These Lawns

by M. Reid,
ISBN: 0889950458

Story For A Saskatchewan

by D. Barbour,
ISBN: 0889950474

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Prairie Dawning
by Charlene Diehl-Jones

THE WRITING WEST SERIES from Red Deer College Press has done it again: two new books of poems, beautifully designed and printed, two invitations to hear the voices of prairie writers. Monty Reid`s poems in These Lawns speaks of a world we already know, bits of familiar living strung together on a "thread of light": a solitary man skating lost dreams of hockey fame, dawn discovering a white-housecoated raspberry picker, an old man shovelling spring snow from his neighbours` sidewalks. One watches in wonder the poet`s words, roving over ordinary surfaces, recovering lustre we forgot was there. Reid has an uncanny sense of the magic haunting the margins of the mundane. "In the dry air of our room static unhooks / Your body / as if you were unzipping / darkness.... In his world, there are just things, "the/moon swung on a tether/ of desire, bound/by light, an owl`s hoot/wedged into the darkness." Just things -- "Eden must he pure surface" -- and things are Reid`s pleasure. Each poem really is an act of attention: "All I wanted to do was describe the fern // for you, attend it with words...." We learn, with him, to linger, to share this pleasure of attention as well. Reid`s collection has formal interest too. He often works with Surprisingly long lines, and is drawn to regular formal arrangements. At the same time, he leans on the sentence, especially the long sinuous sentence, as an organizing principle. The resulting texture demands another kind of attention: I saw an old woman planting flowers all over her front yard, stubbornly. All her neighbours had lawns. When it rained mud washed down across the sidewalk and people had to step around. Later, alyssum unlocked the cracks of the sidewalk. I saw the old woman digging it out with a trowel. She had not wanted, she said, to sow such doubt. The collection isn`t entirely successful. A few of these poems flirt with the banal. just a few. But they are more than com pensated for by the precision and delicacy and grace of the other poems, by Reid`s exquisite craftsmanship. These Lawns is a fine book. It is also an important book, because it speaks another version of the prairie place, the prairie voice. Because Douglas Barbour posits a world always filtered through language, a world even created by its naming, he attends to language and the page explicitly and with care. The poems in Story for a Saskatchewan Night are sophisticated, sub tie, and theoretical; they are also vital and moving and sometimes funny. Barbour is not easy. He explodes syntax and prefers short, fractured lines. Words sometimes crack under his "in/tense" pressuring and vibrate with punning potential. Periods and space muscle in unexpectedly. Occasionally columns of text run in parallel. These poems are playful even as they are in/tensely serious; they buzz possibilities. Reading Barbour requires a kind of surrender in the midst of work: "there is a hidden & lovely/law /We breathe & follow/in the poem." Barbour`s fascinations weave into one another: that place "where language and landscape meet" implies a looking eye and a speaking voice, and he presses assumptions of autonomy and subjectivity -- "always the self separate/ a typographical space" -- as well as the implications of narratives we choose or choose not to tell. And always he is contextually situated, rooted in the language on the page. This theoretical sophistication doesn`t burden the writing, though, as it could in less talented hands. The poems in Story for a Saskatchewan Night are tensile rather than heavy: Towards two words that must meet in us: this I not `I` this you not you will complete some looked for conjunction only connecting two words to ward off what. Barbour often frustrates narrative drive, insisting on associative logic or even an imposed logic. The title poem, for instance, visits silence from many angles, "An Alphabet" is determined (and illustrated) by that arbitrary ordering. Through the screen, though, we hear Barbour`s stories, stories of loving and fearing, of reading and listening, of watching and writing a perpetually mysterious world and self. Dialogue is essential to the poetic urnverse Barbour constructs here: some poems play two voices off one another, and many draw in outside voices -- poets, fiction writers, artists, friends. Invocation, intertextuality. Another (radical) naming of the landscape of the prairie writer. Barbour`s book is a powerful indicator of the robust health of prairie writing. It is also necessary and exhilarating reading

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