In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

POETRY 347 centre des Etats-Unis et, enfin, San Francisco. Et c'est la qu'il trouvera un Theo pitoyable, 'rampant sur Ie sol comme un insecte' (p 286). Larecherche deJackWatermanestessentiellementspatiale, ets'articule autourde deux pOles equivalents: Ie Sud et I'or. Tout au cours du recit, et inversant en cela la spatialite traditionnelle comme dans chacun de ses autres romans, l'auteur nous propose une quete vers Ie bas, dont les harmoniques seront la legende de l'Eldorado, celles de I'homme dore en Amerique du Sud (p 29), des manchots qui se rechauffent au pOle Sud (p 61) et, bien sUr, cette fameuse piste de I'Oregon qui passe du cOte Sud (p 213). Mais les promesses du Sud ne seront pas tenues: la ruee vers I'or, Ie Golden Gate, tout ce miroitement s'ecroulera a la fin du recit. Volkswagen bluesmarque une sorte d'impasse dans I'reuvrede Poulin. Les cinqromans anterieurs tentaient d'articuler cette quete vers Ie bas qui devait conduire ici a explorer Ie continent americain et qui represente un vieux reve de liberte et de bonheur. Ce grand reve se brise a la fin, mais l'espoir demeure: s'il s'etait brise en miettes, I ilrenaissait de temps a autre corru:tle un feu qui couvait sous la cendre' (p 101). Dans ce roman, Jacques Poulin reste fidele a la simplicite et a la recurrence de certains themes. Mais la problematique du recit s'est considerablement enrichie, en meme temps qu'on ne sent plus une difficulte d'ecriture qui a greve certains romans anterieurs. Bref, une excellente reuvre ou l'originalite et l'art de I'ecrivain se deploient pleinement. . Multiforme, Ie roman de cette annee semble accorder, comme nous I'avons mentionne, une certaine confiance aux manreuvres narratives. Ce qui frappe surtout, c'est I'abondance de"s recits initiatiques, ou de quete interieure. De ce point de vue, plusieurs recits sont fortement individualistes en ce que Ie personnage, desormais au-dessus de tout soup<.;on, agit comme point focal de cette recherche. Mais il faut s'empresser d'ajouter que celle-ci se meut dans un espace desormais ouvert, dont les deux modulations semblent etre I'Amerique et, curieusement, la mer. Poetry RONALD B. HATCH For at least half a century now, the anecdotal poem with its colloquial line has proved highly popular with English-Canadian poets. Every year the number of volumes published in this form seems to grow larger. An explanation for this popularity can be found in the growing selfconfidence of Canadians, the increasing desire to record their own experiences, to preserve the past, and even to project a future. To 348 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 accomplish this Lnaming,' the poets have found it important to speak in their own voices, their native cadence. In these days when the social emphasis falls on the slick 'poetic' phrasing of advertising, the form also creates a sense of authenticity, a counter to the glitter ofmass culture. Yet the transparency of the anecdotal poem can also trap the unwary poet, since the form proves difficult to use extensively, falling easily into banality. While the desire to catalogue experience, to leave a record of one's existence, undoubtedly offers a powerful stimulus to poets, all too often it leads to 'naming' for its own sake, without any Adamic significance. Yvor Winters is only one of a host ofcritics who have argued thatpoetry must not onlyrender experience clearly, but also infuse itwith some degree of 'intellectual' awareness, whether it be moral, rational, or metaphysical. Virtually all the poets who employ the colloquial line successfully have been forced to modify it in crucial ways. Indeed, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Roo Borson, the three strongest poets using the form this year, allmanipulate the personalanecdote, soas totransformthe world'out there' - alien and inhuman- into 'here and now,' an extension of human perception. Margaret Atwood's Interlunar (Oxford, 103, $6.95), her strongest volume in years, comprises two separate collections, each using her famous Lmonotone,' but to quite different ends. The first part consists of a series of 'snake' poems published separately last year by Salamander Press, but never receiving a wide distribution; the second part, the Linterlunar' section, describes a visionary journey during the interlunar period, that time between the old moon and the new, when darkness reigns, or at least seems to reign. The L snake' poems engage the reader through irony and wit. For example, Atwood plays on the notion that she 'was once the snake woman,' building up an innocent scene in which she captures snakes to tease her male friends. Atthe end, however, she dismisses the men, and turns to say, 'Now I'd consider the snake,' leaving the reader suspended, wondering what she has learned in the intervening period about men and snakes. In fact, the close yoking of the two leaves little doubt of what Atwood has in mind. Moreover, because the flash of Atwood's wit resembles a snake striking, one recognizes that she has truly become a 'snake woman,' having learned to value and emulate the snake's speed and precision, the beauty of its self-containment . As the poems proceed, the snake comes to embody a new realm of meaning beyond everyday situations; ultimately it comes to incarnate what Heidegger and other phenomenologists have defined as 'otherness .' Atwood's cool, flat voice leads the reader through the garden, all the while maintaining the necessary distance so that at an unexpected turn of the path/line, he can be suddenly confronted with the felt presence of the snake: POETRY 349 I used to hunt with two sticks among milkweed and under porches and logs for this vein of cool green metal which would run through my fingers like mercury or turn to a raw bracelet gripping my wrist. Here the ordinary quality of 'porches and logs' reveals a vein of metal, changing first to running mercury and then into a 'raw bracelet' which grips the poet's wrist, the reader's imagination. The sudden transformation leaves the reader captured, or at least touched by the cool grip of 'otherness.' Most important, the reader's experience differs from that of the 'You' ofthe poem who attempts to create an enclosed 'I' ofidentity by battering at the snake with 'that hoe or crowbar' - 'a bad answer / to anything that gets in / what you think is your way.' By implication, the individual achieves unity of perception only by taking 'otherness' into account. Far less anecdotal than the'snake' poems, Atwood's 'Interlunar' series provides an interesting example ofwhat Eli Mandel calls the 'Circe' poem oftransformation. Here Atwoodbeginsinthe confessionalmode..!. 