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POETRY 63 Poetry RHEA TREGEBOV This was the year that 'political correctness,' long a concern of the literary community, drew unprecedented media attention. Particularly among writers, the debate hit a nerve. A cursory glance through the volumes of letters-to-the-editor, responses, replies, and manifestos that this controversy generated reveals how sensitive writers (and critics and readers) are to the suggestion that any issue other than pure literary merit be applied to the evaluation and appreciation of a literary work. It is easy to sympathize with the irritation. Writers know that a work of literature is the product of years and even decades of profound thought and sincere emotional investment. And so it is understandably hard to see censure or approbation being applied to a work according to what the cynical may see as the equivalent of the political flavour of the week, rather than any genuine political or moral concern. And yet, the notion of 'pure literary merit,' the notion that writing can be divorced from the political, the social, is also contradictory, most particularly from the point of view of the reader. In fact, we read for content as well as form; we read for affirmation, confirmation of our own certainties or unease. We read works which reflect or assuage our own concerns, be they of the psyche or of the pocketbook. Such needs and wants are deeply subjective and historically determined . As a reviewer, I get very nervous about applying extraliterary criteria to a work of literature. As a reader, I don't hesitate to do so. Why do we read, if not to make sense of our lives? Just now, for me, it is the work that engages the social, that takes on the incredibly complex and shifting human and political world that I feel I must, to survive, comprehend, that most engages me. And when I encounter a world view that supports my personal struggle to comprehend in a humane manner, and to imagine a humanly better world, I take to this writing with a hunger that makes the work somehow a part of me, my own. The problem then arises of how to balance on the one hand our need to support and sustain our world view - to be just to ourselves as readers - and, on the other hand, the necessity of being just to the world view of the author. The author's very lack of conformity with our own world view may be, precisely, what is most valuable to us. Is it not the purpose of a work of literature to shake us up, to disturb our sense of understanding of the world? Which brings us directly to Patrick Lane's new collection of poetry, Mortal Remains (Exile Editions, 94, $14.95 paper). The cover of Mortal Remains shows a grimacing face peering up through melting ice. It is an image both repulsive and evocative; an image of buried horror that is 64 LETTERS rN CANADA 1991 both gone and present. (The image is not identified, but it looks like descriptions I have read of the frozen corpses found from the Franklin expedition.) Lane is highly respected, a poet's poet, a writer of consummate craft and passion; Mortal Remains was one of a very prestigious short-list for the 1991 Governor-General's Awards for poetry. Lane is also a poet I have admired for years. Yet my admiration, contradictorily, has always been mixed with an unease with Lane's fascination with the brutal. The poems in this fine collection make the biographical context for such a fascination clearer. The book is dedicated to the memory of Lane's father. In the afterword to the collection, Lane notes 'My brother's early death and my father's murder changed my life in the Sixties. It was only recently, twenty-five years later, I felt capable of approaching that time with poetry. Poetry cannot save us but it can provide us with some small redemption.' The redemption one experiences reading many of the poems in this extraordinary collection is no small one. The poems of loss and grief nonetheless burrow through to a complex, often unmanageable love. Lane writes with extraordinary...


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