||Letters to the Editor
I don't dispute whether English language poets in Montreal experience the double exile described by David Solway in the Winter 2002 issue: he makes a convincing case. Nor do I deny that exile can have a salutary effect on poetry: as Philip Larkin put it, who famously shunned London for Hull, "removed lives / Loneliness clarifies". But I do question whether the double exile of anglophone Montreal poets is responsible for their neglect. No one neglected Larkin after all. Genoa in the early decades of the last century wasn't the epicenter of Italian cultural activity that Florence has always been. But Eugenio Montale nevertheless duly received wide recognition.
Closer to home, Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, Mavis Gallant and Anne Carson for parts of their careers likely bought milk and cigarettes at the same convenience stores frequented by members of Mr. Solway's luminous cadre. Far from meeting with a storm of indifference they remain four of Canada's best loved writers (though in the case of Anne Carson regrettably so). Clearly then exile is insufficient to account for neglect. I offer this explanation instead: the only thing scarcer than good poetry is good taste.
Pino Coluccio, Toronto
Having lived and written in Montreal for the last few decades, I read with interest David Solway's even-handed, succinctly worded breakdown of the poetic-cultural landscape I inhabit. Now the reasons for my vague sense of isolation are clear: not being a member of the Blue Metropolis gang, nor (alas) an invitee to the "party of excellence" over at Dave's place, I must be among the "weak" and "catastrophic poets" skulking about the heavily-mined no-man's land of our "Jerusalem of the North". Seeing that self-canonization seems to be the order of the day, I will choose the latter¨it has a nice ring to it, and besides, catastrophic times call for catastrophic poetry. Kudos to Mr. Solway for, once again, putting us all in our place.
(David Solway replies to Pino Coluccio and George Slobodzian)
Mr. Coluccio develops what seems like a pertinent argument, but I would draw his attention to the fact that the Montreal writers he singles out for commendation¨with the exception of Anne Carson whose prominence he lucidly regrets and who is not a Montreal writer anyway¨all left the city to pursue their fortunes elsewhere: Cohen in New York and L.A., Richler in London and Gallant in Paris. Had they remained in Montreal, they too may have succumbed to the underside of the Double Exile phenomenon. Besides, my thesis had to do exclusively with poetic language, which leaves Richler and Gallant out of this particular loop. As for the European poets he mentions, Larkin and Montale, well, isn't that the point? Had they lived and worked in Montreal, their careers might have taken quite different paths. Setting aside the probability that the cultural context in which they wrote was far more sophisticated and sensitive to good work than ours, one can say that what they experienced was something like "single exile," which is no great shakes really. In any case, as a Toronto resident, Mr. Coluccio obviously has little understanding of the literary dynamic that helps to make Montreal the most interesting city in the country.
I would also remind Mr. Slobodzian, whose letter has an unfortunate, ad hominem ring to it, that the phrase "Jerusalem of the North" is not mine but Cohen's, and secondly, that his notion of "self-canonization" seems curiously out of place since Dave kept his own work methodically out of the essay. Ah, loneliness.
I read with great interest and some pleasure your recent article entitled "A Stroll down a Short Street." Your cluster of texts by Atwood, Bowering, Lane, Crozier, and Musgrave is very effective, and your point, emphasized by the quotation from Hopkins, is well stated. There is very little to distinguish these texts one from the other, or indeed in any way at all. sad, since all these writers are "distinguished" presumably, winners of awards, beneficiaries of grants, etc.
The larger cluster at the end of your piece, the group of poets who provide "satisfaction," who presumably speak with more individuality, is instructive. I can't claim to have read them all¨I am a visual artist and neither poet nor critic¨but I have read enough of them to applaud your judgements.
It occurs to me, however, that there are some omissions from this latter list. Most particularly I wonder why Daryl Hine isn't there. Surely his "poetical voice" is one of the most distinctive in Canadian letters. No one sounds like him; no one has his particular skills. He has been widely published, not only in Canada but in the UK and the US. He is a translator of great ability, especially from Classical languages, Latin and Greek, but also from French.
And where is he? Does it matter? Should it? He is a Canadian, born here and educated here, and still carries a Canadian passport. he doesn't frequent Can Lit conferences, nor does he teach in Canadian schools. he has lived in many places in Europe and North America and he doesn't spend much time in Canada. When he does return, it is to visit friends or family. He isn't on any circuit but his own. But he is a poet and a very effective poet at that.
And of course he is a man of a certain age. However that may be, he still writes, and still writes with the voice of a true poet.
As a Guernica Writers Series editor, I was delighted with the attention paid by BiC reviewer Robert Moore to a number of recent titles in the series. I would like, however, to bring a few points of clarification to criticisms Moore levels against several volumes in the series, in particular the collection of essays on Aritha van Herk edited by Christl Verduyn. Moore questions Verduyn's choice of original essays over the many possibilities of previously published essays presented by "thirteen pages of secondary sources" (Verduyn's bibliography is indeed impressively thorough). He is especially unhappy with essays by Robert Budde and Robert Kroetsch, whose value as academic criticism he queries.
Guernica invited guest editors to collect new or already published work, suggesting five to seven essays to meet the original series limit of 120 pages. As Moore notes, series volumes present considerable variety within this common format. Guernica was very pleased with Verduyn's decision to produce original essays by established and new critics alike, representing gender balance as well as national and international perspectives. These and other elements of Verduyn's book, including her own contributions to it (critical essay, introduction, and author interview) place it firmly among the very successful volumes of Guernica's Writers Series.
The editor of each volume is free to select the essays, and often in consultation with the author who is the subject of the volume. Thus the late Louis Dudek was able to participate in his volume. One of our aims was to make each volume interesting to read, and not just an academic tool. Each volume reflects the particular relationships of the editor and contributors to their author. The volumes of adele Wiseman, Alistair MacLeod, and Sharon Pollock illustrate these special relationships.
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