'I seem to myself to be without power' - but she quickly creates the mental state of someone so disconnected trom the world that ideas and images float free, sourceless: 'A knife, left over from last night, / eases to the surface, turns over/lazily, floats there, /a fish rising/inbrown swamp water, / silver and dead.' Against this backdrop of alienation, Atwood tours the reader through present-day sexual politics, giving a new twist to the Orpheus and Eurydice myth: Orpheus needs Eurydice, but cannotbelieve that she represents anything other than his echo; Eurydice is· tempted by Orpheus's song, but knows that its beauty lacks the power to alter the world above. When the traditional method ofmale living through female, female through male, provesinsufficient, theindividualmustcreatea new sense of self. Atwood evokes this new quality of being in the final section when she describes an experience while in hospital undergoing a series of tests during which she watches a picture of her heart on the screen. Initially she remains distanced and ironic, but when the attendant asks her to breathe deeply, Atwood is startled to see her heart growing'translucent, / a glowing stellar / cloud at the far end / of a starscope.' What would normally remain hidden inside her body has been projected onto a screen outside, allowing her to see the miracle of blood and mind, life and light. In this union of flesh and insight all irony disappears; the world becomes alive in'quiet shining.' Even the man she loves changes shape: 'Ihold you as I hold / water, swimming.' While the reader experiences at least partially the change in perception 350 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 which occurs when Atwood stops projecting her fear of death onto the world, the language remains too passive, provides too little credibility for the substantiality of the new Atwood persona or the 'otherness' she embraces. One feels the need for a different voice, one charged with energy. Atwood's vision ofthe personalityin process commands interest, but something needs to be in process, and Atwood does not entirely succeed in yoking her anecdotal tone to her mythic materials so as to take her the final stage. Michael Ondaatje's Secular Love (Coach House, 126, $8.95) contains many tonal similarities to Atwood's collection, but Ondaatje mixes the anecdotal with the surreal in a much more extreme manner. Indeed, this mixture of the bizarre and the banal has become his trademark. The opening poem, 'Claude Glass,' establishes the lack of axis by describing a drunken party in which the world finally flies apart, a sensationbrilliantly rendered when a pinned-up sheet in the garden which serves as a projection screen suddenly collapses, leaving the projector to howl its 'colours over Southern Ontario I clothing burdock / rhubarb a floating duck.' For all its delightful uncentring of personality, the magic of a mind floating beyond the executive intelligence, 'Claude Glass' also conveys Ondaatje's desperate sense that he can no longer keep up the frantic whirling delight in disconnection. At the poem's end, 'the crickets like small pins / begin to tack down / the black canvas of this night' and Ondaatje finds himself alone, knowing 'with absolute clarity ... where he is.' The poems following'Claude Glass' record Ondaatje's sense ofloss, his inability to proceed in a world that fluctuates wildly between savagery and tenderness. At times the poems seem almost to be degenerating into biographical accounts of Ondaatje's marriage breakup. For example, he says: 'Iwished towrite today /aboutsmall things / thatmight persuademe / out of my want.' Yet that is his point. Ondaatje's search for connections leads not through mental processes that will force the world into place, but through relationships that provide a focus outside the mind. The actual release from alienation occurs dramatically when Ondaatje suddenly realizes: 'I cannot hold / my brain in my arms anymore,' an image suggesting that he has been trying to protect his intelligence in the same way a mother cuddles her child. Feeling disconnected from his head, he has tried to hold it close to his body, but the closer he holds it, the greater the danger of suffocation. He must allow his brain the freedom that parents learn to give their child, and once this occurs, he can greet the world openly. Now it is 'hello / to the terra nova,' and with this 'hello' comes the ability both to walk 'towards / and out of everything / we wanted to know in '64.' Ondaatje finds himself kissing the 'scarred / skin boat,' discovering in the act that once again, although a little bedraggled, 'history / focusses.' At the end of the collection Ondaatje affirms a new POETRY 351 approach to poetry, in which 'art steps forward as accident' to meld the seemingly casual into song. Robert Kroetsch has called the process 'unnaming,' the freedom to accept the world in its accidental modes, refusing the vast nineteenth-century endeavour to create a universal paradigm. In 'Birch Bark,' a poem for George Whalley, Ondaatje says that 'we are past naming the country,' for, as he has come to rea~ze, 'the reflections are never there / without us' - an affirmation similar to that reached in Atwood's conclusion. Roo Borson's The Whole Night, Coming Home (McClelland and Stewart, 120, $12.95) also employs the casual anecdotal form, butinBorson's hands the technique places the present over the past, as sky against water, and presents a sense of poignant absence in the disjunction between the two. Significantly, the impulse for the book arose after Borson left Toronto to return to her family home in the Bay area of California, and found herself living in her old haunts with old friends, seeing things both in the present and in the remembered past. Borson begins her poems quietly with a comment on weather or place, and then allows the poems to pick up metaphors of violence, the poem enacting the movement of individual lives from simple beginnings charged with energy to adult states, still in motion, but going nowhere that matters. 