Tamarack & Clearcut declares itself, in its proportions and beautiful cover, to be a book intended for display, which it will no doubt achieve on many coffee tables. There is more to it than that, however, for its substance will reward proportionally any amount of serious attention, both visual and thoughtful, that may be given to it.
The close pairing of verse and photography that it offers must be unusual, though we may have become accustomed to seeing the two forms disconnectedly side by side in literary magazines. In Tamarack & Clearcut the poems retain a sharp individuality and at the same time complement the photographs with an impressive sympathy.
The contents of this handsome volume are distributed in four sections, whose moods are most obviously marked by the photographs. The haiku must then have been selected to correspond. The affinity of the two forms in the different sections suggests that their specific combinations may well have been a mutual undertaking of the poet and the photographer. "Leafsmoke", "Winter Dusk", "Loam", and "Early Evening Pieces" are the titles given to the four, and they name their modalities.
Beauty and serenity, with an almost audible undernote of melancholy, would describe the temper of all but a very few of the photographs, most frequently those of cultivated nature or art, close up or from a middle distance. A few include the sky and a horizon. Disruption, decay, and even hints of violence do appear, but seldom. City traffic is portrayed in a peaceful, tranquil, twilight mood, in two elegant facing photographs on pages 36 and 37. Three lovely still-life studies are found on pages 20, 21, and 67. There is, indeed, considerable variety in the photographs, and all will repay study and contemplation.
Marianne Bluger's books of poetry have until now been in Western forms. Her work in Tamarack & Clearcut, which amounts to another collection, is all in the Japanese haiku form. The intensity of feeling and the variety of moods she has expressed in the three brief lines this form allows are impressive. A distinct and candid person speaks clearly to us in their variety, their humour and seriousness. 130 of these are distributed through the book, thirty-six on paired pages of their own, and others also on paired pages along with small photographs. They reflect the moods of the sections they appear in. Here are four:
the stars away
sandals in hand-I walked
through the warm rain home
("Early Evening Pieces")
She is not a confessional poet, far from it, but she is forthright in her moods and responses, a particular charm of her poetry. She will be joyful:
off we go
all down the back roads
I and my little horse
skin to skin
in the warm night rain
in the dark-sleet
hitting our windshield
the phone rings-again
I don't answer
The book as a whole is a happy achievement, and Carleton University Press is to be congratulated on it.
George Johnston lives in Huntington, Quebec. He is the author of several books of poems, and a translator of Norse sagas.