From Blood to Ideas
- Karis Shearer (Editor) and Louis Dudek (Author)
All These Roads: The Poetry of Louis Dudek. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Nicole Markotic (Editor) and Dennis Cooley (Author)
By Word of Mouth: The Poetry of Dennis Cooley. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- M. Travis Lane (Author) and Jeanette Lynes (Editor)
The Crisp Day Closing on My Hand: The Poetry of M. Travis Lane. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Michael Roberson
In the Foreword to the books in the Laurier Poetry Series (LPS), General Editor Neil Besner writes that the intention of the series is to "help create and sustain the larger readership that contemporary Canadian poetry so richly deserves." The format of each text is therefore based on a selection of "thirty-five poems from across a poet's career" chosen by a critic who also writes "an engaging, accessible introduction" to which is added an Afterword by the poet (if still living). Besner and the LPS deserve acknowledgement for making and taking such a smart opportunity. Bracketing the selections with a critic's introduction, and the poet's reflection, offers readers important reminders that beyond being simply texts susceptible to criticism, poems are expressions from the hearts and minds of people. In the selections of work by Dennis Cooley, Louis Dudek and M. Travis Lane, three under-anthologized poets, their respective editors do much to create the appropriate contexts whereby new and familiar readers can look more closely and feel more in touch.
Nicole Markotic's By Word of Mouth: The Poetry of Dennis Cooley, is the second and most recent selection of work by Cooley, the first was sunfire (Anansi) in 1996. Despite including work published after 1996, this book minutely overlaps poems collected in sunfire. One explanation for this is that while Markotic, a poet herself, capitalizes on the playful spirit in Cooley's work in her poetic-cum-academic introduction, she astutely draws much attention to the body, particularly its blood, using the corporeal as the touchstone for most of her choices. Boldly, her epigraph comes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cooley, she coyly notes, defies "sanguinity" and refuses "sanguinarity" and this clearly shows in the first poem of the selection, "A Poem for You, Leaving Winnipeg," where pathos and solemnity add up over the broken and uneven lines of the ledger-like poem. Solemnity, however, is not Cooley's only mode of defiance in the face of sanguinity. His lineation employed or deployed enables a consistent cadence in the work which anxiously defies the pressures of time and age by pushing the reader through. In fact, some of the most cheeky and pleasurable pieces, "moon musings" or "jack's dictionary of cunning linguists" are list poems which, through a succession of quips, simultaneously remind the reader of life's seriousness and reinvigorate the reader with humour. The moon, Cooley muses, is both "a cancerous lung" and "an eye of a cat open in sleep/death" but also "a pimple on ms. cynthia harpers bum" and "an Amazons nipple playing me for a sucker & me just trying to keep abreast of current affairs." Literal bodies exist in these examples; rhetorically, however, punning forces readers to be conscious of the material quality of language, elsewhere reinforced by Cooley's considerable use of alliteration and homonyms/homophonics.
Unlike Cooley's embodied and cadenced poetics, the poetry of M. Travis Lane forces attention outward into the natural world where the language evokes concrete imagery in lines which hang, sometimes like winter branches, stark and simple, or like spring boughs, full and engorged. "Walking Under the Nebulae" begins, for example, with the line "From my thumb in the hole in my pocket" and moves quickly to a flood of images: "a cold hole flocked with gossamer, / goose-quill electrons, spiral snails / of geologic colloids, gas." The poems collected in The Crisp Day Closing on My Hand owe something of their construction to the same mouthable material as Cooley, but in Lane the reader tends to hesitate at the end of lines, captured by the images-their clarity and resonance. Lane's poems defer to what she calls in a poem of the same name "the weight of the real." Jeanette Lynes, editor of the selection, rightly characterizes these poems as "bearing witness to the tenacious presence of the natural world." As Lynes suggests, and is obvious from her fine selections, Lane's poems balance attention to writing and to the natural world: "Each pencil mark's a fiddlehead / unfolding to an island of wild fern."
Contrasted to the poetry of Dennis Cooley and M. Travis Lane, selections in All These Roads: The Poetry of Louis Dudek engage the material or imagistic dimensions of poetry less than what editor Karis Shearer calls a "poetry of ideas." Shearer divides the book into three sections: "On Poetry and Profession, "Dedications and Intertexts" and "Long Poems" in order to facilitate the central tenets in her solidly "engaging, accessible introduction." Shearer posits that Dudek's signficance as a poet arises from his poetic-based criticism and his position as an educator, editor, publisher and correspondent. Shearer also suggests that Dudek's first major long poem Europe helps inaugurate a long poem tradition in Canada which forgoes narrative in favour of more formal innovation. Like the poems chosen for The Crisp Day Closing on My Hand, most poems in All These Roads, exude a reflexivity about poetry itself or the worlds Dudek's poet peers traverse, but they hardly reach past the knowledge of intellectual work. At best, we get a poem like "Line and Form" in which the reflexive connotation of the title is deferred; instead we get an invocative meditation on the beauty of poetry: "the moving principle and the natural limits imposed / work against each other, / give in, and resist."
- Une éthique de la poésie by Nelson Charest
Books reviewed: Alma by Claude Beausoleil, L'atelier de L'Âge de la parole by Catherine Morency, and Ãme, foi et poésie by Jean Désy
- Mine Not Mine by Robert Stanton
Books reviewed: Mine by Stephen Collis, Sledgehammer by John MacKenzie, and The Asthmatic Glassblower and other poems by Billeh Nickerson
- Recent Western Writing by Nicholas Bradley
Books reviewed: Pye-Dogs by Tammy Armstrong and George McWhirter, Understories by Marc Ory, River of Gold by Anusree Roy, and Hooker & Brown by Shirley Mahood and David Yee
- Poetry of Faith and Loss by Barbara Pell
Books reviewed: Crossword: A Woman's Narrative by Margo Swiss, Near Finisterre by John Reibetanz, and Why Couldn't You See Blue? by Caroline Heath
- Candid and Curious by Tanis Macdonald
Books reviewed: Poets Talk: Interviews with Robert Kroetsch, Daphne Marlatt, Erin Mouri, Dionne Brand, Marie Annharte Baker, Jeff Derksen, and Fred Wah by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy
MLA: Roberson, Michael. From Blood to Ideas. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #201 (Summer 2009), Disappearance and Mobility. (pg. 150 - 152)
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