'Rain,' a particularly good example, shows bya series ofmodulations how meaningbecomes sucked out of life, as if, once we begin in a certain direction, the process of entropy cannotbe stopped. She begins by describing SanFrancisco Bayas 'the color of steel, of a warship'; she then turns this greyness into the colour of a battlefield'afterit's all over.' Butit is never over, and the colour then covers the inside of the soldier's mind 'when there's nothing left to kill,' a notion further modified when she adds'in the immediate vicinity anyway.' Borson's vision of North America sees men driven to erase the knowledge of their own death by causing the death of everything around them. Her vision of women is not much more positive. They hate the restlessness oftheir men, but their own rootedness simplybetrays another form of not-knowing. Borson suggests that once women gain sufficient independence to see the world the way men see it - 'the huge face / of everything he doesn't know, / a face full ofblood' - they too will begin the race against and to death. Borson's cool anecdotal style works particularly well when she overturns some of the conventional Romantic ideas. For example, Wordsworth offered youthful 'spots of time' to sustain vision in the mature individual whose imagination had been shrunken by age. Borson presents a much more macabre sense of the process, suggesting that people lose these 'little edens' not merely as a result of ageing or because of a mistaken choice but'on purpose / so they can't return.' She observes that people deliberately make wrong choices 'because they'd rather kill a thing prematurely / than watch it die gradually by its own hand.' With all 352 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 this extreme pessimism, one wonders what keeps Borson writing. A partial answer emerges in the last poem of the first section entitled 'The Photograph.' Again the cool voice shows us what was there in the past, what has been lost. Butnow time is no longer the monster it once seemed. 'Time,' she says, fools us with moments. Moments that don't exist, apart from us. .~; This crucial insight, similarly phrased in Ondaatje and Atwood - that the past exists only in us and through us - frees Borson to plunge into the second part of the volume, a series of richly embroidered prose poems, much more imagistic than the first section of anecdotes. It is very much a world of night, of dream and the pre-conscious, in which everything seems to be animistically alive. From this world, Borson suggests, we take our being, but we lose it with the dawn of wakeful consciousness. The world structured through consciousness may seem innocent after the darkness of night, but the 'baby blue sky' forms an ironic backdrop for 'pines twisted against it in the shapes of our old, powerful, outmoded longings.' Borson forces upon us a need to regain not only the vigour of youthful intention but also something of its shape. While Borson does not seem particularly concerned with women's issues, moving quickly to universal concerns, one notices that many women writers find the reportorial style particularly effective in relating new areas of 'feminine' experience, subjects which have until now remained taboo. In Falling from Grace (Press Gang, 52, $5.95), for example, Elly Van de Walle employs a series of short poems to describe the experience of undergoing a mastectomy. The subject matter contains enough novelty in its own right to hold the reader's interest, and Van de Walle avoids falling into biographical shallowness by dramatizing her shifts in mood as the cancer forced her to reevaluate herself as a woman and her relations to her children and to men. The poetry also shows a mordantwit, as when she jokes that the bestway to get rid of'a bad cut' is to 'change your suit.' The humour here serves both to express the depth ofthe transformation effectedbythe cancer, and to admitthat one's body, one's flesh, means something more than clothing for the spirit. At times, Van de Walle reaches the point where poetry arrives at an impasse. For example, she describes a seemingly healthy friend who visited her in hospital and then died of cancer eighteen months later. As she says: 'I cannot speak in poetic images of this. / I can only write the words / stark and unforgiving.' One suspects thatat this point anotherform is required, perhaps the ritual of elegy. An even more adventurous reporting of private experience occurs in POETRY 353 Penny Kemp's binding twine (Ragweed, 128, $8.95). This volume begins as a description of Kemp's struggle to retain custody of her two children when her former husband decided, after a six-year period, that he wanted custody. The material itself makes fascinating reading, but the book's real appeal lies in Kemp's weaving into her storyline many different modes of perception. The poems ofbare biographical material- telling for example how she lost the court battle - serve as backbone for the volume. But around this Kemp builds poems which explore her feelings of loss as a woman. In this regard, Kemp's strategy resembles Van de Walle's, but Kemp also takes the situation one step further, by attempting a new definition of herself. Interestingly enough, Kemp does not abandon her children. On the contrary, the process of transformation develops through Kemp's seeing herself not only as the mother of her children but as the daughter of her mother - a situation reminiscent of Doris Lessing's Memoirs of a Survivor. Significantly, in order to obtain this dual focus, Kemp must abandon the straightforward anecdotal style and develop new relationships outside conventional syntax: My thought is in my body. Carry it on. My thought is my body, carrying on. This is a woman speaking. No. This is a woman as she is. Speaking. After you. As she comes to terms with her mother, Kemp frees her children, and at the same instance finds her own language, accepting herself without guilt. Not surprisingly, the notion that women can use their bodies to generate a language of their own which affirms their different sense of identity has gained currency in the last few years. In Gyno Text (Underwhich, $4.95) Lola Lemire Tostevin attempts to implementsome of the ideas ofJulia Kristeva, Adrienne Rich, and Jacques Derrida, but in fact her prose discussion in the Afterword proves more interesting than the actual poem. Partly the problemlies with Tostevin's one-word lines; more than that, her word connections rarely move the reader beyond what might be called the manipulative intelligence. Not that some of the sequences do not amuse- 'V' becomes 'Notch/ofI/dentity' ... 