The Way I Remember It (Essential Poets Series 56)|
by Antonino Mazza
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|Form And Frame
by George Elliott Clarke
ANTONIO MAZZA`s The Way I Remember It (Guernica, 64 pages, $10 paper) is only the Toronto poet`s second volume of his own work. Since his first book appeared in 1979, he has published three English translations of Italian poets. The Way I Remember It is also a translation of sorts: it originally appeared as a popular album of poetry, based on Calabrian-Canadian song, that Mazza recorded with his musician brother in 1988. Mazza`s lyrics echo Provencal song, but few survive their transformation into print. However, some lines peal:
The bells die in the deep blue tree t. The sky is a paradise of fireflies.
("Our House Is in a Cosmic Ear")
Mazza`s poetic is more important than his poems: he argues that rural and oral culture must be preserved in order to conserve the uniqueness of local community. This credo should resonate with oral poets and those of such endangered languages as Acadian, who seek to confirm their own cultural traditions in the midst of a deracinating global economy. The Montreal poet Marco Fraticelli`s third collection, Voyeur (Guernica, 94 pages, $ 10 paper), presents haiku and brief lyrics both selected and new. The pieces composed between 1972 and 1978 offer some arresting images, but mainly skirt the edges of cliche. The later poems are occasionally masterly: "angry fly / trapped between the screens: / your letter." Fraticelli is a skilful poet, but his work, save for a handful of memorable images, seems slight. The Ultimate Garden (Empyreal, 95 pages, $10.95 paper) succeeds Patricia Renee Ewing`s poetic debut, The Other Land (1974). Ewing invents verse that pursues metaphysics and myth. Her work employs the entire lexicon of New Age nonsense: "cosmic," "mirrors," "image," etc. Even so, Ewing is blessed with an eye for imagery (when it`s not dyed purple):
a sunlit crow upon a clothes-line
the frayed rope turned to gold
A few poems, notably "they burned me because" and "goatherd," are good. In fine, Ewing`s lyrics are precious ephemera - gold-foiled chocolate coins. However, the book`s design merits praise. In 1990, Sandy Shreve won plaudits for her first book. Her follow-up, Bewildered Rituals (Polestar, 75 pages, $12.95 paper), should earn her even more readers. A New Brunswicker-turned-British Columbian, Shreve is an inquisitive, socially conscious, and formfascinated poet. Bewildered Rituals includes a sestina, a villanelle, a triolet, prose, free verse, and haiku. The opening poem, "Learning to Read," effectively interweaves the artistic and the personal. "Rituals of War" is a fine polemic, while "Making Love" is a tender lyric. Shreve`s work could use some editing, though. Nevertheless, she is at home with her Muse, particularly when she evokes her "home" landscapes, whether East or West Coast:
I cannot begin to fill my eyes with the clarity of winter air Here below the sudden frescoes of snow miles distant, I feel face to face with those sweeping strokes of powder paintings, fallen from a cloud
Shreve is a significant, soon-to-be-major poet. Like Antonino Mazza, Audrey Poetker-Thiessen gives voice to her people; and, like Patricia Renee Ewing, she constructs a mythology. Her first book appeared in 1986; her second, standing all the night through (Turnstone, 94 pages, $9.95 paper), is a lyric sequence that sets a love story against the backdrop of the Mennonite settling of the Prairies. This vers libre borrows from the Bible, histories, and Low German to sing its tale. Poetker-Thiessen`s best work features exact images set in tight, light, rhythmic lines:
maria is dancing dancing on the rock her white hands touching stroking the dark... there she burns on the rock
Some poems and sections of poems are dull; over all, though, standing all the night through does stand, and the last third of its trilogic structure is frequently beautiful. Alan Barr, a former editor of Grain, hails from Saskatchewan, but now resides in B.C. His first book, The Chambered Nautilus (Thistledown, 64 pages, $7.50 paper), combines a social eye with a plain voice. His strong, direct imagery accents the human element. These lines describe the speaker`s reaction to a survivor of a house fire:
I knelt by his cot to see him better. Blood from under my cuffs trailed down my palm and dripped off my fingertips. I`d have sworn he was still burning the way his body shone.
