Versions of Lyric
- Lyle Neff (Author)
Bizarre Winery Tragedy. Anvil Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Robert S. Allen (Author)
Standing Wave. Véhicule Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Michael Kenyon (Author)
The Sutler. Brick Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Douglas Barbour
There are too many poets to ever keep up with; or at least too many for me. Two of these are writers whose work I did not know. I’m grateful that this review has given me a chance to learn something of their work. What seems to connect them is their various uses of the lyric “I,” in all three cases at least partly as a representation of the poet’s own mind and heart.
Bizarre Winery Tragedy is Lyle Neff’s third collection. The blurbs suggest it represents the kind of work he has been doing from the start—a tough short lyric, full of a sense of the cityscapes in which his various characters live and fight and love and hate. The speakers in Neff’s poems tend to rant, but they do so with intelligence and wit, and the poems sizzle with energy. At first I felt that some of his similes strained too hard, but as the book gathered momentum they fell into place, and when he turns the whole poem into a modern epic simile, as in “How Did You Feel?,” it can be a lot of down and dirty fun. The opening couplet sets the stage for the whole weird comedy: “Like a chaotic small terrorist / operation, was how she’d felt.” Although Neff’s sense of line and line breaks is sometimes a bit wobbly, here it’s dead-on.
Reading Bizarre Winery Tragedy is a bit like getting caught with that mad yapper in the pub, except Neff has a thousand different stories to tell and nearly as many figures through which to tell them. Although I began to feel a bit too much of a muchness about these poems, their energy and directness will keep a reader engaged.
Michael Kenyon’s background as a writer of fiction provides a narrative drive to the lyrics and sequences that fill The Sutler. The first section, “The Ice Age,” seems to be a series of confessional poems about the breakup of a marriage, yet a couple of them are just out of place enough to undermine such a simple reading. Still, most of them seem to deal with events in the poet’s life.
“Battlefield,” the middle section, contains “Death of a Samurai,” a poetic sequence intent upon an image of Mifune Toshiro falling gracefully to death in a remembered film. Yet “When I try to find Mifune / falling, in films already seen, / some moments come close” but none are it even though “the image in my head / has played so often that it’s antique, / and what I want to extract from / Mifune.” This poem is as much a memoir as a meditation on how memory works. The title poem, in contrast, is a persona poem about a camp follower in the trenches of World War I. Although some of the images seem to strain too hard for effect (and affect), a felt compassion comes through.
“The Rising Body,” the final section, returns to something like confessional lyrics, but, again, there are just enough poems that insist upon a deliberate fiction to undercut such a reading. Nevertheless, poems about aunts, growing up in England, and the final poem addressed to the dedicatee of the book, suggest that the poet has chosen to represent a lyric self in the opening and closing sections, while constructing figures of possibility in the two longer sequences. The Sutler is an intriguing attempt to combine a personal journey from loss to a new life with stories that can distance all such emotion into a fictional realm of analogy.
Robert Allen’s Standing Wave is a summation, but does not stand quite alone in that its second section, “The Encantadas [101-158],” makes the most sense if you’ve read the first 101 sections, concerning various fictional figures, in earlier books. The first section of Standing Wave is “Thirty-eight Sonnets from Jimmy Walker Swamp,” and although these sonnets lean toward a certain openness, they certainly assume a lyric stance wherein the “I” appears to represent the writer.
Allen is a witty writer, with an astonishing range of reference that comes close to sustaining these attempts to engage the twentieth century from the deeply personal perspective of someone who lived its second half. Of course, no single volume can do that, but Standing Wave stands as a complexly intelligent and sardonic try. “And the young — / in one another’s arms, quiverless, without thought. Time’s baleen jaws scoop them / by the million, . . . — no part / of the fossil record, like their poems, about love.” Lines like these appear throughout, and provide this volume with a satisfactory weight, the gravitas properly undercut by the sharp scholarly wit.
- Recent Canadian Shakespeares by Wes Folkerth
Books reviewed: Shakespeare and Canada: Essays on Production, Translation, and Adaptation by Ric Knowles, Free Will by Harold Rhenisch, and Shakespeare's Dog by Leon Rooke
- First Things by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: Collected Poems of Elizabeth Brewster I by Elizabeth Brewster and The Year One by David Helwig
- 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
- Versifications du sublime by Katia Grubisic
Books reviewed: La Lenteur au bout de l'aile by France Cayouette, Savanes, suivi de Poèmes de septembre by Joël Des Rosiers, L'Oeil de la lumière by Pierre Raphaël Pelletier, and Entre les murs de la Baltique by Dominique Zalitis
- From Blood to Ideas by Michael Roberson
Books reviewed: By Word of Mouth: The Poetry of Dennis Cooley by Dennis Cooley and Nicole Markotic, The Crisp Day Closing on My Hand: The Poetry of M. Travis Lane by M. Travis Lane and Jeanette Lynes, and All These Roads: The Poetry of Louis Dudek by Louis Dudek and Karis Shearer
MLA: Barbour, Douglas. Versions of Lyric. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #190 (Autumn 2006), South Asian Diaspora. (pg. 163 - 165)
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