- Alexander Kizuk (Author)
A Reassessment of Early Twentieth-Century Canadian Poetry in English. Edwin Mellen Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Brian Trehearne
A Reassessment of Early Twentieth-Century Canadian Poetry in English argues that Canadian literary history has suppressed a number of "antimodern" poets circa 1900- 1930 because they played openly on tropes of Oedipal desire and "bliss" that their audiences validated in "oceanic" enthusiasms and that the "modernist superego" of later criticism—apparently fearful of all forms of "excess"—strove to discredit. Kizuk secondly hopes to prove that these same "antimod- ern" poets—Frank Oliver Call, Robert Norwood, Marjorie Pickthall, and Arthur Stringer, among others—used a "rhetoric of emancipation" in which the "Chosen Poet," who may also appear as a "King . . . Good Person, Worker and Everyself," "bestowfs] upon his Tribe of followers a Glorious Way." These extravagant claims are laid out in the book’s foreword and in its first two chapters. It is a kind of grace that they return only piecemeal in the read- ings of eight conservative poets and of E.J. Pratt, W.W.E. Ross, and Raymond Knister that follow.
This slippage occurs because such grandiose (and mutually exclusive) arguments demand a logic that Kizuk does not really pursue. Any claim about audience response, for example, requires some documentation of audience response. With a single exception in the "Foreword," dealing with a poet who does not reappear, there is none: no reviews, no sales figures, no impassioned correspondence among the literati. Second, even readers more respon- sive than I to Kizuk’s Lacanian and Kristevan jargon will likely be troubled by his unwillingness to engage the terms’ complexity in the French theoretical sources; puissance in this usage covers everything from penetration imagery to a pretty nightscape. His archetypal "tropes" (by which, as above, any reference to an honest "Worker" may be read as an allusion to an honoured "King," and any attractive woman is a desired "Mother") will be equally unconvincing to most readers. At any rate, both methods surely require support from the most scrupulous exegeses; Kizuk’s are, in a word, unsteady. He can find a phallus with the best of them (see the reading of the dwarf in Bliss Carman’s "The Red Wolf"), but he is strangely silent on the homoeroticism of Sonnets for Youth by Call, the only poet in this little canon who really seems to need a reading that exposes illicit desire and sublimated audience longings.
The desire to locate Knister and Ross among these late Victorians was laudable, because the conservative contexts of Canadian modernism need to be kept in mind, but it was unnecessary to figure them all as "antimoderns," a term borrowed from T.J. Jackson bears. It identifies poets who sought to sustain cultural authority and spiritual vision in a broad antagonism to the modern world, but it remains unclear whether Kizuk’s "antimodern" poets are anti-modernist as well as anti-modernity. (Nor does Kizuk document their actual awareness of modernism or of the modern age, with the result that this will perhaps be the only book in its field to escape reference to the Great War.) Certainly most of his poets blithely maintained a conservative prosody. But their distaste for modernity and "yearning for coherence" are notable in much modernist art as well. This obfuscation explains Kizuk’s curious silence on formal matters. Knister and Ross show such skill and seriousness with free verse and Imagism that sustained formal analyses would explode the caricature of modernism as pure "superego," a "poetry of hollow vessels, sterile frameworks, and scaffolds...".
The chapters on individual poets that make up the bulk of the book are not psychoanalytic or tropological in method but simply descriptive-bibliographical, and Kizuk is at his most useful in fulfilling that duty. We learn about each poet’s major publications and themes. It’s hard not to conclude that the author’s real wish was to mount an evaluative defence of their best work—and one wishes that he had done so openly, sparing us the psycho-tropic asides that anxiously pepper a few of these core chapters.
- Uncomfortable Angels by Daniel Burgoyne
Books reviewed: &: A Serial Poem by Daryl Hine, Downriver: Poems with a prose memoir and a story by M.T. Kelly, and Patient Frame by Steven Heighton
- À la recherche du poème by Sylvain Marois
Books reviewed: Les Ombres lasses by Jean-Marc Lefebvre, Ambre et lumière by Mona Latif-Ghattas, L'Alcool des jours et des feuilles by Yves Laroche, and L'Hiver qui court suivi de La Banlieue du coeur des villes by Robert Giroux
- New Canadian Anthologies by Alexis Kienlen
Books reviewed: Half in the Sun: Anthology of Mennonite Writing by Elsie Neufeld, New American Writing 23 by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover, and The Journey Prize Stories 18 by Steven Galloway, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Annabel Lyon
- Between Exposures by Travis V. Mason
Books reviewed: Cinquefoil: New Work from Five Ottawa Poets by Mark Frutkin, Exposed by Catherine Hunter, and Between Lovers by Sheri-D Wilson
- E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: The Texts by Cecily Devereux
Books reviewed: E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose by Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag
MLA: Trehearne, Brian. Canadian Antimodern. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #178 (Autumn 2003), Archives and History. (pg. 145 - 146)
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