- Daryl Hine (Author)
&: A Serial Poem. Fitzhenry & Whiteside (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- M.T. Kelly (Author)
Downriver: Poems with a prose memoir and a story. Exile Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Steven Heighton (Author)
Patient Frame. House of Anansi Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Daniel Burgoyne
“Learn from the new / and uncomfortable angels” (Heighton, “Dream”).
The range, diversity, and frankness of the five sequences in Patient Frame are well worth reading. From disfigured soldiers and the graphic horror of the My Lai massacre to the comical discomfort of watching home movies, from lists of “just ones” to a baseball game in Havana, Heighton leads the reader to witness the death of King Harold at the Battle of Normandy, a wounded soldier in Kandahar, and selected monsters—emperors, pedophiles, and racists.
The fourteen approximations of poets such as Borges and Neruda are delightful dialogical performances in sound and sense that elucidate other moments and movements in the volume, such as the metrically compelling “Found Lately Among the Effects of Catullus” or the voice of Marina Tsvetaeva in “The Neither Life.” Further, in “SOME OTHER JUST ONES / a footnote to Borges,” Heighton hails the “printer who sets this page with skill, though he may not admire it,” “frightened ones who fight to keep fear from keeping them from life,” and [those who] “attempt to craft a decent wine in a desperate clime” or “master the banjo.”
Hine’s volume came as quite a shock to me. When Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer first articulated their approach to serial poetry, they did so as a reaction against the closure of the lyric, to imagine a continuous song that would remain open. As Blaser puts it in “Image-Nation 18 (an apple,” “‘you have to find it’— / the structure—of life,” which means that you can’t simply repeat ten lines of accentual verse cut to a persistent rhyme scheme of abbaabcabc three hundred and three times. For Blaser, the moving from one thing to another requires attention. Not an ampersand. For an antidote, one needs to return to the first volume of The Martyrology and then proceed to Leslie Scalapino’s Way.
This isn’t to question the craft, the expertise and nuance of these poems. Reading & A Serial Poem, I recall American broadcaster Jim Lehrer saying that we would be better people if we read a single poem every night before bed; I think Lehrer suggested keeping a volume of poems on the night table. I can imagine doing exactly this with Hine, only the poems need to be read first thing upon awakening, preferably just before sunrise: “Waking too often, too often waking early / As sunrise cast its shadow on the sky.”
There is an uncanny effect that sets in early on with these poems, as if each poem emulates the progression of time: “the order of the day / Minutely as it varies day-by-day.” Observations seem cast in the shadow of dreams, transfiguring daily life in the progression of time: “Open this envelope: a stanza, an enclosure / of dated prose, days-old frivolities that froze days / Ago, both overwrought & underdone / All subject to evening’s closure and disclosure.”
Former editor of Poetry and author of at least fifteen books of poetry, Hine is an accomplished Canadian poet, whose commitment to formal verse both limits the possibility of his poems—what could be a series—and yet sometimes strikes an uncanny chord. This most recent addition to his body of work might be summarized with the lines from poem 213: “Loss, with its protocols & privileges— / For even desolation brings some gifts.”
Downriver Poems is a curious assemblage. Moody, almost discordant poems punctuated with occasional sharp images, are followed by a short memoir of Kelly’s childhood and a short story. Some of the poems, such as “Mother,” strike me as weakly constructed or, as in the case of “Euridice,” almost clichéd. Others, such as “Ossossané,” draw me back repeatedly, curious, unsure. “Pastoral” is another one of these: “But it’s only wind, the / Dead bright light that tells us / That.”
While I find Kelly’s poems almost deliberately incomplete, often enigmatic, they also offer vivid, arresting images: “Linoleum reflects her retreat / the light that follows weakens.” Especially through the early poems, these images are often violent or almost graphic in their focus on scenes of death. In “Danse Macarbe” [sic], the images pile up, almost randomly—ranging from fifteen dead school children on a road to a bear with its “nose blown off”—leaving me unsettled, frustrated that I can’t gain more perspective on these incidents.
More interesting, the memoir at the end of the volume reads like an elegy for Kelly’s father. The focus is so clearly on mourning and remembering his father—Kelly is even startled by how powerfully writing the memoir affects his memory—that the subsequent foray into his school years and concluding inclusion of a short story seems digressive, almost evasive. Kelly succeeds in creating an authenticity of memory, largely indebted to his focus on architecture and geography, but then he drifts into some sort of school chronology that forgets itself. The early part of the memoir is worth reading forthe particular quality of memory.
- Canadian Identity: Maples and Chinatowns by Jennifer Jay
Books reviewed: Maples and the Stream: A Narrative Poem by Lien Chao
- Deficit Disorders by Tim Conley
Books reviewed: Surplus by Roger Farr, Courage, My Love by Reg Johanson, accrete or crumble by Natalie Simpson, and All Things Said & Done by Marita Dachsel
- Tasting this Place by Emily Wall
Books reviewed: In a Boston Night by Sasenarine Persaud, Poems for a Small Park by E. D. Blodgett, is a door by Fred Wah, and Red Nest by Gillian Jerome
- Through This Glass Eye by Diane Stiles
Books reviewed: P.K. Page: A Special Issue by Jay Ruzesky
- Versions of Lyric by Douglas Barbour
Books reviewed: Bizarre Winery Tragedy by Lyle Neff, The Sutler by Michael Kenyon, and Standing Wave by Robert S. Allen
MLA: Burgoyne, Daniel. Uncomfortable Angels. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #212 (Spring 2012), General Issue. (pg. 156 - 158)
***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.