from 'Letters in Canada' 1958

from 'Letters in Canada' University of Toronto Quarterly - 1958

     James Reaney's A Suit of Nettles (Macmillan, pp. x, 54, $3.00) is a series of twelve pastoral eclogues, one for each month of the year, modelled on Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar. The speakers are geese, and the tone is that of satire: there is a prelude addressed to the muse of satire. The themes are also reminiscent of Spenser: we have love songs (February), elegies (June and October), singing-matches (April and August), dialogues (January and July), fables (March), fabliaux (May), and a danse macabre (December).

     We begin in January with a Yeatsian dialogue between two geese, Mopsus and Branwell, in which the former, after making a fine caricature of the contrast between sacred and profane love, advocates forsaking both Elijah and Jezebel and adopting a calm rational view of the world, as white and sterile as the winter landscape. Branwell however protests that he wants "offspring summerson autumnman winter-sage," and so the theme of fertility and sterility, the main theme of the poem, is announced. Sterility is symbolized in May by two lady experts in contraception who insist on tying up their husbands in "sheets of tight Glass, beaten gold, cork, rubber, netting, stoppers, sand," but who get pregnant in spite of it. In July it is represented by a progressive education maniac, with his hatred for mental order and for the learning habits that build it up. August introduces a third emasculate, a literary critic who has mastered the easy trick of giving the illusion of raising his standards by limiting his sympathies. The theme of fertility appears in the two spring songs of April, with a contrast of white-goddess and sleeping-beauty myths. The names of the singers, Raymond and Valancy, suggest an oblique commentary on the [87] symbolism of two earlier Canadian poets, Knister and Isabella Crawford.

     The first experience awaiting Branwell as he plunges into the cycle of the year is to be crossed in love, an experience that produces the melancholy songs of June and October, and is apparently the reason for his wearing a suit of nettles, which seems to represent life in the world of Eros or natural love, a mixture of stimulation and discomfort. At the end of the year is Christmas, to which the geese are ruthlessly sacrificed: this approaching dèbacle hangs over the whole book, and gives it a larger human dimension. One can hardly call this allegory, as no one expects such a poem to be an uncomplicated story about geese. A religious theme is developed through the March fable, indicating that religion, like art and love, is a weapon of consciousness against death. This theme comes into focus in November, where, after three birds sing of the natural cycle from the perspective of winter, spring, and autumn respectively, Mopsus, the rationalist of January, introduces the symbolism of Christmas, which has to go here in view of the theme of the December eclogue:

          At the winter sunstill some say
          He dared be born; on darkest day
          A babe of seven hours
          He crushed the four proud and great directions
          Into the four corners of his small cradle.
          He made it what time of year he pleased, changed
          Snow into grass and gave to all such powers.

     The climax of the book comes in the extraordinary firework show of September, a description of "Mome Fair." In Spenser mome means bumpkin and in Lewis Carroll it means away from home, but this is an ordinary small town fair in Ontario with its sideshows, ferris wheels, prize animals, freaks, and merry-go-rounds. The ferris wheel is here associated with a series of images from The Golden Bough, to which A Suit of Nettles, a story of a cycle of the year ending in a sacrifice, has obvious affinities. The merry-go-round illustrates the progress of human thought as it goes around its circle from Parmenides to Heidegger and so back again: this episode indicates a strong influence of the "vicous cicle" of [88] Finnegans Wake on Mr. Reaney's book. The "funhouse is "an attempt to compress Canadian history and geography into a single horrific scenic railway ride," as the author puts it, and is a series of emblematic riddles. Thus "an old Indian's skin is turned into horsewhips and shoelaces" refers to the death of Tecumseh, and "The train comes to grief in a drift of flourdough" to the Titanic. At this point we become aware of the many links between the story of the geese and the story of Canada, the geese's Christmas being paralleled by the appalling massacres of Canadians which result from the quarrels of Europeans. A drunken preacher sums it all up with a brief sermon on the two hanged victims, Jesus and Judas Iscariot.

