Post Your Opinion
Letters to Editor

In February we asked you to suggest a new name for "Poets' Corner" .

CURRENTS in Poesy or Re: verse.

James B. Clark

Wallace, N.S.

I INK Therefore Iamb, or (really going out on a limb now) A Pithy Oasis of Apotheoses, or (my final shot) Scanned Goods.

Steven Whittaker

Nanaimo, B.C.

ARS POETICA (ugh, stuffy, I know), Barbaric yawps (after Whitman,Roget's), Between Syntax and Rhetoric (see OED, entry for "poetry," no. 6), Cantos, Collected Poems, Couplets, From ??? (whatever level in hell it is that Dante consigns poets to) ... Poetry (plain and simple might serve you best)....

Giselle Weiss


WITH regard to your desire for a new name for the magazine's poetry department, allow me to make a humble suggestion. As, for example, your theatre books department is called "Theatre Books," your children's books department is called "Children's Books," and your first novels department is called "First Novels," it seems fittingly congruous to call your poetry department "Poetry."

Pardon the succinctness, but any other name would allow the contents page to maintain its present imbalance.

That is, of course, unless you also change the names of the other departments. How about "Theatre Book Bows," "Ha Ha for Humour Books," or 11 The Self-Help Books Workbench." I think not.

Ed Hawco


"Poetry" it is, then, and a year's worth of issues to Giselle Weiss (who was first) and to Ed Hawco (who supplied a convincing rationale). And for those who made suggestions but didn't win - well, it could be verse.



Character Assassination

AS LITERARY executor for the estate of Bronwen Wallace, I think it necessary to respond to Heather Robertson's "review" of Arguments with the World, by Bronwen Wallace (February)

I am disheartened by the fact that Books in Canada has obviously lowered its standards so dramatically in terms of tone and content. I once considered this magazine a forum for legitimate reviews, interesting analysis, humour, and thought-provoking content. I was not prepared for a character assassination of someone who is not able to defend herself.

I cannot fathom why Ms Robertson makes reference to personal issues in Bronwen Wallace's life that have nothing whatsoever to do with Arguments with the World, in particular the nature of her final illness. I won't bother commenting on the other personal issues that Ms Robertson raises in this rant; I can only presume she had her own reasons for feeling so unkindly towards Bronwen These things should have been talked out elsewhere, perhaps in a therapeutic environment.

It might have been different had Ms Robertson clearly made an argument against the political points Bronwen Wallace made, or against the style she chose to present them in, or seen the book as a true subject for review. To dismiss it out of some imperious sense of what Heather Robertson considers to be feminism is a waste of time.

Carolyn Smart

Sydenham, Ont.



All Too Short

IN REGARD to "The Short List" (March) and its plot synopsis for Brud:

"Brud is a modem-day parable of the exploits of a simpleton who is destined to help save"

a. a few pennies in his piggy bank

b. the whales

c. all the litter that he finds on the streets to build a paper condominium

d. his friend a seat on the bus.

Please let me know, in case I should be planning a sequel.

Kenneth J. Harvey Cupids, Nfld.

Editors' Note: A production glitch resulted in the concluding sentences being omitted from our descriptions of three of the shortlist nominees. Our apologies to all, and to Mr Harvey a suggestion that the correct answer is: e. many readers for a talented young writer.



Get a Life

I'M NOT SURE what makes me feel more noble, that I inadvertently helped prevent the suicide of one of Barbara Gowdy's friends or that I've suddenly become the scapegoat for all the liberal critics who don't "fill their dignity diapers with blockhead misreadings" of radical Canadian literature (as Gordon Lockhead writes in his February profile of Gowdy).

To Lockhead's relief, Canadian critics aren't the bigoted cretins he took them for, because, with the exception of one, they all liked his friend's book We So Seldom Look on Love, a high critical standard indeed.

Even a critic who described Gowdy's style as "curiously flat," something I observed somewhat more aggressively, and "clinical," the very word I used in trying to characterize the emotional tone of the stories, is let off the hook because Lockhead is sure that subconsciousty that critic knew he hadn't "got it," and was longing for a new Gowdy work to atone for his thickness.

Another review Lockhead found practically incomprehensible was good enough for him because the reviewer liked the book. So much for his preference for intelligent readings from reviewers who have been toilet-trained

But then, just in time, my review appears, his deus ex machina. Not only didn't I "get it," but I had the bizarre response of being merely ambivalent toward the collection, and so, given Lockhead's ambition, I become the viltain of his Gowdyan universe. Now, that makes me laugh. Get a life, man.

BiC readers should recognize that Lockhead contrived his peroration because he obviously needed to justify his non-project. At the risk of hurting his feelings, Barbara Gowdy is a very good writer, but she is no Michael Ondaatje, and what I told Edmonton Journal reader was that all I'd read about her work in the two interesting profiles Lockhead mentions outshone my response to her stories. I won't get into how "normal" I think necrophilia is or how authentic the intensely human impulse to drill a hole in one's head may be.

Like any responsible critic, I tried (and oh, how I tried) to describe what I saw as the strengths and weaknesses in We So Seldom Look on Love. Lockhead grossly misleads readers in characterizing my review as hostile. In fact part of my supposedly perplexed, blockheaded attack on his friend's book includes "Gowdy is a talented writer, and there is no doubt her commitment to the freakishness of nature and the unnaturalness of the human imagination has home literary creations worth talking about." How's that for "qualified hostility"?