'a/legend/ at/ leg's / end' - but the language seems too polarized, too verticallylinear to allow for the radical uncentring which Tostevin claims to be effecting. Daphne Marlatt is perhaps the woman writer most famous for her language experiments, experiments that attempt to break down the individual's feeling of alienation from the world. 1984 saw the reissue of herbest-known long poem, Steveston. After a decade, the poem still reads 354 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 with vigour and freshness; the only difference in the new edition is that Robert Minden's photographs now interleave throughout the text instead of appearing at the end. Marlatt's last book, How Hug a Stone, with its emphasis on the great stones of Avebury, showed her moving in more feminist directions, and her most recent volume certainly bears out that feeling. Touch to My Tongue (Longspoon, 49, $7.00) is instantly recognizable as Marlatt's work: a prose poem, with the play on language and syntax interrupting the normal process of description so as to subvert the disjunction between the speaker and the natural world. Marlatt loses herselfin the syntax, allows the words to overwhelmherintelligence until the feeling emerges that she is not outside the world using language to manipulate it, but inside, with language bringing her into being. Certainly her subject matter aids her, the poem provingto be an extended lyric, celebrating sapphic love. The lovers travel, not on terra firma, not on 'dry land, owned, along the highway, cleared for use,' but on more dangerous ground: that other, lowlying, moist and undefined, hidden ground, wild and running everywhere along the outer edges. lost, Josti, lust-y one, who calls my untamed answering one to sally forth, finding alternate names, finding the child provoked, invoked, lost daughter, other mother and lover, waxing tree, waist i love, water author sounding the darkedge ofthe words we come to, augur- ess, issa, lithesome, lilaiesthai, yearning for you ... Extraordinarily sensuous, the poem delights in the play between the matter of language and that of the body, in the flush of a love which restructures experience so that all of creation comes alive in the individual . All in all, some stunning effects. In her appended essay, 'musing with mother tongue,' however, Marlatt goes so far as to suggest that a womanwriter's experiences promise anentranceinto a differentlanguage with a different structuring of the world. Given the vast amount of literature on the subject of deconstruction by both men and women, the claim seems more than a little dubious. While Marlatt's poem succeeds in creating an intense personal world through its loving play with language, the narrowness of the love theme becomes obvious when one compares it to the overt politics ofa writerlike Sharon Stevenson. In Gold Earrings (Pulp, 111, $7.95), Robin Endres has selected the best of Stevenson's poems from her manuscripts as well as from her one published volume, Stone (1972). The early poems articulate the struggle of working people to remain true to one another even as the capitalist system in which they work forces them to quarrel and separate. In the later poems a picture emerges of a young woman intensely committed both to the creation of a revolutionary society and to the development of her own free, lyric personality. When the two proved POETRY 355 incompatible Stevensonadopted a wholly political stance, the subsequent loss of individuality apparently leading to her suicide in 1978. Endres includes an informative introduction outlining the facts of Stevenson's life, as well as an analysis ofStevenson's doomed attempt to combine her personal and political visions. Reading about alienation in a committed revolutionary makes for a curious experience, but in 'The Very Last Feminist Poem' Stevenson offers a graphic description of subjectivity, how it 'rushes soft & clinging I along the thighs I before nestling in the brainI as the strongest weapon I ofthe bourgeoisie.' Even the final poems with their sometimes strained diction I about proletarian freedom at last' move with powerful rhythms supported by Stevenson's satiric reporting of liberal accounts of Canadian history and economics. Another woman writer tortured to suicide by her inability to complete herself is Miriam Mandel, whose Collected Poems (Longspoon, 326, $10.00), edited by Sheila Watson, recently appeared. Beginning with the few surviving poems in manuscript from 1969 when Mandel began writing, this volume continues through the three published collections and finishes with the brief manuscript poems written shortly before Mandel's suicide in 1982. The collection makes for compelling reading, partlybecause one senses from the outsetthat these short, agonized lyrics leave only one possible solution. The poetry helps defer death, and as long as Mandel can find the energy to analyse her sense of loss, to question her reasons for continuing, life continues. Openly confessional, the poems at times seem in danger of becoming trite, but almost every selection contains at least one unusual twist of perception that keeps the reader interested, just as Mandel must have been sufficiently intrigued to carryon. Onesenses uncomfortablythatthesepoemsmaybe awakeninga voyeuristic interestin the spectator, a