     Spenser intended his Shepherd's Calendar to be some-thing of a stunt, a display of professional competence in a field which at that time was largely monopolized by easy-going amateurs. Similarly Mr. Reaney puts on an amazing technical show. The metres include a long ten-line stanza with four rhymes and an Alexandrine at the end in the first three months; a sestina in February, octosyllabic couplets in March, a variety of poulterer's measure, with strong rhymes against weak ones, in May; dialogue prose in July; alliterative verse and catalogue prose (which is really a form of verse) in September, blank verse in December, and of course every variety of lyrical stanza, from the quatrains of May, June, and October to the complicated songs of April and August. Spenser got a friend to edit his book and provide an introduction and annotations: Mr. Reaney does his own editing, but invites commentary, not because he is pedantic or obscure, but because he has so much of the quality that is the opposite of pedantry, intellectual exuberance. Spenser's was a courageous effort, and met with a good deal of opposition from poets who complained that he "writ no language." Mr. Reaney's book will no doubt seem to many readers to have only too apt a title, to be bristly, forbidding, and irresponsibly inwrapped; or, in the words of his own goose-critic:

          No real emotion, no language of the people,
          Immoral in its basic avoidance of simplicity. [89]

But at a time when most poets write, however unconsciously, with one eye on the anthologist, it takes a good deal of courage to work out a scheme like this -- a Stratfordian courage, of the kind that took Tamburlaine to Broadway.

     Courage, however, is often the only virtue of failure, and A Suit of Nettles is a remarkable success. Just how remarkable it is too early yet to say. Anyone familiar with the puckish humour and twisted fantasy of Mr. Reaney's earlier volume The Red Heart might expect to find long passages in A Suit of Nettles where the poet is only playing around. The more one rereads the book the more one is convinced that there are no such passages. In February, for instance, we wonder why the tricks of inverted constructions and final spondees are used so persistently, until we see what fidelity they give to the fluttering movements of a bat:

          He hangs from beam in winter upside down
          But in the spring he right side up lets go
          And flutters here and there zigzagly flown
          Till up the chimney of the house quick-slow
          He pendulum-spirals out in light low
          Of sunset swinging out above the lawns. ...

Similarly with the lovingly meticulous description of a cow in the alliterative verse of September. And while the line of narrative is easy enough to follow, a little study of the imagery will soon reveal a Joycean complexity of cross-reference and interlocking symbolism.

     I have no space, with a dozen books still ahead of me, to dwell on the innumerable felicities of the writing. I will say only that I have never read a book of Canadian poetry with so little "dissociation of sensibility" in it, where there was less separating of emotion and intellect, of the directly visualized and the erudite. There are breath-taking flashes of wit, like the sexual image in January, "This stake and heart-of-vampire sexual eye of ooze"; there are moments of poignant beauty like the conclusion of June or the winter song in November; there are farce, fantasy, religion, criticism, satire, all held together in a single controlling form. Mr. Reaney has not tried to grapple with contemporary life in the [90] raw, but merely to perfect his poem. And -- such is the perverse morality of art -- he has succeeded, as I think no poet has so succeeded before, in bringing southern Ontario, surely one of the most inarticulate communities in human culture, into a brilliant imaginative focus.

     The core of John Glassco's The Deficit Made Flesh (McClelland & Stewart, "Indian File Books," No. 9, pp. 64, $3.50) is a series of poems about rural life in that northern spur of New England known as the Eastern Townships. One might expect such a poet to sound like a Canadian Robert Frost, but Mr. Glassco doesn't, and I mention Frost only for contrast. Mr. Glassco's ground bass, so to speak, is the driving human energy that settles down to wrest a living from this harsh land, where

          while the eternal mountains stand,
          Immortal stones come up beneath the plough.

Under the grinding pressure of work in such a country the farmer is reduced to "rotten fenceposts and old mortgages," which is "No way of living, but a mode of life." Such a mode of life is based on necessity, but behind the necessity is what the poet calls "The structural mania of the human heart," the lunatic compulsion to take thought for the morrow and keep rebuilding the Tower of Babel. There are several images of an exhausting uphill journey that gets one nowhere in particular and of dying coals blown into renewed heat by an alien power. We see how a feverish vision of a paradise of conquered nature forces generations to wear themselves out to construct and maintain a "Gentleman's Farm" or a "White Mansion." The latter, as the poet describes it, takes on something of the malignancy of a white goddess:

          Two hearts, two bodies clove, knew nothing more.
          Ere I was done I tore them asunder. Singly
          They fled my ruin and the ruin of love.
          I am she who is stronger than love.