In addition, despite what Lockhead implies, I find nothing intolerably transgressive about Gowdy's stories. If I was scratching my head through my review, it was because I couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

I hope Lockhead read Michael Coren's timely February column.

William Rankin


Academic Strut

ROBERT HARLOW's exegesis of the novella (Letters, April) is as fine an example of the Academic Strut as I have seen in these pages for a long time, but it falls short of explaining why the opening sentence of my review of Caterina Edwards's book "should by now be a howler." Though I am not old enough to have left anywhere 50 years ago, I have spent many years reading and writing, and I have to say that I have frequently found the novella subject to just the qualifications to which I referred. Has there been a change that I have missed, and is the novella not generally regarded (I say "generally" because I do not so regard it) as a poor relative of the novel? And am I alone in noting - its literary provenance as impeccable as may be - a certain ambivalence towards the genre among both readers and reviewers?

Roger Burford Mason


Cornflakes-box Mentality

How CANADIAN is Roger Burford Mason's comment in his review of Best Canadian Stories (Brief Reviews, March) concerning the inclusion of Steven Heighton's story "How Beautiful Upon the Mountains" in two anthologies. "It seems a waste of good light for the same piece to be illuminated from two different directions, 11 he says, and then whines about the lack of accolades for our literature during the year. I call this the cornflakes-box mentality - you remember, that endearing farm couple resplendent with pitchfork that adorned the box for a time. So generous with such joie de vivre. Don't get a swelled head; don't puff yourself up and, above all, don't give one brilliant Canadian short story space in two anthologies, especially since it's already won an award. To quote one of Monty Python's inimitable characters: that's not the point. What we need are more quality anthologies such as Best Canadian Stories and the Journey Prize Anthology to showcase the ever-abundant number of talented Canadian shortstory writers.

Linda Manning

Cobourg, Ont. I

Over His Head

ROGER BURFORD MASON's curmudgeonly review of Caterina Edward's A Whiter Shade of Pale/Emma (Brief Reviews, February) has left me puzzled. Did we read the same book'

In November I attended a reading by Ms Edwards at the Idler Pub in Toronto. The large and receptive crowd was in stitches at her elegant and ironic prose, the fine nuances of sophisticated wit, and warm human compassion.

Was it all over Mr Burford ",lason', head, perhaps? A more urbane reviewer next time, please.

Ann Cameron Toronto


IN THE SMALL WORLD of Canadian literature, it is common for people to review books by their friends, enemies, and lovers without identifying their relationship to the author. Therefore I feel no shame in protesting your snotty review of A Whiter Shade of Pale/Becoming Emma by Caterina Edwards, who has been my close friend for almost 25 years.

Roger Burford Mason is totally wrong in his assessment that what these two novellas needed was "some judicious pruning." In fact, their weakness is just the opposite - they are novellas that should have been novels. This is especially true of "Becoming Emma," where the treatment of Juris and Emma's courtship is far too brief, and in the present he is such a shadowy, undeveloped character that it is difficult to understand the bond between them. The parallels between this Emma and the earlier ones are also insufficiently clear, especially to a reader in whose mind the paradigms are not absolutely fresh.

As a librarian, I read thousands of book reviews a year, and I am sick of a system that sees all the books by a few Canadian literary stars praised as masterpieces, while the work of almost everybody else is given short shrift. When I actually try to read some of these "masterpieces," I struggle to turn over even the first 20 pages (this may be an old-fashioned notion, but I believe the writer has an obligation to engage the reader). In spite of some problems, Caterina's book is far more readable than much of the work of the literary stars. Proof of the readability of these two novellas is found in the fact that my 75-year-old mother, who never finished high school, enjoyed them very much - obviously the "literary decoration" cannot be too daunting.

Like many reviewers, Roger Burford Mason has failed at the reviewer's essential task - giving the potential reader a sense of what a book is actually like. It is bad enough for a review to be snotty; it is worse for it to be snotty and wrong.

Karen Sokolowski


Re Rewriting History

DAVID HOMEL, in his "Rewriting History" (Field Notes, February) does not seem averse to rewriting history himself. His comment that the writers of the Russian democratic writers' union "were part of the original 50,000 who defied the power of the attempted coup and not just among the million who celebrated in the streets when the danger was past" seems to me to give a very false impression of events. Anyone who, like myself, was in Moscow at the time of the attempted coup and who visited the Russian parliament on a daily basis, could not fail to be impressed by the way that the crowds, which at the beginning were small and consisted largely of teenagers, steadily grew and changed in character. Before the end of the coup, far more than 50,000 were turning up to show their disapproval, heedless of the consequences. To see so many Muscovites of all walks of life, including whole families with their children, taking action of this kind was a deeply moving experience. As for the celebrations at the end of the coup, they were exhilarating, but there was also a great deal of agitated discussion going on because it was, at that stage, by no means clear that the danger was over, and neither Gorbachev nor Yeltsin is as popular at home as in the West.

Peter Durey

Auckland, New Zealand

Letters may be edited for length or to delete potentially libellous statements. Except in extraordinary circumstances, letters of more than 500 words will not be accepted for publication


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us