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POETRY 343 Poetry SANDRA DJWA A N D R. B. HATCH A.J.M. Smith, writing the introduction to The Book of Canadian Poetry (1943), distinguished between the 'native' and 'cosmopolitan' traditions: one group had attempted to interpret the distinctively Canadian; the other had made a heroic effort to transcend colonialism by entering into the universal culture of ideas. John Sutherland, objecting to Smith's categories in his introduction to Other Canadians: An Anthology of the New Poetry 194tr-1946, charged that Smith favoured the cosmopolitan because he, like his spiritual master Eliot, was an elitist. Sutherland saw no evidence of a native tradition, only a colonial English tradition. Moreover, he continued, there were ideas, feelings, and forms of expression in the new American poetry that could not be conveyed by the polished vehicle of traditional English poetry. Sutherland appreciated this new freedom, that part of the poet which wanted to be a bum in Brooklyn, but he was careful to add a proviso: the poet's 'Brooklyn-bum self must make his bow to the tradition.' It is apparent from the 15o-odd books of poetry surveyed this year that a rough division between the groups of poets characterized by Smith and Sutherland still exists, with some poets writing on subjects distinctively Canadian and others whose allusions are largely to a European and often mythic tradition. In addition, there are still other Canadian poets - Souster, Dudek, and Layton among them - who, as Sutherland shrewdly observed, looked to the freer modes of contemporary American poetry for 'a more Canadian point of view.' The better poets of the eighties are often those whose work exhibits the fusion which Sutherland identified, that of a traditional poetic mode with a freer, North American form. New collections of poetry by Margaret Avison (Winter Sun / The Dumbfounding: Poems 194tr-66, McClelland and Stewart, 188, $12.95) and Irving Layton (A Wild Peculiar loy: Selected Poems 1945-82, McClelland and Stewart, 223, $12.95) demonstrate that Avison and Layton, once considered 'cosmopolitan' and ~other,' have much in common. Avison has incorporated into her work the colloquial line of contemporary American poetry; and Layton, whose poetry is replete with myth and allusion, makes his bow to tradition. Reflecting Preview poetry of the early forties, they are also the two Canadian poets with the most difficult tropes. Layton's book is one of several selecteds published this year; however, this is the first time that Avison's major books have been published in Canada. This new collection is a reprinting of her first book, Winter Sun (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960) and her second, The Dumbfounding (W. W. Norton, 1966). Omitted is sunblue, her third book (Lancelot Press, 1978), and the uncollected poetry. To read Winter 344 LEITERS IN CANADA 1982 Sun I The Dumbfounding is to recognize with astonishment how many of Margaret Avison's lines remain a permanent part of one's poetic vocabulary . Most impressive is 'New Year's Poem: with its echoing syllables, its deft handling of traditional symbols - 'A solitary pearl I Shed from the necklace spilled at last week's party I Lies in the suety, snowluminous plainness I Of morning' - and the poem's quick turn into metaphysics: 1 remember I Anne's rose-sweet gravity, and the stiff grave I Where cold so little can contain.' In the assured, understated conclusion death is accepted and transformed. Gentle and just pleasure It is, being human, to have won from space This unchill habitable interior Which mirrors quietly the light Of the snow, and the new year. Avison is one of the few Canadian poets - perhaps the only Canadian poet? - with a dozen or so poems that can hold their own in the whole sweep of twentieth-century poetry. Her affinities are with the seventeenth -century metaphysicals, especially the strong lines of John Donne. Characteristic are the extended conceit and the arresting opening statement : 'Who are we here? I boxed, bottled, barrelled I in rows?' In this poem, 'Intra-Political: An Exercise in Political Astronomy: man, the microcosm, is little more than 'mudcake to transmuted sun.' Yet he yearns for more. Could he not unbox himself- 'putting aside mudcakes, I the buying, selling, trucking...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 343-358
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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