     Against this blinkered will to power are set those who have refused to be propelled by it. There is the "deficit made [91] flesh" who gives the book its title, an old bum left on the hands of a town council meeting, whose helplessness inspires them with what the poet sardonically calls "The rainbow-vision of a lethal chamber." In "Deserted Buildings," the poet meditates on the problem of the picturesque, the emotional response we give to ruined or deserted buildings like the "falling tower" of another poem which is the timing-tower of a race track. Perhaps our affection for such things has something to do with our sense of the latent irony in the illusions that drive a man to follow "his blind will to its end in nature." In "Stud Groom" the irony sharpens: the stud groom has renounced all ambition to live beyond the round of "another race, Another show," and as a con-sequence has given up everything that the world considers morally valuable for the sake of

          ... an instant that lasts forever, and does no harm
          Except to the altar-fated passion it robs,
          The children it cheats of their uniforms and wars,
          And the fathomless future of the underdog
          It negates -- shrugs off like the fate of a foundered mare.

     Mr. Glassco is technically a very able poet, who can manage anything from villanelles to blank verse which, in "The White Mansion," he makes into stanzas by repeating the cadence of a line. The dactylic hexameter, for all its classical glory, seems in English to be good only for the most pastel kinds of romantic nostalgia, as in Evangeline, and it was an accurate sense of parody that chose it for "The Burden of Junk." The finest poem in the book, I think, is "Gentleman's Farm," where the alternating long and short lines of the stanza give a heavy thrust-and-relax rhythm, supported by the alternating of short words in description and longer ones in comment, and develop a most impressive cumulative power.

     In some other poems of the book we move from the Eastern Townships into the mythical and religious archetypes that the poet has found embodied there. The white mansion thus expands into Penelope and her web in "The Web," and the structural mania of the human heart is illustrated in two [92] sonnets called "Utrillo's World": I don't care for the second, but the first is a moving and eloquent poem. The driving force of life is connected with the Freudian imago or admiration of the father, which is projected in religion as "Nobodaddy" (Mr. Glassco adopts Blake's term for the sulky bewhiskered sky-god of popular piety). This father-figure is explored psychologically in "The Whole Hog," and in "The Entailed Farm" the poet speaks of the adjustment of maturity reached by those.

          Who composed our quarrel early and in good season
          Buried the hatchet in our father's brain.

In "Shake Dancer" we have a fine conceit in which the figure of the dancer is gradually transformed into the outline of her dance, the "man of air" that complements her erotic movements.

     I do not find Mr. Glassco's book uniformly satisfying: the echoes of Donne in "A Devotion" bother me and I have so far missed the point of the ballad on the death of Thomas Pepys. But on the whole The Deficit Made Flesh exhibits a most unusual poetic intelligence and talent.

     The title of Ronald Everson's A Lattice for Momos (Contact Press, pp. 58, $2.00) is a reference to the legend that Momos, unaware of the function of poetry, criticized the human body for its lack of a window that would reveal thoughts and emotions. This is Mr. Everson's second volume, and we learn that he has returned to writing poetry after an abstinence of a quarter-century. It is perhaps a consequence of this that his writing shows so much freshness, with a highly sophisticated naivete, as though such things as metaphor and metre were being discovered for the first time. In "L'Abbé Lemaitre's Universe" he spins a delicate web of seven quatrains around three rhymes; there are skilful slant rhymes in "One-Night Expensive Hotel" and initial rhymes in "Winter at Lac des Deux Montagnes"; "Fish in a Store-Window Tank" has the first quatrain and the sestet of a regular sonnet that isn't a regular sonnet, and he has a feeling of the primitive mystery of the sound and sense of words [93] that comes out in the very lovely "Christening" at the end of the book.

     He is similarly able to exploit the fact that anything goes in metaphor: in three poems he is dead and takes a corpse-eye view of life; in another he is the waves on a shore; in "June 21" he says:

          I laugh while huge reality
          a mindless lout, summersaults for my pleasure.

There is a reminiscence of Wallace Stevens in his bright intellectual precision, and, like Stevens, he has the knack of making the title of a poem a part of the poem itself, as in the fine quatrain which bears the title "To the Works Superintendent on his Retirement." Often an epithet or two will give an ordinary poetic conceit a new dimension of significance, like "Letter from Underground," which tells how young colts are shocked by an electric fence that "underprivileged beetles" crawl under undisturbed. Sometimes we get irony through the honesty of a simple description:

                    A conformist
          in bluejeans-crewcut plays bold pioneer
          with a capgun.

