Vancouver poet Ryan Knighton has been known to west coast readers for some time, either as recently-outgoing editor of The Capilano Review, as a contributor to Hammer & Tongs: A Smoking Lung Anthology (1999, Smoking Lung Press), or as a member of Vancouver's informal TADS 'zine and poetry group, that includes Chris Turnbull, Jason le Heup, George Bowering, Wayde Compton, Jamie Reid and George Stanley. Swing in the Hollow is his first full poetry collection, preceded by two chapbooks through Pulley Press and Smoking Lung Press. There is a lot of the downtown Vancouver feel to these poems, and gentle echoes of Sharon Thesen, George Bowering and Jack Spicer, pervade the work. "a hand that is // a heart that is // a wave // hello." (p28, "Charlie Don't Surf").
Knighton writes a clear speak of urban Vancouver movements and strange recognition. These are very physical poems of inspired localism, down to the discarded wrappers and Portuguese clubs along Commercial Drive¨ "How merciful / it is to be there / and here/ all over / for instance." (p32, "If In The Same River"). What strengthens much of this collection is Knighton's sense of play, whether buried in references to other works, or amply evident in pieces such as "Cutting The National Tracks: A Purdy" (pp88-91), a ten-part piece made up of vocabulary and line from every second and fifteenth line of Al Purdy poems, in the 15x2 Canadian Poets anthology, edited by Gary Geddes: "Maddening, I couldn't find / all the different parts of me / the sunlit reefs / an unending account / in a postcard back to you about my faithfulness." (p88).
In all, there is a clarity of vision in these poems¨from a poet with impaired vision, and a strong sense of humour, even when writing of grief for a lost brother, in titling both poem and section "Colour Theory"¨ "But that green / on TV is different, illuminated and projected // to you, in you, as its / self? Now the pool table is crawling in / my eye rolling trajectories back to its / self? My brother is a blond child // in his Mr. Turtle pool. / There is no water // and no way." (p99).
Lisa Robertson's The Weather has seven days, and each begins with a statement. Written as days, from "Sunday" to "Saturday", each with a small aside, The Weather is Robertson's first collection since the appearance of Debbie: An Epic, shortlisted for the Governor General's Award, and since reissued with twenty new pages by New Star Books. "About here. All along here. All along here. All the soft / coercions." (p2, "Sunday"). As she writes in an afterward of sorts, the book "took shape when, wanting to make a site-specific work during my six-month stay at Cambridge, I embarked on an intense yet eccentric research in the rhetorical structure of English meteorological description." (p80).
In seven days and short prosaic lines, Robertson moves through the structure of an outside force, the language of weather, as arbitrary sometimes as the language of academics, or the language of art, both of which Robertson has worked in. "My purpose here is to advance into / the sense of the weather, the lesson of / the weather. Forever I'm the age 37 / to calm my mind." (p24, "Residence at Cambridge"). The asides almost feel like a Greek chorus, there to further the plot, the movement and structure of the play, and the sense of play, in the poem. "From sociology and all / that scorches, I take my leave / now to my theme." (p70, "Porchverse"). The asides exist both within and without the scope of the poem, acting as witness to it and author.
So much of this piece, this book, this long poem, evokes the sense of exploration and of looking through a telescope of certain knowledgeable truths¨"First all belief is paradise. So pliable a medium. A time / not very long." (p10, "Monday").
Part of what makes Robertson one of our most important, and most interesting poets, is that sense of exploration her work conveys, as well as her findings. The Weather is a slim thick volume of intense movement, where "Space is quite subdued; but / not as a result of complacency." (pp35-6, "Wednesday"), exposing every aspect of the meteorological speech, merging with the poetic, with a touch as light as a breeze.
For all the critical and popular attention bpNichol has garnered over the years, the other side of the coin has always been Steve McCaffery, as shown in the first of a two volume set, Seven Pages Missing, Volume One: selected Texts 1969-1999, recently released by Coach House Books. As one half of the Toronto Research Group, and one fourth of the internationally known Four Horsemen Sound Poetry Group, as well as with his own writings, McCaffery has always been one of Canada's most important and influential poets working in the avant-garde. "To write is to reach a surface through the holes named things", he writes. Called "the definitive selection from three decades of McCaffery's oeuvre", it collects the previously published and collated, including visual and concrete pieces, as the second volume will contain previously published but unassembled works. Through nearly five hundred pages of the first volume, Seven Pages Missing moves through what is essential in the poem; McCaffery's writing, carved down to less than bone, obscures purpose and meaning, in order to reveal what is truly necessary in terse, sharp lines. The book also includes as postcards, a reproduction of the original sixteen square feet of the two individual CARNIVAL panels, published by Coach House Press in the early 70's as two books meant to be taken apart and put on your wall. Unfortunately, as postcards, you can't actually read any of the text in the two pieces; they are useful only for getting a sense of the colours. Both are supposedly online in larger versions at the Coach House Books website, www.chbooks.com/online/carnival/index.html.
What McCaffery did at the beginning, and continues to do, is work from traditions not openly considered in Canlit previously¨of Dada, Gertrude Stein and Heidegger, and in the way small groups of poets can sometimes at random, and with randomly-born movements, influence highly intellectual works¨ "ruin instance interruption involved an ear alive. // China throughout the world say great numbers." (p51, "Max Ernst around 1950"). For a critical discussion between Lisa Robertson and Steve McCaffery on each other's works, I recommend the phillytalks web site. ˛
Rob Mclennan has recently published his 6th poetry collection, Harvest: A Book of Signifiers.