Politicos aren't the only ones with X-like "messages" to deliver this fall. Canadian poets discuss neocoloniatism, racism, sexism, and pollution in several new collections.
Born Down Under in 1942, Daphne Marlatt lived in Malaysia before moving to Canada in 195 1. A child of imperial collapse, this Saltspring Island poet offers a trio of "travel musings" in ghost works (NeWest, 187 pages, $14.95 paper). Its three sections, originally issued separately in 1977, 1979, and 1983, tell of a self-consciously Canadian woman's sojourns in Mexico ("Zocalo"), Malaysia ("Month of Hungry Ghosts"), and England ("How Hug a Stone"). History haunts the speaker:
Sometimes I panic - I want to rush home, as if I might get
trapped here, this
honeyed land .... there's no authentic ground here for
"Europeans." I want to Tip out of myself all
the colonialisms, the taint of colonial sets of mind.
Reconciliations occur: "the old order breaks, mother, those garden paths, seed beds, tiny trunks all split open at last in the icy grip of anger ... i call you up through the spring of a new ... word. seed. season..." ("as a cup fills..."). While ghost works is a worthier successor to Marlatt's classic text, Steveston (1974), than last year's Salvage, it is more prose than poetry. Yet, Marlatt has created a triune whole that is as fresh as its original parts.
A born Haligonian, bill bissett has strolled Vancouver since the 1950s. His umpteenth book, the last photo uv the human soul (Talonbooks, 144 pages, $13.95 paper), continues his use of phonetic spellings and psychedelic images to counter "fascism." Bcoz uv th tipe n th sp a sing, bissits wurk tryz payshuns. However, persistence pays:
kim campbell justis ministr think abt thos
words defines th familee in canada as heterosexual opposit sex
relaysyunships dere fecunditee biblikul retrograde isint th
world ovr populatid
("blur street I toronto")
Bissett's poems can read more like Chomsky than cummings. Yet he's a very sensual poet who links self, society, and nature in a silken web of being.
Identity concerns Gregory Scofield. A 27-year-old Metis of Cree-Scots heritage, he indicts the Prairies, the North, harsh streets, and paleface racism in his first collection, The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel (polestar, 96 pages, $12.95 paper). Scofield's text opens sacredly - with a Cree tale printed in Cree. This spirituality is apt, for the poet moves - in confessional lyrics - from struggles with alcohol to self- acceptance:
My steel bones have been replaced with glass....
This morning comes cloudy,
Reminds me I'm fragile, healing,
("The Spirits Have Begun Working")
Like the Black Nova Scotian poet David Woods, Scofield expresses a gritty realism and the sense of "double -consciousness" defined by the African-American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois: "my skin defies either race ... my way is not the Indian way or white way" ("Between Sides"). Scofield is a raw poet who will likely refine his talents as he develops.
Why Is Snow So White? (Quarry, 60 pages, $11.95 paper), by the B. C. poet and barrister Frank H. Low-Beer, betrays a lawyerly precision. These chiselled, imagistic nature poems read like lean Lampman and clear Gustafson. The best poems include "Easter Sunday" and "Summer Apples":
... their scent mixes with yours
as you stoop
to place three apples
in my waiting hands.
Some poems in this first collection are too stripped down. But most of LowBeer's lyrics blossom vividly in the mind.
A Fine Grammar of Bones (Turnstone, 65 pages, $9.95 paper) marks the dazzling debut of Meira Cook, a South African-born poet now resident in Winnipeg. Every page in this collection scintillates with imagery and lilts with song. Her sequence of "Crazy Woman" poems stresses repetition, colloquial speech, and diced syntax:
one-eyed annie walks through the park must
be the sun cause tha flowers an tha drunksre
out calling hey annie here pusspusspuss
this is the world my body and i am in it
soft as butter spread smacking
my tulips an dandling my loins oh dry up an
blow youse tha only bulbs not blooming here
("fat ladies suite")
The poems are dramatic rushes of words, vibrant and intense: "oh what will clot the blood / pelting like darkfruit the jointure of branches" ("the earth my body this tree"). Some are bizarre narratives fusing the wild "slanguage" of Eliza Clark and Ondaatjelike exotica. Cook's book, its politics implicit, is the "find" of those surveyed here.
Sarah Klassen's third book, Borderwatch (Netherlandic, 93 pages, $9.95 paper), needs editing. Based on the Winnipeg poet's visits to Lithuania and Russia, the work's wordy. Example: if "Icons" had begun with its third stanza and ended with what is now its fifth stanza, it might have made a strong poem. Here's the third stanza:
there's light at the table
where you've laid out the essential
elements: tea, dark bread,
poems of Mandelstam
and ... raspberries
red as blood.
(Even "at the table" and "essential" are superfluous.)
The Toronto poet Ted Plantos unites Joe Rosenblatt's whimsy and Richard Lemm's narrative style. His latest collection, Mosquito Nirvana (Wotsak and Wynn, 88 pages, $ 10 paper), yields a number of terrific, truthful poems, including "The Girl with Yellow Hair," "Twelfth August," "Poem with a Dog up Its Ass," and "The Newfy Girl":
In the garage one night raining,
the Newfy girl, salt cod
wherever he smelled her,
taught him, with skirt
lifted, how to taste her
However, Plantos's poems are often good only in parts - a line here, a stanza there. They demand harsher pruning.
The Montreal poet Sharon H. Nelson battles chauvinism in her seventh book, Grasping Men's Metaphors (Muses' Company, 98 pages, $12 paper). The first part of Grasping Men's Metaphors displays a feminist fatalism, a one-size-fits-all condemnation of men. The second part is better, and "Sacraments," the last part, is excellent. Mirroring the rad technique of Marlene Nourbese Philip's She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, Nelson explores, in verses interspersing Blake and the Bible, intrusive "male" language and female resistance:
i have to stop thinking
about loving attention
to the body of a text
your hands flutter
against my belly
i have to stop thinking
of a poem
as an act of love
("Song of Innocence and Experience")
Politics and grace combine in such lyricism. Global jaunts order the debut of Vernon Mooers, a Manitoban who has shifted east. In Gypsy Hymns (Killick, 61 pages, $11.95 paper), Mooers leaps mostly between Newfoundland and Nigeria, his main jurisdictions, but also tramps the Trans-Canada. Though robust, Mooers hefts much First World baggage to the Third World. For instance, "Baga Road," an interracial love poem, remains a Polaroid: she Black, me White. Mooers's Newfoundland lyrics, however, are very effective:
Wind across the moonscape causes whiteouts in winter ... cuts
world outside .... You knows you have to get used to it even if you
don't likes it too much....
little Phonsie got a bad flu and me nerves is shot
over it girl, him stuck in the house.
("Out on the Peninsula")
Mooers echoes the too-unsung Bard of the Rock, Boyd Warren Chubbs. With greater critical consciousness, Mooers is certain to grow as a poet.
Prolixity and smudged print bedevil In Hardy Country (Breakwater, 93 pages, $14.95 paper), Tom Dawe's collection of new and selected work. Even so, many of the Newfoundlander's poems present the same sad-eyed realism as Gerry Squires's fine cover:
Soap-scented, shiny by the lamp,
You looked down from your chair,
My brother's nose was dark with blood,
His knuckles bruised my ear.
Dawe's knack for regionalizing "universal" art is notable. In "Picasso's 'Madman,"' Dawe spies four Newfoundlanders. Plato's a foot. Poets rule.