     His main theme is that of the innocent vision, the "original sin of childhood rapture," which in adult life operates as love. Love is an irrational emotion that makes more and more sense as the world that is supposed to be sensible is gradually distorted into the illusions of fear and the anxieties of a desperate ritual:

          A large wild animal
          prowls outside my office.
          I chant Audograph incantations
          and, bowing, drum the typewriter.

Similarly, the certainties of immediate experience and the "pleasure-principle," the feeling that one is the centre of the universe and the conductor of a universal orchestra [94] (see "Corduroy Road through the Marsh") build up in proportion as time and space dissolve into relativity. In "Fall of the City" the fall of Rome and of our own civilization are simultaneous; in "Fish in a Store-Window Tank" the poet is contemporary with his caveman ancestors; elsewhere we read of "darting slowpoke swallows" and of an aeroplane travelling "childhood-slow." Such themes are common enough among poets, but are not often handled with such unfailing good humour and intelligence. The book is also illustrated with drawings by Colin Haworth. The illustrations are said only to "match the moods" of the poems, but in most cases they do illustrate them, and very pleasantly.

     Irving Layton's A Laughter in the Mind, published by Jonathan Williams, Highlands, North Carolina, in 1958, was reissued, with twenty additional poems, in February 1959, by the Editions d'Orphée of Montreal (pp. 100). This enlarged version is the one reviewed here. There is, as usual, an astonishing variety of themes and techniques, and it is difficult to make a generalization about the place of this book in the author's development. There is perhaps more consistent interest in strict metres -- witness the blank verse of "Cain," the nine-syllable line of "Climbing," the irregular couplets of "A Roman Jew to Ovid" and "Laurentian Rhapsody," the lucidly simple stanzas of "Two Songs for Sweet Voices" and the curious Heine-like "Rain," and the easy lilt of "Dance, My Little One" and the third stanza of "Poem for the Year 2058":

          This is the house the jacks built
          Out of hemlock and gilt:
          The saints and lovers are dead
          And all is common as bread.
          Now none believe in greatness,
          The dwarfs possess the bridges.

     The central themes of Mr. Layton's poetry are here too. Apart from the personal poems and satires, which are of more ephemeral interest, there is the sympathy with animals which makes their suffering, or even their physical expression, a mirror of human guilt, as in "Garter Snake," "Sheep," [95] "Cat Dying in Autumn," and "Cain" -- this last on the shooting of a frog. There is a delicate vein of fantasy in two of the best poems in the book, "Venetian Blinds" and "Paging Mr. Superman." The latter tells us of the magic effect of this name even when pronounced in a dreary hotel lobby by a pageboy more familiar with comic strips than with Nietzsche or Shaw:

          This was the cocktail hour when love
          Is poured over ice-cubes and executives
          Lay their shrewdest plans for the birth of twins
          With silver spoons. ...

     The general point of view in the book is Nietzschean: the conception of the "outsider," however vulgarized it may have been recently, is still a real conception, and to Mr. Layton the poetic imagination leads one outside society, where one can turn back and see the world writhing in its own hell of selfishness and malice:

          How the loonies hate each other
          How they jeer & grunt & swear,
          Their sullen faces happy
          When another's wound they tear.

The way of "Jesus and Buddha," whose symbol is the "leprosarium," is to return to this world and work in it; the way of the poet is to keep clear of it, at least imaginatively. The reward of keeping clear of it is joy, the result of accepting life without a death-wish in it. Joy is not created by merely releasing one's sexual inhibitions, as the irony of "Obit" and "Enigma" warns us; and it is something very different from pleasure. It is what the poet calls, in the Yeatsian "Parting":

          A laughter in the mind
          For the interlocking grass
          The winds part as they pass;
          Or fallen on each other,
          Leaf and uprooted flower. [96]

     "I must bone up on Parmenides," the poet says: in the meantime his imagery is Heraclitean. Fire and dry light are the symbols of the laughter of the mind, watching the world burn up its rubbish; mist and damp are the symbols of the dying and life-hating world. Thus in "Love is an Irrefutable Fire" we have the contrasting images of moon and cloud, street-lamp and black air. The two symbols come together in the fine opening poem, where the mist is the poet's mortality, like the waves that reminded Canute of the limits of his power. In this poem the poet is a clown, buffoon, or starving minstrel, for in Mr. Layton genuine dignity is closely allied to the ridiculous.

