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POETRY 275 Poetry MARNIE PARSONS Writing in the introduction to Alice Kane's gorgeous collection of folktales The Dreamer Awakes, a book he designed, Robert Bringhurst comments on books as objects: 'Even the best-made book is nevertheless like the bicycle, not like the body: the book is not alive~ It may still be useful to the storyas a dead tree can be useful to flickers and sapsuckers: as a place to nest and feed- but until the bird comes to the tree, or the reader who is a visionary listener comes to the book, nothing can happen.' I'll resist a fallacious, Jasper Friendly Bear kind of logical slide through Auden's claim that 'poetry makes nothing happen,' and a ricochet off Don McKay's revision of Auden ('poetry makes nothing happen'); such slide and bounce would lead me, glint in the eye, to conclude that a book without a reader is, post hoc propter hoc, poetry happening- a nonsensical argument to be sure. But I will want, later, to startle that flicker, to raise that sapsucker; to suggest that a book may itself be the outgrowth of another listening. Context is crucial here; Bringhurst is negotiating.the paradox of writing down the oral tales which have proven Kane perhaps the best storyteller in the country. It's essential to acknowledge what is lacking in the form of 'book,' that the words on the page can only be awakened by the teller, the reader. Each telling is uniquely of its moment, transitory and sublime. Book, then, as unmaking, as hibernation, reading as remaking, reviving the story, the poem. The idea is, no doubt, as old as those first attempts to hold story on a page, to clothe thought in print -but it is no less important for that. Bringhurst, one of the finest and most capacious minds of our time, is scrupulous in all he does- in his writing of poetry, in his translations of Haida, in his study of the pre-Socratics. And scrupulous, too, in his design of books. He understands that, machine though it may be (a lovely and unlikely claim given the current mechanistic hunger to replace books with trendier technology), 'a book is a fluent, organic machine, made from plant fibre, vegetable oils and carbon, and from the delicate bones of letters, carved in two dimensions by microscopic motions of the hand.' He knows, intimately, the madeness of books. Paper stock; font; the weight, texture, colour of endpapers: all these elements contribute to the complex of meaningful systems which is ~ook.' Or should do. Mentioning this review over coffee in StJohn's with Mary Dalton, I quip that, of course, I always judge a book by its cover. The remark is an unlikely segue- we've just talked walking lobsters on blue velvet ribbons along the Champs Elysees. Could one manage it along Water Street? A cookedlobster would look better/ of course, but the walking, well, it wouldn't work would it? If I really did judge books by their covers, I'd have had time to work on 276 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 the lobster problem with Mary. I can construct categories for the cover art of this year's poetry, assemble piles in my mind: flashy, urban/anarchistsophisticate , banal, garish (that's the neon pink and orange one which was, thankfully, much lovelier inside than out), modest, funky, decorous. The cover of a book may not say much about the quality of poetry inside, but it will say a great deal about the ethic of making that underlies the publishing of that poetry. And since, ideally, publishing should be a collaborative imagining, should include editing and arranging poetry, as well as printing and promoting it, the care of the making, the integrity of that ethic is vital to the health of printed poetry in our culture. Whichbrings me toJan Zwicky's 1996publication Songsfor Relinquishing the Earth (self-published, 88, $1o.oo). The cover is plain brown card stock, of a medium weight, the brown about the shade of the paper bags no longer commonly supplied in grocery stores. The book has French sleeves- that is, the ends of the cover fold inside...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 275-306
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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