- Post-Prairie: An Anthology of New Poetry
In Post-Prairie, the editors, Jon Fiorentino and Robert Kroetsch, complain that "the prairie was missing" from the poems that they collected in this anthology. The twenty-five poets are representative of a younger generation of writers who are from this Canadian region, and this collection can be read as a report on the state of the [End Page 196] poetic art on the prairies. In their introductory dialogue, Kroetsch and Fiorentino question whether these poets are continuing in, or are writing against, the older prairie tradition of Dennis Cooley, Eli Mandel, Andrew Suknaski, Anne Marriot, Fred Wah, Roy Miki, and David Arnason. They find that many of the new poems are influenced by the works of Wah, Van Herk, and Miki. Of particular importance is Cooley's essay, "The Vernacular Muse in Prairie Poetry," which argues for the vernacular notion of poetry and against the poetic language that raises poetry to high cultural art. The poets in Post-Prairie stress the importance of the vernacular, the subjective, regional, and marginal voices in the new literature. We see this in Rosanna Deerchild's verse about Natives in a small northern town (46), and Larissa Lai's poetic narrative of ethnic images (86). The vernacular is also evident in the fact that some poems are better appreciated read out loud than on the white page.
The title, Post-Prairie, comes from the editors' concern that the sense of place is missing from the poems. Kroetsch asks, "Where the hell did the prairie get to? How do these poets reshape context?"(9). The poems are more urban and theoretically aware in contrast to the old prairie tradition of rural communities, wheat farms, and grain elevators. Upon reading the individual poems I found many images of the rural prairie, but they are often less obvious than in the work by Suknaski or Mandel.
The editors began the project with expectations about the nature of prairie writing. Robert Kroetsch is a master of the postmodern novel in Canada. In Badlands (1975), and Gone Indian (1973) the settings are the prairies and the images are from Native myths such as Coyote the trickster. He is also an important poet whose long poems are collected in The Completed Field Notes (1989), which again use prairie settings and both Native and classical myths. In 1982 he co-edited an issue of Canadian Ethnic Studies devoted to ethnic minority writing. So it is reasonable that he would expect some of these trends to continue among younger writers.
The poems in this anthology are post-prairie in the diversity of voices and settings. There are traditional images from the prairies. Robert Budde uses horse riding references (23). Karen Solie's "Sturgeon" has us wander along a prairie river:
Jackfish and walleye circle like clouds as he strainsThe silt floor of his pool, a lost lure in his lip(127).
And in "Parabola" she takes us to the Kananaskis Valley of mountains, rivers, and grizzlies (130). Jon Fiorentino himself has a "Prairie Long Poem," which takes us around his Winnipeg of memory, since he now lives in Montreal. But is his St. Boniface a parody of the prairie setting or a reconstruction (51)? Catherine Hunter's Winnipeg always seems to be in winter (82). Jill Hartman's images of Calgary all seem to be from the seamy side of town (71). Marvin Francis refers to Alberta tall [End Page 197] tales from his Native uncle, and writes, "[I] should have written all those stories down" (61).
The transitory nature of writers is also represented in this collection and may account in part for the lost sense of place. Many of the writers do not live on the prairies, but in large cities all over Canada. Ian Samuels' "Escapology" poem travels to a number of places, imaginary and real (120). Louis Cabri escapes to American in his poem "Salon, salon" (26). Clive Holden is on the train (78). Chandra Mayor is "Driving Away" to Kenora, Montreal, and...