||Really The Blues
by Phil Hall
ONE RICH VAUDEVILLE opera here, folks. Old, lost wherewithals and last summer`s garden bronzed: unofficial history, fullblown romance, quiltish narrative, password blues, news clippings, archival photos ... all toward finding, praising, and preserving "Beauty."
In Whylah Falls, Nova Scotia, a Black, back-water fishing community, meet X (die poet), Amarantha, Pushkin, Othello (the murdered), and others: "These poems are fact presented as fiction. There was no other way to tell the truth save to disguise it as a story."
The author and his publishers have taken care to present such an ambitious text in its richest form; there are an `Admission," a "Preface," a list of "Dramatis Personae," an "Envoy," and a "Colophon" page. There are `Arguments" here - as in, what and whom to expect when you read further. Most of these I have loosely thought of as 19th-century devices and am pleased to see them used to effect here. Such a presentation combines with undampered nostalgia to give a late-rose, earlier- in-the-century smell to this book - a smell that is consistently sweetened and cut by intense detail:
For breakfast, she plucks a pear from a pine
Wilfruit basket, fills a bowl with Windsor wheat puffs
(which she then sweetens with Lantic sugar and drowns in
Farmers` milk and Avon apple sauce), browns wheat
Page after page I have underlined phrases that enrich my seeing or suckerpunch my complacency: "Desperate for his own private sound, Pushkin once crafted / a banjo from a frying pan and four pieces of string."
I`m not actually sure what this book is: a poetic novel, a lyric drama, a receptacle of working-class history, an epic blues ballad, a murder legend, the story of an exiles return, an allegorical appeal on behalf of the last vestiges of beauty in the world? What its structures and textures call to mind are Paterson, by William Carlos Williams (in which figure a Falls and a capitalized "Beauty"), and Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje (the root music-playing prose interludes especially). Also Pablo Neruda`s meshed images of land and body.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Whylah Falls might be - dare I say so? a great book. At least it is fully and marvellously realized. At least, I, for one, am humbled by it, am grateful for it.