- Randall Maggs (Editor), Stephanie McKenzie (Editor), and John Ennis (Editor)
The Echoing Years: An Anthology of Poetry from Canada and Ireland. WIT School of Humanities Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Katrin Urschel
In her amusing poem "Reading the Greats," Sinéad Morrissey reflects on her preference of "omnivorous Completes" to Selected Poems. Any cover-to-cover readers of this anthology will probably ponder this matter often by the time they arrive at Morrissey’s poem. With about nine hundred poems by a total of 172 poets (85 from Ireland, 87 from Canada), The Echoing Years is a huge book with enormous variety but, as a consequence, only short excerpts from each contributor’s oeuvre.
Most of the poems are from the past fifteen years and were written in a similar free-verse style. Thomas Kinsella’s "Pause en Route" (1956) stands out because it is not only the oldest inclusion but is also one of very few that rhyme. With the other poems one can hardly tell whether they were written yesterday or in the eighties. The quality is very high throughout: "a compendium of excellence" as editor John Ennis puts it, and the contributors’ biographies support this by listing numerous honours, including many Governor General’s Awards and even one (Seamus Heaney’s) Nobel prize.
The Echoing Years is the culmination of a trilogy. While the first two anthologies solely focused on Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador, and offered little by way of rationale, this one is much wider in scope. As for explanatory material, it contains a "Genesis of the Text" and various French, Irish and English notes on translation, an unfortunately rather weak and short sociological essay by Jonathan Culleton, "Irish Society and Immigration 1995-2006," as well as a dialogue piece in which the three editors discuss their selections. I agree with Randall Maggs who notes that "one of the common themes linking the literature of our two countries is the complex network of issues arising out of the physical and psychological dislocation of people." Some of the poems by Native and immigrant writers are particularly evocative. Stephanie McKenzie emphasizes feminist issues and must be commended for ensuring that half of the included voices are female.
This anthology is notably multilingual: the majority of the poems are in English, but there many in French, some in translation, and several in Irish. Of the poets who write in Irish, most provide their own translations into English. Liam Ó Muirthile is the only Irish poet who is not translated at all, and Biddy Jenkinson’s work is curiously translated into French because, as the bio note says, Jenkinson objects to English translations. Certain frustrations of writing in a minority language echo across the Atlantic. Yves Préfontaine writes about "la gerçure énorme d’un pays sans parole" and Louis de Paor translates from his originally Irish poem "Gaeilgeoirí":
Every awful word
of this dumb language
is a blank landmine
under the careless earth,
beneath our bare feet.
The Irish section includes beautiful poetry from Eastern European poets who have few direct connections with Ireland but whose work had been translated by Irish poets for a translation series commissioned for Cork’s 2005 European Capital of Culture celebrations. Of course this provokes the old question-not unfamiliar to Canadians-of who and what belongs to the literature of one country. Sadly, due to the inclusion of so much poetry in so many different languages, there are editorial inconsistencies in the contributors’ biographies that may frustrate the non-French or non-Irish speaking reader.
Some of the best known established poets from both sides are assembled-George Elliott Clarke, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Eavan Boland, Michael Longley, Medbh McGuckian-but I was equally impressed with some of the newer voices such as Canada’s Sue Sinclair and Karen Solie, and Ireland’s Alan Gillis and Billy Ramsell. Since this anthology is such a canonical effort, however, I wonder about the absence of Margaret Atwood, George Bowering, and Paul Muldoon (who appears only as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s translator). By the same token, where are the Irish-Canadian overlaps? Phillip Crumble, a young Irish poet living in Canada, is in the Ireland section, but George McWhirter is notably absent from the Canadian one.
Questions always remain after reading anthologies (why O’Donoghue’s Sir Gawain translations? why Wershler-Henry’s poetry criticism?), but The Echoing Years is still a worthwhile collection of some of the best contemporary poetry and can help deciding whose Completes to aim for. Margaret Avison, whose "Balancing Out" contains the title for the anthology, will be my start.
- Inside the Darkness by Joan Crate
Books reviewed: The Blue Hour of the Day by Lorna Crozier
- To Be Surprised Every Day by Daniel Burgoyne
Books reviewed: Why Are You So Sad?: Selected Poems of David W. McFadden by David McFadden and Stuart Ross and The Incorrection by George McWhirter
- The Reaching of the Poetic Field by Karen Mulhallen
Books reviewed: Marrying the Sea by Janice Kulyk Keefer, Blind Date with the Angel: The Diane Arbus Poems by Stephen Guppy, and The Blue Field by Barbara Klar
- Contemplating Nostalgia by Alexis Foo
Books reviewed: Beckett Soundings by Inge Israel, Burning House by Richard Lemm, and The Truth of Houses by Ann Snowcroft
- Fiction et réalité sociale by Sophie Bastien
Books reviewed: Trois visions du terroir: récits et nouvelles by Josée Bonneville, C. H. Grignon, G. Guèvremont, A. Laberge, A. Rivard, and Andre Vanasse and La terre promise, Remember! by Noël Audet
MLA: Urschel, Katrin. Reverberating Verse. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #200 (Spring 2009), Strategic Nationalisms. (pg. 143 - 144)
***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.