morbid curiosity to see how Mandel continued as long as she did, to see her final verdict on life. Yet once inside this black world, the reader cannot help feeling awe and humility before a human spirit stripped of all its defences. The poems merge finally into one long poem, Mandel's life stretching out as a line of hesitant, wavering verse, waiting for the moment when the words cease to arrive and life as text ceases altogether. Dorothy Livesay's Feeling the Worlds (Fiddlehead/Goose Lane, 76, $7.95) offers all the sunny warmth that Mandel longed for but could not find. Livesayis verymuchher ownwoman, responsive to experience, and capable of writing out of a secure inner self. Her poetry also covers a wide spectrum of subjects. She writes about Soweto, about the liberation of Kiev, about birds and animals, and especially about the way adults prevent children from assuming their own personalities. Even when she is indignant, and Livesay finds much in the 1980s to cause indignation, one feels that she speaks from a centre ofjoy, that she enjoys the world for its lyricalbrightness. As she says: 'Today I I am tomorrow I and yesterday 356 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 -I that song sparrow's lilt 1on the old fence post -I Today 1I am song itself.' At times Livesay uses her conversational form to 'tell' us too much directly, but the poems' lively rhythms and Livesay's mellowness work well to create a sunny, living world. As Livesay's poetry indicates, the colloquial line does not always suit situations of great intensity which must be enacted rather than described. This problem shows up even more obviously with writers attempting to express moments that transcend ordinary experience. For example, in Beneath the Skin of Paradise: The Piaf Poems (Black Moss, 64, $6.95) Judith Fitzgerald recreates the life of the popular singer Edith Piaf, with the intentionofshowingthatPiaf's commitmenttoartandexperience allowed her to defy the disease ofalienation, living whole from 'beneath the skin.' While the poemmanages some fine moments, Fitzgerald's choice ofform, the collage, offers almost insurmountable problems: it admits so much of the commonplace that the reader finds difficulty in taking seriously Pia£'s supposed artistic intensity. Sharon Thesen in Confabulations (Oolichan, 41, $6.95) undertakes a similar project of recreation with Malcolm Lowry, emphasizing his commitment to self-destruction as a way of art and experience. But she also gives Lowry an element of ironic self-consciousness , which ties in well with her own colloquial line. Blending (con-fabulating ) Lowry with his own characters, Thesen creates an image of someone never at home in his own skull- 'his mind1up to tricks his face 1 won't believe.' At the end, 'sucking mother night' destroys Lowry and 'earth & stars, sea & fire.' But in the next instant, 'a mockingbird pipes 1 the morning in,' the ironic signal that even in death Lowry could not escape into the pure act. One of the more difficult problems for writers concernedwith historical characters or incidents occurs in the balancing of a sense of historical necessity with the living presence of individuals who act and choose. Many historians disguise the problem with a flexible narrative line, but in fact the presentation of the individual in history raises major questions of form. For the experimental historical novelist, such questions lead to a whole host of different fictional forms. The same holds true for poets. For example, in Convergences (Coach House, $6.50) LionelKearns proceedsby telling two simultaneous stories: the first a meeting between Captain Cook and the West Coast Indians at Nootka; the second his reflections on his state ofmindas he tells Cook's story. Thevolume deploys two columns to the page and two different sizes of print to indicate the difference between Keams as storyteller and Kearns as private individual. As the two texts intertwine, the reader comes to acknowledge the storyteller as part ofthe story. Post-modernism. In Keams's hands, however, the intertwining of texts ultimately leads the reader to reflect on the experience ofbeing alive at any point in time. Kearns shows us (and 'we' form a large part of this text) that we block out awareness of points, turning them into POETRY 357 rulerlinesormaps. EvenasJames Cook'moveshis shipsand menthrough the empty spaces of Europe's mind,' Cook's crew as well as the Indians under Macquinna employ theirown culturalnorms to close any perceived gap, to make the world seamless and ordinary. As readers, however, we cannot see it as ordinary, since Kearns continually draws our attention to the convergences of different nations, different individuals, and all that springs afresh from these convergences. Eventually the entire text unhinges, leaving the reader at the point of all these convergences aware of his own brief moment in time opening to endless possibilities. While Convergences proves a delight to read and contemplate, the book is not without its problems. Throughout, Keams writes in a deadpan, documentary style, and while no doubt intentional, the flat tone leads to boredom. Indeed, one feels surprised to find Keams at the end talking about the 'intensity' ofhis experience. Moreover, when Keams ratherlate in the volume begins to speak of history as a wave, it is unclear what this new metaphor does to the notion of individuality. Still, the volume's fascinating interweaving of personal anecdote and history creates something entirely new, a metaphysics of absence. Although critics often regard Raymond Sousteras one of the creators of the brief anecdotal poem, for some time now he has also been writing the longer historical poem, a genre which he calls 'Pictures from a Long-Lost World.' Until recently, his finest and longest documentary told the story of Stauffenberg's plot to assassinate Hitler. Now he has surpassed even this splendid achievement with Jubilee of Death (Oberon, 154, $23.95, $12.95 paper), the story of the invasion of Dieppe told in different voices. Churchill, Mountbatten, McNaughton, and numerous 'ordinary' soldiers , such as Private Jean Cote of Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, all