Loving and Leaving
- Richard Outram (Author)
Dove Legend. Porcupine's Quill (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Glen Sorestad (Author)
Leaving Holds Me Here: Selected Poems. Thistledown Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- David Solway (Author)
The Lover's Progress. Porcupine's Quill (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Ian Rae
Richard Outram’s Dove Legend is a complex assemblage of rare and invented nouns wired together with speech rhythms collected from a variety of dialects, discourses, and periods. At its best, Outram’s poetry moves rapidly between registers and modes and creates a vertiginous effect in which the "actual is abstract" and the ordinary is ornate. He fashions baroque complexities out of everything from philosophical musings to jive talk, Miltonic invocations to sea shanties. In the long poems "Tradecraft" and "Millefleur," for example, Outram propels the narrative by continually changing the tonal register and toying with the reader’s expectations. However, such a cornucopia of language conceals a strange kind of poverty. Outram’s poems are brimming with verbal virtuosity, but many are curiously empty of feeling. Behind the artifice is a troubling void, in which archaic speech is frequently exalted into obsolescence. At its worst—as in the poem where Outram describes dancers in a Toronto pavilion as "quick knee-tremblers / that might to lewd-ness of the dance rude dodpolls lead"— Outram’s syntax is as gaudy as the pink palm trees in the retouched cover photograph. On the other hand, the "flamingo-pink silk" in the title poem belongs to an ensemble whose elegance is striking. To his credit, moreover, Outram satirizes his own high rhetoric in "Island Residents," as well as making poignant use of understatement in an elegy for Northrop Frye. Similarly, in "Barbed Wire," he demonstrates an ability to sustain a restrained tone and develop a single, emphatic image, if he should so choose. By and large, however, he prefers to employ a lofty rhetoric that sometimes soars and at other times is merely inflated.
David Solway opts for a bawdier approach to the lyric in The Lover’s Progress. He models his lyric sequence on William Hogarth’s famous series of paintings, The Rake’s Progress (1733-35), and transports the rakish protagonist at the centre of Hogarth’s narrative into the twenty-first century. Solway makes the rake a "cruiser" of bars, women, and philosophies, as well as a dabbler in poetry. Perpetually in motion, the lover travels from Canada to Greece and revisits many of Solway’s favourite haunts. The collection begins with a fascinating essay in which Solway explains the rationale for this globe-trotting, as well as suggesting continuities between the style of the poetry and paintings. As in Solway’s books on the imaginary Greek poet laureate, Andreas Karavis, he cannot resist the temptation to write criticism on his own pseudonymous poetry in the introduction to The Lover’s Progress. Solway goes to great lengths to connect his use of the image with Hogarth’s use of the line, but in affiliating his sequence with Hogarth’s celebrated work, and in comparing the lover with Don Juan, Solway establishes expectations for his poetry that the sequence does not meet. For example, although constrained by the limited narrative potential of painting, Hogarth managed to sustain a strong sense of narrative continuity in his account of the rake’s decline. Solway has the advantage of working with the written word, but his series of poems still needs to be buttressed by an introductory essay, as well as an "Itinerary" detailing the lover’s movements, and even then the sense of narrative progress in Solway’s series is weaker than in Hogarth’s paintings. There are several strong poems in The Lover’s Progress, but even Solway seems anxious about the shortcomings of others. For example, Solway reaffirms his established penchant for the sonnet in "The Penitent" and "The Bankrupt," but then decides that the form of the latter poem is "ineffective" and playfully "rewrites it in a more accessible mode" as "email@example.com."
A further problem with Solway’s essay is that he mistakenly follows Hogarth in asserting that the English painter invented the kind of pictorial sequence that is meant to be read and offer a moral. Such sequences were a commonplace of Italian painting in the period, and they grew out of the religious narratives recorded in the sculptures of medieval cathedrals. Hogarth, an outspoken Catholic-hater, would never have acknowledged this precedent, but Solway should. Fortunately, Solway does note the relation of Hogarth’s ribald imagery to the tableaux of morality dramas and the framework of the proscenium stage, which establishes a sound base for his discussion of Stravinsky and the operatic adaptation of Hogarth’s sequence.
Glen Sorestad’s Leaving Holds Me Here offers the reader an opportunity to survey the development of the Saskatchewan writer over a period of thirty years. As a collection of selected poems, Leaving Holds Me Here foregrounds continuities in the poet’s career, as well as highlighting differences. Sorestad’s early "Pub Poems" use matter-of-fact descriptions of Prairie barrooms and plain-spoken farmers and drinkers. His straightforward, anecdotal technique is the very antithesis of Outram’s flamboyant manner. Although Sorestad experiments with a slightly more disjunctive style in his later poetry, for the most part he writes complete, unadorned sentences in which, for example, the placement and purpose of the line breaks is frequently unclear. Many of Sorestad’s vignettes could be more effectively rendered as prose poems. The prosaic delivery in "The Matter of Poetic Discourse" defeats the argument on poetics that it advances. On the other hand, Sorestad’s understated tone works well in his many elegies. He presents a moving sequence of poems detailing the decline and death of his mother, laments the passing of his brother and father, and honours an uncle who prophesied his own death and was brought down on the beaches of Normandy. While Sorestad lacks his uncle’s sense of daring, his verse none the less documents the people and places most intimate to him and conveys a sense of a life lived. Sorestad’s quiet and unobtrusive manner also suits the many fishing poems in this collection, of which the Jan Lake Poems stand apart because of their precise knowledge of the lake and its environs.
- Poégraphes by Estelle Dansereau
Books reviewed: Rêve de pierre by Madeleine Gagnon and PoéVie. Poésie, chanson, prose et aphorismes. by Gilbert Langevin
- Reconsidering Lilith by Ian Rae
Books reviewed: A Song of Lilith by Lilian Broca and Joy Kogawa
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- Things Made Beautiful by Renée Hulan
Books reviewed: green girl dreams Mountains by Marilyn Dumont and Rainbow Dancer by Heather Harris
- Dreams and Inspirations by Renate Eigenbrod
Books reviewed: Louis: The Heretic Poems by Gregory Scofield, Runaway Dreams by Richard Wagamese, and The Next Sure Thing by Richard Wagamese
MLA: Rae, Ian. Loving and Leaving. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #180 (Spring 2004), (Montgomery, Carson, Bissoondath, Goodridge). (pg. 167 - 169)
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