Poets '88:
The New Generation

by Ken Norris, Bob Hilderley,
160 pages,
ISBN: 0919627889

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Fair Weather Warning
by Erin Moure

ACCORDING TO the press release, Poets 88 "showcases what is innovative and challenging in Canadian poetry right now." In the introduction, the editors' claim is more modest: " . .27 distinctive voices, each telling you something new about the times in which we are living." The book finished, it is the more modest claim that wins out: the times, I report, are conservative, technically capable, and safe.

Upon reading the poems, in fact, I dug out Storm Warning, one of the landmark anthologies of young poets (McClelland & Stewart, 1971) to which the introduction of Poets 88 refers, and read it through, catching at Dale Zieroth's words, which end the anthology: "seldom comfortable or safe." Those words characterize what I'm missing as a reader of Poets 88: the poetry is too often comfortable: the angles on love, on gender, on social unease, on the natural world, are merely personal here, are not new, do not question the construct of the self in language, how through language we not only construct "the world" but per

petuate value, certain values. And how those values are killing the earth, are eroding or masking our differences, as pushing the "individual" before "community," that "individual." who is finally a sameness, the sum of social constraints. Conscious involvement in the work of language, in its constituting power and markings, uncovering its repressions, its drives, and internally consistent forces, is, to my mind, critical to the writing and reading of poetry. In this anthology, for the most part, the poets exist inside the forms. Rather to be in poetry like Bertolt Brecht in his new house:

I've hung up my No masks and picture scroll Representing the Doubter.

As I drive through the ruins, Daily I am reminded of the privileges That I owe to the house. I hope It will not make me patient..

To me, social unease, radical spiritual poverty, death-in-life and life-in-death, loneliness, denial, identity and recognition, are uncovered, learned, constituted only when we get behind the self, the central idealized reified self moaning after women, moaning after men (however snidely), at trees, flowers, mountains, rivers. To get behind that self, it seems to me, is a demand poets must make of themselves. Otherwise, someone will stand up, and slip, oh, free trade past us. Maybe this anthology is, then, as the introduction says, a portrait of "the times in which we are living"!

Still, I had picked up the anthology gladly! People read anthologies of new poets, like this one, for one of two main reasons: either to encounter a generation of poets for the first time, or to read together the voices they've noticed in the magazines, hoping to identify postures and trends, confirm some ideas, encounter some surprises. It's time, I thought, picking up the book, for a new anthology of young poets, with the best writing, the idiosyncratic voices...

I'm surprised by all the people writing in a meditative mode, using abstract figures like. "friendship," "desire," "selfsufficiency," "memory," albeit .in a Cartesian way (without reaching past or deconstructing the narcissistic subject-voice that speaks): among them, Barbara Carey, Marc Cote, Anne Michaels, Karen Romell, Ruth Taylor, Cathleen Watson White come to mind. Of these, Anne Michaels is the most accomplished, turning phrases to build a sense of place and tremulous being that surpasses the descriptive, though not reaching for sparks or for the edges of the form. And there are poets here who write in a lyric-descriptive mode: Richard Harrison, or, in a style that somewhat ignores modernist precedents, Stephen Brockwell. and David Manicom. Sharon McCartney's use of the lyric-descriptive mode has some of Paulette Jiles's ironic snappiness, which lifts it somewhat. Apart from that, in terms of form, Vivian Marple deviates; in a sequence of "Nine Notes for Stone Poems" she takes apart the notion of meditation and of description, as she angles in on stones thrown/ stone garden/ rules for stone, for burying stones.

In some cases, like George Elliott Clarke's stormy, sonorous, wordy diction, there's a better selection elsewhere in Clarke's case in a recent issue of "Germination." In Poets 88 he seems just wordy, and sexist too, not questioning or bringing any light to bear on those old cliches. Speaking of sexist, we aren't out of the epoch of brothers yet in "these times." Noah Zacharin's poetic "I" pines after a rib, I surmise, in paralleling "the womanless night" (dear N. since you're literally descended from one, this would make you absent, too ... ) with "am not whole." David Manicom conjures up women in company towns with the phrase "wives as agile lovers again without bellies" (please note the job requirements, girls.) Small indicators, maybe, but mental structures that position women in a certain relationship to men, either as the object of the gaze (virgin/lover) or as the missing clue to (note: their) wholeness (desire for the mother/womb/origin: E.T., phone home!) are still there, passed down to another generation.

I'm missing people who could have made a difference, because their slant on "these times" is different. Examples: Margaret Christakos's prose poems and drawings, constructed carefully as installations. Di Brandes breathless and returning line-ends and woman's view of an old and encompassing religious ideology; Michael Red hills's ironic brevity that turns back and exposes the narrator in his posturing and his "his"ness, as his National Poetry Contest-winning poem did. Bev Daurio's poems, too, like the sequence "if summer had a knife." None of these are in Poets 88; it's diminished by their absence.


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