tell their versions ofthe ill-fated invasion. Although Sousterhas obviously steeped himself in historical documents for background, he never allows them to impede the dramatic unfolding ofhis gripping story. We reexperience the Dieppe raid in all its confusion and with all its blunders (well-intentioned and otherwise) in plain view. Moreover, unlike his earlier documentary poem on the Czech resistance fighters, he does not intrude with his own obvious editorial opinion; instead he treats the material as objectively as possible, allowing the reader to come to his own decision about the bravery of the men and the intelligence behind the raid. The onlycriticism one might make of the poem as a whole concerns Souster's total absorption in the atmosphere ofWorld WarII, which does notallow him a 1980s perspective on war in general. That was his decision, however, and ithas its own validity. Lookingat Souster's career now, it seems as though the widely held interpretation of Souster as an anecdotalist may have to be revised, for he has begun to outdo the historical novelist at his own forte. In addition to Jubilee ofDeath three more Souster volumes appeared this 358 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 year, making 1984 Souster's annus mirabilis. The appearance of volume five of the Collected Poems (Oberon, 314, $27.95, $14.95 paper) puts Bruce Whiteman's new Souster Bibliography (Oberon, 240, $35.00) out of date even before it reaches library shelves. Queen City (Oberon, $27.95), the last of the Souster volumes from 1984, is offered as a birthday present for Toronto, and consists of a slim collection of poems accompanied by some lacklustre photographs by Bill Brooks. It should not be compared with Souster's energetic long poem about Dieppe. . Canada's western regions have long been recognized as a centre of avante-garde history writing. In The Fells of Brightness (Longspoon, 95, $10.00) Jon Whyte continues this tradition, incorporating personal anecdotes into a text with a typography which attempts to recreate the geography as well as the history of the Rocky Mountains. Whyte aims for a sense of awareness which defies the orderly progress of the onward march of history, seeing himself brought into being by 'fittes and starts' through the experience of his ancestors in the area. Unfortunately, by alternating prosy tales of the old days with startling typographic dislocations, the poem makes locating Whyte difficult. In the end, the reader may well abandon the task as not worth the effort. Two more western writers interested in portraying people arising from the land are Andrew Wreggitt and Andy Suknaski. Wreggitt's Man at Stellaco River (Thistledown, 79, $20.00, $8.95 paper) throws a cold, clear light over northern British Columbia, the people appearing as tiny figures amidst emptiness~ Suknaski in The Land They Gave Away: New and Selected Poems (NeWest, 160, $6.95) captures the voices of his Wood Mountain people, contouring voice and land. Delighting in eccentrics, Suknaski at times seems willing to portray anyone from the past who appears even slightly unusual, on the grounds that the past is always greener. Yet, in a poem such as 'Louis Morin,' memory harks back to first beginnings, finding there an icon, a spiritual strength that leads those in the present to wish to 'shape something / of those distant hills / into flowing lines' of their home. ForSuknaski 'home' includes the total world ofman's history and imagination, something apparent in Montage for an Interstellar Cry (Turnstone, 75, $6.95). Here he voices a cry that begins in the womb, gestures towards cave paintings, lingers with the Chinese sages, incorporates the Eddas, and propels us through the bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima, in a relentless drive that seems always on the point of total eclipse, one long apocalypse. In the end, however, Suknaski shows normal life resuming: a house needs repairing, and people face the future with an indifferent shrug. The only positive sign comes in the recognition that as people clear a little room oftheirown, they also make I abitta room/ for them ghosts.' Among our older writers who objectify the external world and at the same time transform it through the imaginative use of diction and syntax, POETRY 359 Ralph Gustafson is undoubtedly the finest. Over the last few years he has publishedseveral splendidbooks, allsomewhatneglected, his compacted style perhaps out of vogue at the moment. Yet when his three volumes publishedin 1984containsome ofthe strongest poems ofthe year, serious critical consideration must soon follow. At the Ocean's Verge (Black Swan, 155, $20.00), a 'Selected Poems' designed for an American audience, provides a samplingextending from Gustafson's first poems in 1935 to his latest material in the two new volumes Directives ofAutumn (McClelland and Stewart, 99, $12.95) and Impromptus (Oolichan, 61, $7.95). It should be said at the outset that Gustafson allowed a considerable amount of overlap inthe two volumes. Moreover, the volumes themselves republish well-known poems from earlier volumes.. For example, some of the 'impromptus' appeared in the 1981 Conflicts in Spring, although the new versions contain revisions and improvements. Impromptus shows Gustafson at his most playful, packing the lines with wonderful exuberance, even as he portrays the failure of our intelligence to understand our world. In 'Bestiary' he meditates on the nature of mankind inrelationto the animalworld: 'Listento himrant then consider/ These two colts in fettle, they push / Not, neither do they pretend.' The phrasing derives obviously from the biblical lilies of the field, with the animalreferences owingsomething to Whitman, but showingmore ofthe control of Ted Hughes in 'Thrushes.' The notion of the musical impromptu , with its sudden changes of rhythm, cannot be found in all the poems; nevertheless, 'The Broken Pianola,' a poem about universal and individual suffering, modulates superblyfrom free toblankverse to create the necessary change in mood. Directives of Autumn, the more varied of the two volumes, is also the more satisfying. The opening section