Barr`s tone is homely, gnarled, wintrily pastoral. When he sketches an event in detail, his work attains a dramatic density However, when vague, his lines remain two-dimensional. Even so, he is a poet to watch. Bruce Meyer follows in the erudite poetic tradition of R. A. D. Ford, Louis Dudek, and Ralph Gustafson. The Toronto poet is intrigued by form, and intimately acquainted with modem and contemporary poetry in English. Hence, Meyer seems wellpositioned to achieve greatness. Instead, in Radio Silence (Black Moss, 64 pages, $10.95 paper), Meyer`s second collection, his discipline too often results in bondage; his restraint mutes his music, so that his lines fade into white noise. His attempts to redeem rhetoric often fail, but they fail with style. Nevertheless, Meyer delivers some superb moments in "Kenilworth" and "Menot and the Tropics," and a few poems, notably "On the Point," are largely excellent. Here is its last stanza:
When we arrive at the end, the end of our country, the last place on earth we can name as home, the terminus of exile I the dream we dreamed into, we will meet ourselves silently and say little; we will turn north again, north toward home, carrying with us that long walk on brittle fragments, a place more craft than country, where the waters parted and we slipped through.
Such sustained lyrical episodes are infrequent, but there are enough to represent promise blossoming into near perfection. Born in Toronto of Acadian lineage, Colleen Thibaudeau has published five previous books of poetry. Her sixth, The "Patricia" Album and Other Poems (Moonstone, 112 pages, $14.95 paper), features a lyric sequence on photographs of a boat - the Patricia and its turnof-the-century owners - that the poet found in an album in a secondhand bookstore. Unfortunately, the poems in this section are merely prosaic commentaries on the images, and few go beyond describing
the obvious. However, the third section - a series of elegies - is fine. "Outside Cumberland, for instance, exemplifies Thibaudeau`s technique of writing by indirection and executing somersaults of logic: "Asleep in the mountains, he dreamed out /those blossoms in the snow. Now cornflowers make / square sky, obliterate his burned shack floor." Thibaudeau`s lyricism arises - like that of R. G. Everson from prose. In poems such as "Continuing" and "In the Pass," Thibaudeau finds the verse secreted in conversation. Irving Layton`s latest edition of "selected poems" departs significantly from its predecessors. Fornalutx (McGill, Queen`s University Press, 171 pages, $15.95 paper) offers 150 poems, published between 1928 and 1990, that have been omitted from most anthologies. According to the volume`s editor, Brian Treheame, these poems depict a fiercer Layton than the poet hitherto acknowledged. Indeed, Fornalutx presents a Layton animated by a gargantuan, Blakean hatred for the cruelty of human nature. Nietzschean ideals are evoked; but Layton`s vision is ultimately Sadean: the world is peopled by cutthroats, fuckers, and fools. Even so, Layton sets the suns of woman, art, and nature against the dark and blinding ideologies that allow us to kill and torture others with aplomb. This Layton, the bard exiled from our polite anthologies, is a necessary purgative:
Give me words fierce and jagged enough to tear your skin like shrapnel; Hot and searing enough to fuse the flesh of your blackened skeleton; Words with the sound of crunching bones or bursting eyeballs; or a nose being smashed with a gun butt
("Whom I Write For")
Robin Skelton utilizes a variety of forms, including sonnets, sestinas, and rondeaus in Popping Fuchsias: Poems 1987-1992 (Cacanadadada, 161 pages, $12.95 paper). This prolific West Coast poet even adds two forms of his own invention the "catena rondo" and the "viator." Skelton writes thoughtful poetry that lives in the mind and in the ear. His work, haunted by hints of mortality, seems richly elegiac, and seldom do false notes ruin his grace notes. While most of the poems are competent, a few are truly excellent. Here is the first strophe of "Monody in September":
The thin rains of September glisten on the boughs of apple peach and cherry around our old white house Soon they will rouse those shadows we remember.
Skelton wrings music from even the simplest of lines. His work suggests that Poetry might yet rise again from the academies in which it has been interred for most of this century.