- Jim Christy (Author)
Cavatinas for Long Nights. Ekstasis Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Peter Trower (Author)
Sidewalks & Sidehills. Transsiberian Music Company (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Peter Trower (Author)
There are Many Ways: Poems New and Selected. Ekstasis Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- John Pass (Author)
Water Stair. Oolichan Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Laurie Ricou
A cavatina is an operatic solo aria (in one rather than three sections), or, more simply, any song-like air. Christy’s title is ironic: although song, even melody, is a frequent subject, his poems are seldom melodic. The dominant hey-you vernacular clashes with a roguish taste for rarefied words and a rag-tag catalogue of place and brand names—local and global. If you can have an erudite folk poetry, Christy’s work would define it. Metaphor shifts as in a “gaudy dream;” laments for the abuses of political and financial power are more sarcastic (albeit muted) than polemical; jazz improvisation is both theme and poetic; blues-style tongue-in-cheek angst the pervasive tone. Christy seems more often to be talking in lines than listening to his own language. Nevertheless, the many poems that begin in a character sketch of a person observed out of place in the streets and cafes of the world, then shift into a small drama of momentary encounters are as charming as they are atonal.
You could call Christy’s poems “Haywire Choruses”, which is the title of the poem in which he sings a character portrait that ventures beyond sketch into tough tribute. Christy describes the wise talker “who didn’t swallow his poetry in universities/but got it in kick around cramps and woods,/from bootleggers and bandits”: Pete Trower. Trower’s new book, much of it reprint poems, realizes a long-time dream to combine his poems with the intricate crowded pen-and-ink drawings of Jack Wise. Well, Trower might be intricate and crowded (or at least colliding), but I am not knowledgeable enough about drawing to presume much of an analogy. I do think the perplexing cloud-castles, with touches of the grotesque could be nicely summed up by Christy’s wonderment at Trower’s daring lightness: “off he goes/skywriting on apricot air.” The derivation of cavatina suggests both hollowing out and drawn out, an apt program for a poet who looks at the insides of events, lightens them, and extends/pauses our attention.
I have long admired Peter Trower’s poetry. Here the poem “Thunderstorm” provides a dozen phrases to quote and savour both for their zest, and for their aptness in defining the typical Trower poem. First, and always, he embraces “rambunctions”: the sound of ramming any bunk, the etymology signaling a collision of bump and fractious hit again by ram, and the haywire neologism from rambunctiousness that makes an affectionate quality into a plural entity. Rambunctious, too, might describe his narratives and the clawing, haunted forest-gothic that is his most characteristic setting. Thunderstorm appears through the window as “spasming light”: again the involuntary reaction. Trower makes noun verbal to create an energized stasis. The words track one another in a spasming poetic, in an alliterative orgy whose basis shifts every line or three, and then bumps into that compulsive compounding: “Poe-touched roof-rims” near Squamish, and later the “peace-rich place”. For all their brawling battle imagery, Trower’s poems are, at their core, “peach-rich”—maybe because, as he says in the midst of the storm, “simple naiveté held me invulnerable”. I doubt naiveté as an epistemology is likely to be simple, but it certainly works for Trower in opening up the combinability of words, and the potential of well-worn vocabulary freshly encountered.
In Sidewalks & Sidehills, Trower’s first CD, the guitars of Neal Ryan and Randy Forrester slide with sadness and vibrate more peace-rich than brawling. Muted as the moody accompaniments—more like parallel string-poems—are, Trower’s “tumbl[ing] toughtalk” still some times drifts below earshot as if the poet himself is occasionally distracted by the gentle riffs. But that itself may be an essential of the Trower voice and poetic, and any one teaching Trower’s poetry, or building a teaching library will want this CD.
A water stair is difficult to climb, slippery, and in constant change. It’s fascinating to watch. It compels contemplation, but defies understanding. John Pass’ Water Stair ebbs and flows through these associations and possibilities. Although it has neither the boisterous humour nor polemic of David James Duncan, the book might be thought of as Pass’ My Story as Told By Water, in which water, its search compelled by gravity, is endlessly thwarted by land: “the result? Riffle: rapid; eddy; pool; . . . endless music; sustenance; life.” [And, we might add, stair;]. Certainly the great river poet Richard Hugo is an inspiration for Duncan as for Pass, and all three believe that creation is ongoing and that “our words, actions, and songs still determine the nature of the hills and forest, and still help create/sustain, or destroy the animal, fish, and bird people.” (Duncan 105)
So, after Pass, sea blush [Plectritus congesta] must be both “blue-white sparks” and a “sliding touch”, created and sustained by this exquisite acting and singing:
Tongue in her name each foundering first time
at sundown her look catches sea’s deep colour
in a held breath recklessly lingers.
Perhaps even in these three lines we can catch some sense of the water-stair poetic: the noun “tongue” that might be a verb, the ‘her’ at once earth, or flower, or human; the fusion of senses if breath can have colour. If this were prose, we might label it drifting, or sliding modifiers, anxious that “in a breath” might attach differently than “recklessly” and confuse the subject that “lingers.” In Pass, the serial, slippery modifiers are the current of falling water, here slowing, then impeded, then turning abruptly, even back on itself, dividing in several directions, and then reuniting. It is a grammar also found in several short serial poems, where the sections serve the same riffling movement. These are poems continuing a syntax of catch and release, at once relaxing and drawing your attention. Try to follow the “blue scribble”, the jostle and hesitation. As Duncan knows “when writing of place, you can’t be in a hurry . . . we must be going nowhere in order to be somewhere. Sense of place is received, not aimed at” (50-51).
- The Poet As Citizen by Pauline Butling
Books reviewed: NOT YET but STILL by Margaret Avison, Flying Lesson: Selected Poems by Paulette Jiles, and On Glassy Wings: Poems New & Selected by Anne Szumigalski
- Literary Artists' Statements by W. F. Garrett-Petts
Books reviewed: Lyric/Anti-Lyric: Essays on Contemporary Poetry by Douglas Barbour, A Magpie Life: Growing a Writer by George Bowering, and Living Here by David Helwig
- Vanished Frames by Tamas Dobozy
Books reviewed: Airborne Photo by Clint Burnham and Blonds on Bikes by George Bowering
- Supporting Ourselves by Andrea Wasylow Sharman
Books reviewed: Treading Fast Rivers by Eleonore Schonmaier, A slow dance in the flames by Lynda Monahan, Quintet: themes and variations by Jean Mallinson, Sneaking through the Evening by Maureen McCarthy, and My flesh the Sound of Rain by Heather MacLeod
- Aesthetic Distances by R. W. Stedingh
Books reviewed: A Second Earth: Poems Selected and New by Harold Enrico, Collected Poems by Eldon Grier, and Tom Thomson and Other Poems by George Whipple
MLA: Ricou, Laurie. Rambunctions. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #188 (Spring 2006). (pg. 134 - 136)
***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.