celebrates'all this uproar under the stars / Only art makes sense of.' Against those who argue that a rational design inheres in the universe, a testament of God's all-seeing wisdom, Gustafson counters that even science has developed in the most irrational manner: What A way to proceed! By daft detail not Testaments. Unregenerate man, A consort of pigeons, a graduate of gills, Rank pick-up of passion and dirt. Gustafson applies the same oblique method to capture Western attitudes to social injustice: 'This is a world of small boys with legs off. Hip. Hip. They walk the world grown up. / Bitterness is not unknown.' For Gustafson the best response to the world's seemingly random character lies in a close attentiveness to detail: 'even as the heart / Responds 360 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 exactness comes.' However, as soon as Gustafson moves beyond the heart's moment ofexactness, he admits that 'The time comes when time is unaccountable,' a recognition that 'You cannot calm the heart, standing/ Too late amid the commerce / Ofleaves, and beliefofno help....' The final section of 'Brief Sequences' shows Gustafson at his most experimental, working outside normal ego perceptions in the attempt to free himself from the ironic stance ofdoubt, endingmuch as he began- 'The world is a great burst / Of ahs' - only now with the added affirmation, '0 a great burst of hurrahs!' One difficulty in our highly relativistic, personalized age is to find a poetic form that permits objective statements that remove all appearance of personal history. This David Helwig has found in his Catchpenny Poems (Oberon, $19.95), written in the style ofthe Renaissance broadsheetpoem hawked through the streets of London for a penny. In their original form, such poems were usually woodcuts, complete with a picture illustrating the subject of the poem. Helwig's publisher has produced an unusually handsome volume in a large paper format with strong, somewhat naive-looking print to create the impression of a collection of old woodcuts. Helwig offers us poems on such catchpenny subjects as 'Bucket,' 'Mad Tom,' and 'Fool's Head.' The advantage for Helwig in using this format - apart from the delight in resurrecting an antiquarian form - is that it allows him to raise elementary questions in a direct manner, as ifhe were talking to a child or to a simple workman. The poem 'Cross Keys,' for example, develops as a dialogue betweena child and the poet, the child asking a long string of questions about the significance of the picture of the crossed keys - what are the keys? what will they open? or close? - which eventually forces the poet to explain that, even as the child asks the questions, 'the key of Peter is turning' in the heart of the child. In other words, the process of learning comes only through the process of dying. Appropriately, the series begins and ends with poems on the subject of'Adam and Eve.' The first poem shows the pair falling prey to a 'travelling serpent' offering lectures 'on the philosophy of Descartes,' knowledge ofthe mind-body split, which tumbles them out of paradise to fall through'the nondescript acres of outer space, /greedy lips sucking sweetness.' The final poem sums up Helwig's darkview ofman's condition: innocence turns out to be 'a sweet stupidity,' knowledge a wonderful pig, and God a geometricianwho offers'areturn to paradise/if you will only die.' Whatever the choice, 'The man and woman are still always naked,' a fitting conclusion for these translucent poems. A popular way of achieving objectivity in the eighteenth century was through the 'imitation' of an earlier poet or form. With the growth of contemporary interest in deconstruction theory, the idea of 'imitation' seems to be catching on once again. George Bowering in Kerrisdale Elegies (reviewed last year) shows that Rilke can be enormously helpful in P.OETRY 361 supplying forms. In Anhaga (Arsenal, 76, $6.00), Jon Furberg offers a free reworking of the Anglo-Saxon poem 'The Wanderer.' The dictionaries give the meaningof'Anhaga' as 'wanderer,' butFurbergbreaks down the word's constituent parts to create 'the hawthorn, / wild, winter rose,' a particularly apt metaphor for this finely wrought testament to a beauty that grows out of lonely enduring. The images, hard-edged, clear, give a brilliant sense of man arising for a brief instant out of hardship, immortaliZedin the poet's words, and then disappearinginto the mists of time. In sharp contrast to the harsh externality of Furberg's poetry is Marilyn Bowering's The Sunday before Winter (General, 127, $9.95), a selection from her three earlier books as well as some thirty new poems. Bowering has always been a poet of great imagistic power, somewhat in the style of Gwen MacEwen. Rooted in nature, her poems describe geese flying athwart the moon, whales sounding, and men drowning. Rarelyemploying the personal 'I' or even events from everyday life, she begins from within dream or myth, evoking an awareness that the waking world leaves something missing -'in the clouds / the unknown face, / the one that looks / and never arrives.' Often her poems seem to describe a universe ofutter terror, withindividuals the playthings ofa monster God: The stars are peep-holes God looks through, the hydra-headed creature who holds the universe together, an eye at each hole for his pleasure. In many of her situations a strange force develops that pushes people on towards fates they do not desire, the world ofthe dream somehow turned against itself when we live only through the 'part selves' of consciousness . In one ofher finest poems, 'The Perseid,' Andromeda describes the shock to Perseus when the sky falls into his life, 'the mirror shards of outwardness,' and he is forced to throw off the 'mask of faithfulness' to confrontilluminations, each'amirrorbrokenfrom a shield.' Almostallher poetry contains a sense of the individual locked in time with succeeding moments arriving as 'Sweet tastes and sour / on the tongue: / succeeding moments.' Here where life appears as 'light on water on surfaces' it becomesimpossible to distinguish the distortions in the uneven depths of ,that spilling / time.' Pat Lane's A Linen Crow, A Caftan Magpie (Thistledown, $20.00, $8.95 paper) also breaks with a sense ofthe objective, perceiving 'I' to develop a series of epigrammatic fragments, reminiscent of Chinese aphorisms. While expressing the fragmentation and violence of the twentieth century, the form also creates the possibility of a reorientation in which 'the wait of time' once again assumes measure and weight. 