     Raymond Souster's Crèpe-Hanger's Carnival: Selected Poems, 1955 - 58 (Contact, pp. 65, $1.00) is a mimeographed collection of poems in his usual epigram form. As compared with his earlier collections, the rhythm is tighter, and there are fewer poems that read like prose collage; the imagery is more accurate and objective, a little poem called "The Cobra" being evidence of Mr. Souster's awareness that his chief virtue is in objectivity. It is still true that the most emphatic poems are also the most perfunctory ones, and there is still a good deal of the moral exasperation that paralyses every comment except the most obvious one. But, as the title suggests, there are a good many poems about death, some of them, especially "The Deaths," very eloquent, and they help to deepen and give seriousness to the book. On the other hand, "The Grey Cup," "Cat on the Back Fence," and "The Goat Island Poetry Conference" show a gift for sardonic fantasy that Mr. Souster does not indulge in nearly often enough, and many sparks and crackles in the imagery suggest that for this poet the act of writing has become less of a relief and more fun:

          Why, he treated that hound
          Better than his wife,
          Or so she tells me.

Occasionally, as in "The American in Montreal," or "Two Pictures of Bay Street," a brief sketch has emotional ripples [97] that spread into a much larger area of significance, as has a curious little poem called "The Switch," depicting a Utopia in which the parents have to search for eggs on Easter morning. There are also -- rare in Mr. Souster -- flashes of verbal wit, like his reference to the spear thrust into the side of Christ "For Auld Lang Synne." He will even desert his social conscience long enough for an occasional metaphysical conceit, as in "Summer Evening," or "That Shape in the Fog," which is apparently the fog itself.

     However, the main impact of the book is to be found in Mr. Souster's study of the dereliction in a modern city: old men muttering to themselves or snatching cigarette butts from snow-cleaning machines, drunks, suicides, patients in hospitals, a blind beggar on a street corner "Watching the darkness flash by," prostitutes, neglected children. They are nearly always inarticulate or silent, for they live in a world of submerged consciousness which they share not only with animals but with trees, buildings, and litter like the old tin kettle which has, the poet says:

          ... that discarded look which moves me to pity
          In people, animals, things.

Such a conceit might seem faked, but in Mr. Souster's world, where human beings are on so rudimentary a level of consciousness, it is more plausible that subhuman life, or human artefacts like wrecked buildings, should express a good deal of human feeling. Hence such poems as "Sucker Run," "The Wreckers," "The Tree," and "Shea's Coming Down."

     Louis Dudek's En Mexico (Contact, pp. 78, $1.50) is a long fragmented poem, less ambitious than Europe, but in my opinion more successful and better unified. It gets away to a slow start: the impact of a new country, like nostalgia, can often be a ready-made substitute for genuine poetic feeling, and, again like nostalgia, may produce only a facile reminder of experience, like a colourful label plastered on a suitcase. The comments about life and death which intervene are not much more rewarding, for Mr. Dudek has little to add to the eternal verities. But he soon picks up his main theme: [98]

          How the temple came out of the heart of cruelty
          and out of the jungle the singing birds!

Nature is an organic process out of which man evolves, and the process itself is full of unconscious art:

          Study the way of breaking waves
          for the shape of ferns,
          fire and wind
          for whatever blows or burns.

Man's life forms a history, which "Begins from the place we're in," out of which his art evolves. Art is therefore, for man, the key to reality, for "Form is the visible part of being." The whole poem leads up to this recognition of art in the final pages, and the observations on the jungle, the Aztec temples, Christianity with its man of sorrows, the modern class-conscious students of Mexico, the frogs and crabs and snakes and "all the gentle mechanical creatures that we kill" fall into place as integral parts of the total vision. In the middle is the simple human act, the routine work on which all history turns, symbolized by women washing laundry in a stream. In this poem Mr. Dudek has matured his technique of indented lines and parenthetical rhythms, and the gentle rocking sway of this meditative poem is full of a contemplative charm.

