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humanities 361 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 Strong Native voices in the mainstream Canadian press are all too few, but Taylor=s joyful irreverence and clear-eyed analysis continue to be necessary correctives to such erasures. Furious Observations of a Blue-Eyed Ojibway demonstrates yet again why Drew Hayden Taylor is among the best observers of contemporary Aboriginal life in Canada. (DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE) Tim Bowling, editor. Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation Nightwood. 256. $22.95 The literary interview is a twilit genre. Its illuminations produce long and suggestive shadows more than they improve perception, but the right interviewer can play those shadows and make them magnify a body of writing=s gnomic quintessence. Conversation between poets promises some excellent shadow-play. Some of the conversations Tim Bowling engineered meet this promise better than others. Each has its particular merits, but some, like Brian Bartlett=s conversation with Dennis Lee, have an energy and range that individuate them. As much as each focuses primarily on a >celebrated= poet, and secondarily on the >less widely known= poet who asks the questions, the task of unifying them belongs to Bowling. In a recent issue of ARC, Bowling claimed that >Al Purdy is the finest poet Canada has known,= and Bowling conceived the book as >a way to honour Purdy=s work and the work of the many fine poets ... in Canada= after Purdy=s death in 2000. Purdy=s >The Dead Poet= provides the epigraph and the idea behind both the title and one of the three questions Bowling required his interviewers to ask: >[D]o you have any explanation of where your voice came from?= The issue of the >Canadian-ness= of that voice never surfaces, but the most intriguing shadow the book casts limns a perspective on Canadian poetry in the absence of one its major figures. Bowling claims his >bringing the poets together= is only a small role, but the choice of poets and pairings determines the character of the volume. Bowling=s pairings aim for amiable conversation rather than tension or debate. Some work because the poets invest in a similar approach to their craft, like Ken Babstock and Don McKay, Carmine Starnino and Eric Ormsby, Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, or Julie Bruck and Roo Borson. Not coincidentally, these approach the conversational ideal Bowling envisioned, where others, in the absence of real sympathy, fall into a conventional, unidirectional interview. Nothing of Helen Humphreys comes through in her interview with Sharon Thesen. Only Phyllis Webb occasionally resists Jay Ruzesky, though Miriam Waddington seems to lose patience with Barbara Nickel on occasion if her succinct responses are any indication. The general lack of tension may have something to do with the vague implications of mentoring in pairing the >celebrated= with the >less 362 letters in canada 2002 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 1, winter 2003/4 widely known.= This pervasive congeniality seems peculiar considering the debates that characterize contemporary Canadian poetry. George Elliott Clarke=s Blue and Steve McCaffrey=s 7 Pages Missing flank my copy of Bowling=s book and the juxtaposition reminds me of Dionne Brand=s position between Margaret Avison and P.K. Page (both contributors to Where the Words Come From) on the 2003 Griffin short list, Christian Bök=s victory (over Erin Mouré) for the 2002 Griffin, and Roy Miki=s 2002 Governor-General=s Award. To suggest that a greater poetic diversity would be a more accurate presentation of >the many fine poets ... in Canada= is not to knock any of the poets Bowling did select; only to show how centrally his editorial decisions reflect his vision of Canadian poetry. The accidental convergences are fascinating. Dylan Thomas, Rilke, and Tranströmer come up repeatedly, and the old sublimity of Canadian geography seems to have been broadly internalized as a taste for >negative transcendence.= Shadows, surely, but interesting shadows, unlike the predictable responses to Bowling=s required questions, particularly >is competition healthy or unhealthy for a poet?= To be fair, the purpose was to spur >a range of responses to some general issues,= so the direct answers may be less important...


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