Where the Nights Are Twice as Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets ed. by David Eso and Jeanette Lynes (review)
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Reviewed by
David Eso and Jeanette Lynes, eds. Where the Nights Are Twice as Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets. Goose Lane Editions. 432. $22.95

Where the Nights Are Twice as Long is an imaginative and ambitious anthology of love letters and epistolary poems, featuring the voices of 130 Canadian poets and encompassing over a century of romantic [End Page 259] correspondence. Editors David Eso and Jeanette Lynes have done exceptional work, gathering letters dating from 1883 to 2014, written across and outside of Canada, and situating them in relation to one another while maintaining the intimate glimpse into private life that each piece offers.

A central objective of the collection is to craft a particular persona – the poet in love – growing from youth to older age or, as Eso suggests in the preface, from relative inexperience to maturation. This accounts for the arrangement of the collection, which is organized according to the age of poet at the time during which they composed their letters. Eso and Lynes take the unconventional approach of dividing their anthology into sections that are each dedicated to a different stage of life, beginning with a chapter on poets in their teens and twenties and concluding with one containing the correspondence of poets in their sixties and beyond. Such a methodology breeds an absorbing means of reading these private pieces of literature that moves beyond historical chronology.

"Of my great loves, it has always been language that brought us together." So writes Shannon Webb-Campbell to an undisclosed recipient in a 2009 letter featured in the book's first section, capturing the unifying premise of the collection. While Eso and Lynes suggest that the anthology demonstrates maturation from youth to older age, this is perhaps not as relevant as other concerns that emerge from their atypical structural choices, including an implicit exploration of how language is connected to its medium. The anthology emphasizes ongoing transformations of the "material conditions" of writing, juxtaposing the immediacy of electronic communication (email and text message exchanges) with the lengthier process of physical post, demonstrating a "skewed, discontinuous" temporality of love, what Eso terms "an irregular chronology." It is in this context that the decision to organize letters according to the age of poet, as opposed to historical progression, is most effective. What emerges from the collection is the sense that while writing forms and methods of communication have changed over time, the sentiments associated with love – whether they be infatuation or anger – remain beyond the scope of any singular temporality. The continuous shifts in era keep certain recurring metaphors, for example distance and travel, from turning stale and instead demonstrate love's reliance on codified language. Inviting the reader to speculate, Eso and Lynes leave open the question as to why particular tropes continue to be renewed, across generations, in the body of Canadian epistolary writing.

The letters themselves are so exceedingly varied in content and form that it is difficult to comment on them. They are equal parts enjoyable to read and capable of inducing wincing, which is, perhaps, indicative of their subject matter and the multiple affects that are coupled with love, from its earliest stages to its bitter end. Indeed, the most satisfying pieces [End Page 260] to read are those in which there is an implied exchange – a series of letters, rather than a singular communication, such as P.K. Page's correspondence to F.R. Scott, or Robert Service's letters to Constance MacLean.

Where the Nights Are Twice as Long is an engaging anthology of letters and poems about love – its successes and its failures. Eso and Lynes have minimized their own editorial interventions, allowing the collected works to speak for themselves and offering readers a glimpse into the private minds of Canadian writers in and out of love.

Olivia Pellegrino
Department of English, University of Toronto
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