is just / really / sad and / lonely." - but those years sick to your memory like a wet T-shirt to skin. And Mockler's words remind you still haven't yet dried off."
Sharon McCartney, author of For and Against and The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder
“With Onion Man, Mockler does for the Pillsbury factory what Dante did for hell. But Mockler is funnier. Nearly every piece in this epic, romantic novel-in-verse cracked me up and, like the best comedians, Mockler breaks your heart while she makes you laugh. Her deadpan wit is dead-on and her understated insight is fathoms deep. You've never read a book of poetry like this.”
Michael V. Smith, author of What You Can’t Have and Progress
“Onion Man's young heroine hands us small details from her workaday small town to prove that some of our best lessons are learned the hard way—sometimes we better ourselves by counter-example—and, truer still, that some hard living has nothing to teach us at all. Mockler can't hide anything in lines this clean and spare. Onion Man delivers a bold, candid voice. It's a book of brave choices.”
Open Book Toronto: Word on the Street, Toronto, 2012
"Kathryn Mockler read poems from The Onion Man. The protagonist and narrator, a young female factory worker, offered up seemingly simple descriptions of her daily life that got big reactions from the crowd, like the wage gap between workers who had been with the factory under old ownership (~$20 an hour) and newer workers like her (~$6.50)." —Amanda Miller, Open Book Toronto
Read More about the day's events and The Vibrant Voices of Ontario Tent at Open Book Toronto
Forest City Gallery hosted a great launch for Onion Man and David Whitton's short story collection The Reverse Cowgirl. Special guest Christine Walde read from her chapbook Black Car.
Photos courtesy of The Forest City Gallery.