     Mr. Dudek's other book, Laughing Stalks (Contact, pp. iv, 113, $1.50), is a collection of light verse. Some of the poems are about nothing except the poet's own self-consciousness: these are expendable, even though some of them proclaim the virtues of expendability. The reflections on scholarship and criticism illustrate a highly confused state of mind that may be called pseudo-anti-intellectualism. But when Mr. Dudek is not pretending to be a simple soul, and is his natural complex self, he can be witty and amusing. He has some good parodies of other Canadian poets, the best of them being a "Composite Poem by Six Leading Canadian Poets," a pastiche of thefts from Eliot and Thomas. There is also a vigorous explosion in Skeltonics called "Sunday Promenade," a nightmarish vision of a crowd of children. [99] There are some free-verse political poems in the manner of F. R. Scott, but Mr. Dudek in a satiric mood seems, unlike Mr. Scott, to be more at ease in a strict satiric metre:

          The Farmby Program fills the soul,
          Telling the folks how many cows
          Were burned last night while chewing chows,
          Who had a birthday, who ate hash
          And died of piles in St. Eustache.

There are sharp images of a bird returning to his cage and "the fictions defining life and its limits," of radio commentators "looking through glass at the sad Sardou comedy"; there are well-turned epigrams in "The Cure," "Make It New," "Good Literature Teaches," and "Reality." The third of these poems explains very clearly how the conception "beauty," if used in its proper sense as an attribute of good art, has nothing whatever to do with the conception "attractive subject-matter," in spite of the fact that most people, including most of the cultivated Canadian public, are firmly convinced that it has. This opposition of beauty to sentimentality is a central issue in Mr. Dudek's poetry, and is what gives most of the real bite to his lighter verse.

     Miriam Waddington's The Season's Lovers (Ryerson Press, pp. viii, 56, $2.50) continues with the subjects and qualities of her earlier collection The Second Silence. Much of it is concerned, like Mr. Souster's book, with dereliction in the city, but in the more direct context of social work the derelicts are less inarticulate, and consequently less pathetic. We hear their splutters of self-justification, their whimpering screen memories, and all the rhetoric of human nature under duress. Naturally such sounds are not confined to the unfortunate or criminal, and we hear them also from old women in Toronto scheming to get a best room or chair, and from the crowds on Montreal street-cars who form the family background of the city's thieves and prostitutes:

          From the same parish, aunts in hats,
          Green and painted loud as parrots,
          Have issued forth to board the buses; [100]
          Between their words, small cries, and fusses,
          I've heard their false teeth click and clamor
          And answered with my English stammer.

Not that the poet is merely amused by all this: there is a fine flash of sympathy in her comment on the lonely woman who has "nothing to buy that's personal to her," and there is a good deal of old-fashioned moralizing: one poem is entitled "My Lessons in the Jail."

     The main theme of the book is the sense of the difficulty of communication, with its accompanying sense that on deeper levels of the mind, including some of the areas gingerly explored in analysis, there is far less isolation. In the rove poems, which become more frequent towards the end of the book, this theme tightens up both in irony and intensity. Sometimes the irony predominates, as in the encounter with the young poet who comes to tea and finds that

                    he has come too early
          to dine on answers, and I, ill-served by fate,
          dug up from scullery, have come too late.

Sometimes, as in "No Earthly Lover," there is rather the feeling that in love the sense of identity, or union in one flesh, may be something more than a metaphor. Occasionally winter symbolizes the isolation of ordinary human contacts, and spring the unity underlying them. In the title poem at the end we finally meet the "season's lovers," the poet's version of Adam and Eve, united in their hidden paradise, with an ironic echo of Milton in "He clung to self, and she to him."

     Mrs. Waddington's two gifts, one for spontaneous lyricism and one for precise observation, are better integrated here than in The Second Silence, but are still not completely fused. In such poems as "Semblances" there is a kind of lilting melody that springs over the diction, which in itself would hardly bear too sustained analysis. But one pauses with pleasure over better realized passages in "Jonathan Travels," in the song beginning "Paint me a bird upon your wrist," and in "An Elegy for John Sutherland." [101]

     Marya Fiamengo's The Quality of Halves (Vancouver: Klanak Press, pp. 41, $1.50) is by a British Columbia writer who appeared in Poets 56 two years ago, but is essentially a newcomer. The quality of halves, we are told, is expressed by the muted sound of the vowel in the word "dusk." Miss Fiamengo is a mythopoeic poet, and to her the world of myth is a night world (or sometimes, as in "At the Lake," a world of mist), full of symbols of aristocracy: imprisoned queens, peacocks, swans, and jewels. This world is opposed to the "republican and sane" daylight of a more tedious reality, which needs the mythical night to complement itself. A strong Yeatsian influence on this mythology is acknowledged in the title poem. There are lapses of taste, especially in "These Faces Seen," and some muddy writing in "Song for Sunday," where it is difficult to sort out all the mandalas and pieces of angels. But she manages her sonorous elegiac rhythm very well; the particular kind of decorative loveliness she aims at she often succeeds in getting, and one finds some tense organization of sound here and there:

          A liquid whorl of lostness as when ducks
          Make suctions when they seek the sea.

