||The Company They Keep
by Marlene Cookshaw
JUDITH FITZGERALD has published at the rate of almost a book ayear since 1975; walkin` wounded (Black Moss, 63 pages, $10.95 paper) is her 17th. She is apoet of great range -- in form, mood, and vocabulary --and her use of language is often scintillating, the faint narrative nearlyoverwhelmed by musicality and an electric intellect, as in this excerpt fromthe collection`s title poem:
And itssource, lacunae emptying echo, inarticulate abyss. Rhythm and bruise, my half-stepto heartache, the way light collapses when you enter a room. Overdrive, makingbelieve.
The difficulties in Fitzgerald`s work areevident here. These are poems you have to back into; they don`t meet you eye toeye. In "Haiku Curve," a baseball cycle, the imagistic phrases linkedby colons suggest more than anything constellations of words --and, like constellations, the poems never quite resemble what they`re supposedto. At times the energy in the writing is harnessed, and then the intelligencesustains its brightness for longer than an image or phrase, to give us apowerful grouping of poems such as "All in Your Head" and lines likethese closing ones from "Cover of Sunday":
Awake!I can no longer bear neat and predictable idolatries of lyricality and so,write poetry. I see parallels between territory and invader, sabotage andsaboteur, the fallen ultimately raised up in exquisite anguish. Keep your selfsafe, your wits about you. Forget the chalk outlining your heart.
Lake Nora Arms (Coach House, 91 pages,$12.95 paper) is a great idea for a book. Michael Redhill invents a hotel, richgrounds for the narrator`s memory and speculation, allowing the presence ofprose, lyric, list, and tall tale; some poems, such as "Listen" and"Signature," gain credibility merely by the company they keep. Thewriting is uneven; Redhill seems to work from the outside in --with a concern for effect that sometimes undermines the immediacy of thesensual detail, as in "What Separates Us":
Now thetrees become our tongues, they rebuild us, manage our grammar, click and moan.
Several poems resist emotional entry, orsurrender to ambiguity and repetition for incantatory effect; in some, thepremise or the title is better than the poem. But Redhill is capable ofdelightful, honest images too, such as "the late-night halls, withfaces that float / like coins in the air" past the child ("In theArms"). "Euridice at Yonge and Bloor" is a fine lyric piece. And"Deck Building" is unequivocally warm and convincing; it and"Happy Hour" and one or two others seem without artifice, marriagesof material and style that welcome readers. Elizabeth Brewster`s Wheel of Change (Oberon, 101 pages, $23.95 cloth) is an awkward book,prolix, and badly in need of editing. Brewster is in her seventies, roughlytwice the age of the other writers discussed here; she gives us thecompanionable voice of a woman well centred in her world and at a turning pointin her life. "Poems for Seven Decades" is a charming --because fiercely individualized -- history of the century; in thisand in the poems of the opening section she wrestles with the heroes, places,and symbols of her past and makes them utterly hers:
Ontariowas where Uncle Cecil went when he was angry with his brothers.
Somewhereon the other side of the water was London, which was the heart, a great darkblob on the map, and Paris, another heart,
wherethe blood came from that had poured into those blank spaces on our map and madethem still pink.
("Decline and Fall")
In the book`s final section the prospectof death takes centre stage and colours some movingly simple lines, such as"how beautiful / This dangerous world is still"("Courtship"). But few poems here succeed in their entirety.Brewster`s writing is marred by prosaic lapses, utilitarian line breaks, andirritating lists of questions. The whole of the "Marching Feet"section, with the exception of "Dido Revisited" and the lovely"Woods," could have been omitted.
Harold Rhenisch`s voice is notcompanionable; it is lush and a little imperious. The poems in Dancing with MyDaughter (Sono Nis, 94 pages, $9.95 paper) are rigorously shaped, rhapsodicmeditations on angels, the elements, heritage apple varieties, the author`scompanions in poetry -- "closest to my heart, Skelton andGraves, / who speak of the timeless world" ("Visiting Yeats") --and the land he farms in the interior of British Columbia. He brings to thesesubjects a keen eye and, not infrequently, a fresh vision:
Wealways consider the sky so distant, but it is hardly so; it is here, rightdown to the surface of the soil.
("The Art of Water")
There is, for my taste, a little too muchrhetorical juggling of beauty, soul, honour, poetry, and art; Rhenisch`s finestwriting examines what happens when "you break apart the sacred geometry /of the mind" ("Water"). "Water" is a luminous piece ofwriting worth the entire book. "The Stuffed Pheasant" too is aserious self-questioning, though syntax fails it at the end. "ThePear Boxes" is an oddly persuasive long poem, an evocative, quasi-biblicalbraiding of sensual detail and homely facts, and only superficially a historyof fruit boxes.
Julie Bruck`s The Woman Downstairs (Brick,58 pages, $11.95 paper) is the real discovery in this batch. Bruck maps theintersection of our exterior and interior worlds with a sharp eye and a kindhand. "Car Alarm" shifts from a blackly comic set-piece to awoman`s compelling inner vista with such easy grace it makes me want to cheer."Car Alarm" is the first poem, and it announces the concerns of thepoems that follow and also the shaping principle of the book-, the poemsprogress from glassy visions of neighbours to musings on family, "where thesmall betrayals don`t seem to matter / and I don`t know what does"("Connection"), and then to the considered but passionate engagementin the final section, "Second Sun."
The book is full of wise and vividphrases: "this terrible shaking/ between the past and future"("Closure"), "how temporarytrotsbehind us / dog on a leash" ("Cautious"), 11 thispostcard of a morning, / one too cloudless for history or need" ("I-80West"). Here`s how Bruck captures urban spring in "Incendiary,"and incidentally conveys much of the warm and easy tone that characterizes The Woman Downstairs:
... I havethis tendency to trip and I have places to go; a wallet fullof important papers; a temporary phonenumber for an impossible love to whom I have said no all winter, tempered tomaybe, and now, in the absence of pleasure or pain, say yes --because there comes a time when you want to live as dangerously as all theother citizens -- to love and be loved just as hard, and hurt.
This is an inviting and elegant firstbook that should win Julie Bruck many attentive readers.