I'M SITTING in front of every John Newlove book I own: Black Night Window, The Cave, Lies, What They Say, an issue of Talon with a Newlove poem in it, two copies of Moving in Alone (the reissue), The Green Plain, The Night the Dog Smiled. Why do I have all these books out? Because Newlove's Apology for Absence reminds me of his presence. It is a major work, and its excellence makes me return to what's not there. Impossible to do justice to this book in a short review! What's so compelling? The poetry stands up; the work (for example) in Black Night Window, from the mid and late '60s, would stand out in the crowd of poetry written today. It's poetry that doesn't get silted up by time. It's philosophical, it's colloquial words with brilliant economy:
Ride off any horizon and let the measure fall where it may
and damn the troops, the horsemen are wheeling in the sunshine ("Ride Off Any Horizon")
I realize I learned the exclamation mark from John Newlove; I learned the statement from him; I learned the word "gorgeousness"; I learned that the seriousness of events is also praise; to write in itself is praise, and presence. Newlove's Apology for Absence must be apologizing for the whole world outside him because, as for his work, there is no absence.
After all these years, one still remarks some things: the clarity, how the works are like sinews, aligned perfectly, every poem-sinew working with the one beside it; how he situates himself as a male, consciously, not the universal male but as a male in a world women also inhabit, apart from him; how he does not shy from the disagreeable, but builds hope, even in his language. Here, use-value, usefulness, is really in the saying. It is poetry without virtuous adornment, poetry without the inflated ego, the blown-up balloon of the person; it also contains some places of delight that are absent now except in these poems: the traffic circle in Banff, "where the road sweeps / left and right // in great concrete arcs / at the famous resort" ("Hitchhiker"), the Big Bend, the Alcazar Hotel, all vanished. There is, too, the tentativeness of any sense of self, and the tender irony, the selfdeprecation, of knowing this; though Newlove would say it's much simpler than that, or "at least I know how lovely we are // Enduring." As if in the act of making the words exist, you can call yourself into existence: "The arrangement is all."
Going back from Apology for Absence to the original books lets you note the small incisions, the altered titles, a dropped dedication "to my brother," the fact that the "Kamsack" claimed to be from Black Night Window is from Moving in Alone. As well, it gives you back the margins and space, especially in The Green Plain, where each section is a page, bears the I weight of a page, but also in the other books. In fact, Apology for Absence doesn't just preserve the poems, it opens the way back to the original books in their solemnity, wry humour, and grandeur: this work of 30 years merits a "Collected"!
So why do I have two copies of Moving in Alone? Now I remember, I was in a bookstore and saw it, and knowing full well that I already owned the book, felt compelled to buy it again. I wish I had two copies of Black Night Window too! Because there are times I get mixed up in my own life, and I say to myself: "On that black highway, where are you going?" Or "Are you safe? I have no word. Is it love?"