The most consistently successful poem, I think, is "In the Absence of Children," where, in spite of an elaborate symbolic construct, a bit more of the republican daylight is allowed into the poem than usual.

     Peter Miller's Meditation at Noon (Contact, pp. 101, $2.00) is an extremely interesting, if uneven, collection, with three translations at the end that indicate an unusually thorough knowledge of contemporary poetry in other languages. The usual level is that of poetic rhetoric rather than fully realized poetry, although the rhetoric is that of a lively and sharp mind -- some of his own poems read rather like translations too, where the form has been abstracted from the content. Poems are often brilliant in conception but less satisfying in execution, as in "Photographer in Town," or well started and finished only by repetition, as in "Samson of the Arts." Most of the poems are in free verse, and in a [102] rhythm that is well handled, though the title poem and one or two others have a more strongly accented beat. Formal metrical schemes, as in "Total War" and "Christmastide at the Pornographers," tend to lead to forced rhymes, though even those are sometimes appropriate, as in "Resignation."

     Mr. Miller generally tends to be metaphysical, his conceits varying from the pendantry of "Tangential Girl" to the witty and ingenious "Abstraction." In the latter the versatility of behaviour shown by human character is compared with the capacity of an abstract painting to be a reservoir of subjects instead of a single one. The general mood is that of a good-humoured detachment, sharpening to intellectual satire in "Sensationalist," "Synthetic You" (a poem that might well have been called "History of Canadian Poetry"), and "The Eyes," this last dealing with the effect of executive staring on intellectual diffidence. The title poem shows a strong interest in the theme of the mental landscape, which reappears in three other poems, all among his best, "The Open Season," "The City, Then," and "A City Refound." These are based on the theme of a mental or ideal city as contrasted with an actual one: a concrete abstract, so to speak, as compared with the abstract concrete of Yonge Street or Manhattan. ...

     Thomas Saunders' sober unpretentious studies of rural life in Saskatchewan are always welcome, and I like Something of a Young World's Dying (pp. 20, $1.00) better than his two previous chapbooks. Here the comparison with Robert Frost would have more point than it would for Mr. Glassco, yet here too the differences are more important. The poems, which look like blank verse at first glance, are actually in surprisingly elaborate rhyme schemes, and the rhymes have a harsh obtrusiveness that distresses the ear and yet seems curiously appropriate. Mr. Saunders gives us a Wordsworthian illusion of the language of real life by coming close to doggerel and yet skilfully avoiding it. The main theme of the book, too, as expressed in the title, is quite different from Frost, being purely Western. Mr. Saunders is fascinated by the curiously uneasy relationship between man and nature on the prairie. In "Coyote's Howl," a very simple, [103] even obvious poem, yet a haunting and effective one, a farmer, as his wife is dying in childbirth, hears in the howl of a coyote the latent hostility of the land to him and his life. "The Mill" (a title which makes one look twice at the poem) tells of an early pioneer who remains on the prairie because he has never known any other home, and yet does not really feel at home there. "Poplar Hollow," from which the book's title is quoted, describes a ghost town, struck with a kind of precocious senility, "growth in its first decay." "Sandy Bowles" and "Empty House" deal with the desperate effort to maintain a continuum of identity in this flat world where "No third dimension rises but the dreams Of man," and "Adjustment" and "An Old Man and the Land" with the spirit of resignation that up to a point succeeds in achieving it.

     John Heath's Aphrodite (pp. 23, $1.00) is a posthumous collection of poems by a writer who was killed in Korea at the age of thirty-four. There is a foreword by Henry Kreisel, who is apparently the editor of the collection. The effect of these poems is like that of a good jazz pianist, who treats his piano purely as an instrument of percussion, whose rhythm has little variety but whose harmonies are striking and ingenious. There is a group of poems in quatrains, split in two by the syntax, where most of the protective grease of articles and conjunctions is removed and subject, predicate, object, grind on each other and throw out metaphorical sparks:

          Red razor dawn shears shadow beard
          Along jawline of head turned earth
          The seaweed dream stalks dessicate
          As mind tides back to daylight berth.