362 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 In The Antlered Boy (Oberon, 103, $9.95) Lloyd Abbey strikes out in another direction to alter our normal perspective. Abbey's openingpoem, 'The Fox,' takes us inside the mind of a hunted fox who for years outwitted the farmers, burning his 'flag across their hills.' Even when the men catch him and nail his hide'against the door' they cannot win, for his 'legs run off in four directions.' From 'high on the door' his spirit, now that of the 'blood-red sun,' watches them, finding his correlative in a rebellious young girl, causing her to dance on the rooftop so that 'her blood burns down the house.' Normally Abbey writes as an outsider, as in the final blank verse poem, which describes the eternal struggle between father and son, the child wanting to protect the animal world, to be a part of it, and the father demanding it become part of the cash nexus. George McWhirter's Fire before Dark (Oberon, 94, $9.95) portrays the development from'outside' to 'inside' in the dual notion of emigrant/immigrant . The openingpoems harkbackto Ireland, where McWhirter grew up. The second half of the volume comprises a long poem describing an English language class for adults where Vancouver's Greeks, Vietnamese , and Japanese assemble. McWhirter shows how the love of dance dispels the shame of being a second-class citizen, of 'feeling oneself a shadow / Stretching before the day,' and finally sets them free'to dream / in tongues.' As in so much of McWhirter's poetry, the paramount need is to create a culture in which the energy of the individual can find a home. Two younger poets who have recently published their first volumes of verse show considerable promise. Ron Miles in These People (Harbour, 52, $4.95) is at his bestin the'occasional' poem, aimingfine satiricbarbs at our advertised selves. In 'Venus on Madison Avenue' the final stages of woman as product are defined in the direction: 'Press my navel and / see me climax.' Ron Smith in Seasonal (Sono Nis, 37, $5.95) offers contemplative blank verse sonnets which describe his relationship with his daughter Nicole over the course of a year. The father-daughter relationship occupies a special place in literature, and, like Lear, Smith finds his spiritual self changing through his daughter. The series reminds one a little of W.O. Snodgrass's Heart's Needle, but where Snodgrass writes of the anguish of loss, Smith describes a relationship that grows. With the aid of his daughter's innocent perceptions, Smith finds himself no longer consigned to 'wheel/around the world at arm's length' but open to new connections. At the end he reflects on the need to recapture the old magic, 'those shadow beings etched into wind / where gull wings lift our voices into air,' the poems themselves forming a testament to the youthful voices of children with their ancient wisdom. When so many of the writers this year have been celebrating the past, it seems fitting to end by welcoming back into print Barker Fairley's Wild Geese and Other Poems (Penumbra, 60, $6.95). While some of these poems from the 1920S employ abstractions a little heavy-handedly in a manner reminiscent of Carman, others, such as 'Sunday Morning,' develop as light, conversational pieces in the style of the English Georgians, reminding us that the anecdotal poem is by no means a recent form, its history evolving from the modernists, Dryden and Pope, and ultimately the urbanity of Horace. It is likely to be with us for some time yet. Poesie ROBERT YERGEAU MeIer les styles ... et autres errances Cette tentative d'article retrospectif est hasardeuse. Cela n'est pas dft seulement au choix des .recueils retenus - qui constitue deja cependant une forme de classement - mais a la difficulte de faire coexister dans un m~me texte plusieurs tendances poetiques, figures enigmatiques d'un impossible puzzle. Une multitude de voix se font entendre pour nommer l'imaginaire, pour dire Ie reel, pour questionner les tensions qui, du prive au politique, du masculin au feminin, du singulierau pluriel, tissent les toiles de fond existentielles du champ poetique. Ces voixproliferantes ne sauraient trouver refuge sous une seule banniere, ni se contenter d'une seule appellation (reunificatrice certes mais facheusement reductrice ). Cependant, loin de moi l'idee de vouloir faire mes belles heures d'un eclectisme de bon aloi, qui ferait en sorte de masquer les axes principaux de la production poetique de 1984. Je ne veux pas, de plus, ramener Ie champ litteraire a un milieu oil tout ce qui compte serait une collegialite bon enfant, ni gommer 'cette longue querelle de la tradition et de l'invention / De l'Ordre et de I'Aventure' - telle que la poetisait ApoIlinaire - qui de tout temps et de toute epoque contribua a fa~onner les territoires litteraire, culturel et intellectuel. Certains editeurs toutefois ne s'embarrassentguere de ces dichotomies qui, selon les epoques et les lexiques a la mode, empruntent les labels du 'lisible' et de 'l'iIIisible,' de 'I'ancien' et du 'moderne,' du 'nouveau lyrisme' etdu 'post-modernisme,' etc. A preuve, leNoroitfitparaitrecette annee des retrospectives de Jean Yves Collette - poete qualifie de 'formaliste' - et d'Alexis Lefran<,;ois qui, interviewe par Jean Royer du Devoir ('Le Noroit centenaire. Alexis Lefran<,;ois, poete des lieux,' 3 nov 1984, p 28), soutint que 'tous les formaIismes et cie, c'est du gragragra.' Que mon article, ala lumiere de cette entree en matiere, devienne donc une chambre d'echos oil retentiront et circuleront les voix de 1a poesie, version 1984. En 1984, La Lettre infinie de Madeleine Gagnon, Le Livre du devoir de ...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 347-363
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.