- Allan Briesmaster (Editor) and Steven Michael Berzensky (Editor)
Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era. Seraphim Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Mark Frutkin (Author)
Erratic North: A Vietnam Draft Resister's Life in the Canadian Bush. Dundurn Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Donna Coates
In the final chapter of his memoir, Erratic North, about the ten years he spent roughing it in the Quebec bush, Vietnam War resister Mark Frutkin pays a visit to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the city where he now resides. Frutkin is dismayed that there are no references to the "tens of thousands of draft-age Americans" who immigrated to Canada during the era, particularly when they contributed so heavily to the "struggle for peace" mentioned in the visitor’s guide. Similarly, the editors of Crossing Lines Allan Briemaster and Steven Berzensky are disheartened that there has been little attention paid to the impressive numbers of "gifted and diverse" women and men who moved to the peaceable kingdom during the war years, as no substantial anthologies of their poetry have appeared. Since the anthology includes poems by seventy-six poets (one-third of whom are women), and since the editors suggest that as a result of this large migration of politically motivated Americans, Canada may have the most poets per capita in the English-speaking world, this critical neglect seems particularly glaring.
Aside from the shared lament over the lack of recognition afforded these "dodgers," Frutkin, Briemaster, and Berzensky also observe that many who emigrated tended to be politically leftist, well educated, and well off. (Those without financial resources and access to post-secondary educations were less able to avoid the draft, giving rise to the saying "Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight"). Most of these poets (resisters, deserters, and those morally opposed to the war) arrived at formative stages in their lives and admit that it was Canada that made them. Frutkin, too, acknowledges it was the time he spent reading and writing in the backwoods of Canada that turned him into a poet (three of his poems appear in the anthology) and award-winning fiction writer. And like Frutkin, many of the poets represented in the anthology have amassed substantial bodies of work in different genres. Both texts also demonstrate that while these writers were influenced by American writers, many were also mentored by Canadian poets such as Livesay, Acorn, and Purdy, and inspired in the early 1970s by writers such as Bowering, Cohen, Ondaatje, and MacEwan. Frutkin quotes lines from Lampman’s poetry in his memoir, and his struggles to survive in the hostile Canadian wilderness resemble those presented in poems by Atwood and Birney.
Moreover, while both texts offer exceptional insight into the Vietnam War-"its aftermath, continuing repercussions, parallels to current events, as well as war in general" (Crossing Lines) and look back with anger (but occasionally with nostalgia), at the experiences of fathers/brothers/friends that fought in previous wars, both texts also depict the era more generally. Several of the poems in Crossing Lines describe what it was like to grow up in the US during the 1950s and 60s; others tell of the loneliness poets felt while adapting to life in the true north; and, this being Canada, other poems mention the need to "toughen up for the cold." Similarly, Frutkin’s memoir, which embeds numerous history lessons on wars dating back to the Iliad (including accounts of his Jewish grandfather’s escape from Belarus and his Quebec neighbours’ resistance to World War Two), may also be read as a chronicle of the back-to-the-land movement so inextricably tied to the era.
Frutkin, who describes himself as a "wanderer caught in up great movements and abandoned at a seemingly random place," further compares himself to a "geographic erratic," or an "individual stone[ . . . ] ped by glaciers" across in Canada. But just as these "loner stones" eventually blend into the landscape, Frutkin, too, puts down roots and makes a permanent home in Canada. Likewise, only four of the poets in the anthology have returned to America. The editors note that the rest have intermingled so well that their American origins may come as a "revelation" to readers. But while the defining characteristic of these poet-immigrants is their "profound aversion to war and a longing for peace," they remain saddened by the tragic irony that "history . . . replicate[s] itself." They bemoan that "a costly military adventure continues," and Frutkin concludes his memoir with the plea that human beings "stop doing this to ourselves and one another over and over again."
Given that Americans have often viewed Canada as a safe haven from militarism or political harassment; and that many of these "dodgers" have clearly proven beneficial to Canada’s academic and cultural institutions and to Canadian society at large (the poets represented in the anthology are also musicians, teachers, professors, environmentalists, publishers, psychiatrists, photographers); and that Canadians have refused to participate in the Iraq War, it is exasperating that the Canadian government continues to deny refuge to US soldiers who have refused to fight in Iraq (or who have served tours of duty and witnessed human-rights violations such as torture and now regard the war as immoral), even though the majority of Canadians believe we should welcome these courageous women and men with open arms.
- The Two Cohens by Norman Ravvin
Books reviewed: Intricate Preparations: Writing Leonard Cohen by Stephen Scobie and Uncommon Ground: A Celebration of Matt Cohen by Graeme Gibson, Wayne Grady, Dennis Lee, and Priscilla Uppal
- Rolling Over the Stone by Emily Wall
Books reviewed: Red Ledger by Mary Dalton, The Enchanted House by Beth Janzen, and Pink Purse Girl by Susan L. Helwig
- A Range of Experience by Kathleen O'Donnell
Books reviewed: Toward a Catalogue of Falling by Méira Cook and Background Music by Pat Jasper
- Transatlantic Backyard by Lawrence Mathews
Books reviewed: The Backyards of Heaven by John Ennis and Stephanie McKenzie
- Absent Fathers by R. Alexander Kizuk
Books reviewed: Alley Alley Home Free. Writing West Series. by Fred Wah, My Father's Cup by Tom Wayman, and the breath you take from the lord by Patrick Friesen
MLA: Coates, Donna . Artful Dodgers. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #203 (Winter 2009), Home, Memory, Self. (pg. 147 - 148)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.