The vigour and liveliness of the style have all the characteristics of light verse: polysyllabic diction in "Sleep" and "The Season," rollicking rhymes in "Superscriptions," and a limerick-like stanza in "Burdens." In "Northern Spring" the sound is more carefully organized: [104]

          The outspace looking, stark, star bitten
          Pole slopes back into the sun,
          The white owl haunted, gray wolf daunted
          Winter world hears rivers run.

     In several poems one feels that the poet has no real theme: he is observing and describing with great wit, but does not know where to take all his cleverness, and hence the poem sags after a promising beginning. I think this happens for instance in "Fun Fair," a curious anticipation of Mr. Reaney's September eclogue. In the title poem, on the other hand, there is a real theme: Aphrodite's complacent reflection that as long as the cycle of nature continues to turn on copulation she will be "still queen":

          I have outlasted them,
          Poor peacock Hera petulant at Zeus
          And Attica's longnose divinity
          And some young moonfaced chit of Bethlehem
          Bouncing a second Eros on her knee.

This poem in particular indicates what we have lost by the poet's death.

     Jay Macpherson's Emblem Books series continues with two more chapbooks this year. Violet Anderson's The Ledge (n.p., $.50) is at its best in close description and observation of "Poet's Minutiae," the title of one of her poems. "The Well," "Sea Piece," and "Under the Juniper" have a good deal of charm, with a murmuring pleasant rhythm and sound as well as careful imagery. Mrs. Anderson is most successful when she is not saying anything: when she states her theme before drawing a moral or making reflective comments. "Collectivist World" is an example of this: it sags into talk, but only after an excellent image, which is really the whole poem, of:

          the shape of a committee meeting
          varnished about the circumference
          with the usual chairs,
          and cloudy at the core
          with the jargon of cigarette smoke.
          The windows stick. [105]

     Heather Spears's Asylum Poems and Others (n.p., $.50) are much more ambitious, and have a strident power in them which does not depend on their success, though I hasten to add that it does not depend either on the automatic shock of the subject-matter. The percussive vocabulary and wrenched syntax, the pounding and clanging of monosyllables, the use of such phrases as "on bed to lie me" that suggest a dissociation of personality, have all been deliberately adopted to give the sense of a mind at breaking point. A strong Hopkins influence comes into view in an extraordinary "Sonnet," where there are only three rhymes for the whole fourteen lines, and even those repeated in inner rhymes. Miss Spears makes it clear that while an asylum may well be as close to hell as we can ordinarily get on earth, that is so partly because the madman's self-created hell demands an objective counterpart:

          They took him back, when he could walk
          To his own bed which he did not know
          And left him drowsy and numb for a cure.
          How bound and blasted week after week
          He was, how watched -- and now
          He is building against them again, and is still obscure.

The title speaks of "other" poems, but we never get very far from the asylum, and even the religious poems still talk of severed minds, dragging chains, and screaming, only reaching some kind of troubled serenity at the very end. A most disconcerting and haunting little book.

     A third chapbook series, Fiddlehead Poetry Books, contributes Alden A. Nowlan's The Rose and the Puritan (University of New Brunswick, pp. 16, $.50) These are mainly vignettes of childhood on a farm, and are full of the sufferings of animals, which seem so much a part of the order of nature on farms as elsewhere. It is curious how often the themes of Mr. Reaney's book recur in the other verse of the year. All the poems are well written, pleasant, and carefully worked out. The low-keyed sensibility and lucid diction are a model of what at least most chapbook writing should be. The purely human subjects treated in "The Brothers and the [106]
Village" and "All Down the Morning" are a bit on the hackneyed side and such themes as "The Egotist" are much more deeply felt and distinctive:

          A gushing carrousel, the cock
          Revolved around the axeman's block.

          Sweet Christ, he kicked his severed head
          And drenched the summer where he bled.

          And terrible with pain, the scream
          Of blood engulfed his desperate dream --

          He knew (and knowing could not die)
          That dawn depended on his cry.

The title poem is considerably more complex, and suggests that the gentle pastoral sympathy of the other poems is by no means Mr. Nowlan's only poetic quality. ...

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