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Letters to the Editor
Dear Editor,
I was delighted when Amazon.ca sent BiC with my latest order, and found the magazine a rewarding read, provocative, wide-ranging. Rigelhof on Taylor and Aubin is very strong. Eric Ormsby's poems are a delight and beautifully crafted. But a lot of the paper is not as well-written as I should have hoped, and¨I have to add¨short on strong content-editing. The Northrop Frye piece, for example, which is well targeted, timely, and useful, is very rough for the first several paragraphs, and I'd have been more demanding on several of the other writers.
I'd also like to see¨if you can afford it¨an upgrade in the quality of the authors' photos and most especially of your photo, which looks as if it were shot through cheesecloth with a $2.95 throwaway first generation digital toy.
Stephen Knight's review of CTV, The Network that Means Business, in the Sept 2002 issue, is not quite a disaster but it does get off to a terrible start. His disdainful scold of author Michael Nolan for calling the Montreal Canadiens the "Canadians", is preceded by his own reference to "The Bureau of Broadcast Governors", which was created to deal with "the private networks" which "were seen as purveyors of low-brow culture."
Hmmm. When the Board of Broadcast Governors was created there were no private networks; how could they have been seen as purveyors of anything? I know he's quoting Nolan here, but a reviewer is supposed to know something about the subject. In the paragraph just preceding the above he tells us that the "the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation . . . was created in 1936 and went on the air in 1952." What the hell was it doing in the intervening 16 years? And who was broadcasting the CBC National News, The Happy Gang, Hockey Night in Canada, and the wartime dramas, and Matthew Halton's stirring live reports from the Blitz in London, and then Stage 49, Stage 50, Stage 51 et ainsi de suite, all those years, if the CBC hadn't gone on the air yet?
I know, I know, this is just sloppiness, not stupidity. But it does undermine the credibility of a publication which, it is to be hoped, becomes an authoritative voice in Canadian letters.
Patrick Watson
Orangeville, Ontario.
Dear Editor,
I greatly enjoyed the piece on Celebrating Stratford's Fiftieth in the October issue of Books in Canada. Especially enjoyed the photo spread on page 19 of that issue. I did, however, spot an error with respect to photo number 2, the photo of Julie Harris and Bruno Gerussi in a 1960 production of Romeo and Juliet¨no problem there¨I recognize those actors, but the rest of the credits indicate that the directors of this production were Gordon McCall and Robert Lepage¨oops!! I happen to know that Gordon and Robert actually directed a 1990 Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan production of this English/French Romeo and Juliet which toured Toronto, Stratford and Ottawa. Further, Del Surjik was part of the technical crew of this 1990 production, and was probably not quite born or just born in 1960. How do I know this? My husband, David Beairsto, happened to be part of this 1990 production and we both know the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan personnel very well. Just thought I should let you know.
Nancy Black

Dear Editor,
I received a copy of Books in Canada with a recent order from Amazon.ca. It is an extraordinary publication and it heartens me to see that so much attention is being paid to Canadian writing. And without being too much of a Quisling, I am impressed with the fact that my first copy of your publication came thanks to the evil book company from down south.
John Moore

Dear Editor,
Carmine Starnino's essay in your October 2002 issue, on the particular excellences of Charles Bruce's poetry, calls attention to a neglected poet of considerable power, in a piece itself notable for the subtlety of its discriminations. The links with Frost and Heaney are exactly right. Starnino praises Bruce's "vernacular imagination," his ability "to touch off a run of sounds...that could themselves comprise a convincing dialect of viscerality." Reading this description of Bruce's strengths it occurs to me that occasionally in his poetry of Newfoundland E.J. Pratt does the same thing. Consider "The Drag-Irons":

He who had learned for thirty years to ride
The seas and storms in punt and skiff and brig,
Would hardly scorn to take before he died
His final lap in Neptune's whirligig.
But with his Captain's blood he did resent,
With livid silence and with glassy look,
This fishy treatment when his years were spent¨
To come up dead upon a grapnel hook.

Pratt's high exalted note does make itself heard here, but one can hear a grimly sardonic speaking voice in the second stanza.
Mary Dalton,
St. John's

Dear Editor,
I would like to thank you for the pages which you devote to poetry reviews. Even more, you are to be thanked for the great poetry articles by astute writers such as Carmine Starnino, David Solway and Kenneth Sherman. Inspired by Starnino's article on Charles Bruce's The Mulgrave Road, I obtained a copy through the Internet and feasted on the best poetry that I had encountered in some time. Of course, I also admire Starnino's own poetry. I had also read Bruce's novel The Channel Shore, so I was not entirely surprised by the high quality of his poetry. I am grateful to you, also, for publishing the article on the parlor-trick verses which managed to win the Griffin prize; it made me realize that there were others who had the same objections as I did.
Now, I'd love to see one of those reviewers tell us what he thinks about this year's Governor General Award-winning poetry book.
I have taken a break, half way through it, and I fear that I am reading the poems of Roy Miki while those of Charles Bruce, the winner in 1951, are still fresh in my mind. That comparison does not Miki. Certainly, the two books are of different eras and styles but whatever the era, style or intention the poet should write so that the reader, with a reasonable degree of thought, can make sense of the poem and not see it as a misplaced cryptic puzzle. If the reviewer is able to show me that my appraisal is wrong then I'll have to have yet another go at the book.
Robert Hounsell,
Waterloo, ON
Dear Editor,
It has always been a source of great sadness for me that I never learned to speak (or read) Italian. This feeling wells up every time I look at Dante in English. It came again when I began to read Robert Weaver's translation of Umberto Eco's Baudolino. I feel like I am seeing through a glass darkly.
In the Spring, 2002 issue of The Paris Review, Robert Weaver, speaking about Baudolino, told interviewer Willard Spiegelman, "He (Eco) has characters who can't speak Italian but speak mixed languages. He understands that all those passages, obviously, have to be completely reinvented by the translator." Reinvented¨there's an interesting word¨especially in light of the theme of this particular novel¨lying.
Something tells me that I'm not getting "the lie" as it came from Eco's Italian pen. At one point, Baudolino meets his long-lost father. After a lengthy and strange conversation, they part for the night. The father gives his blessing, and Baudolino replies, "Very well...In a single day I find a city and I lose it. Oh, son of a bitch! Do you realize¨if I want to see my father again, I'll have to come and lay siege to him?" All through the Christmas holidays, I struggled with this wooden language and what felt like so many non sequiturs. Is the problem in the translation? Is the problem in the original? Is there even a problem?
To the rescue came my latest issue of Books In Canada, a publication I revere and have been reading since I was a teenager and used to pick up my "Free Take One" copies at The Bookshelf in Guelph, Ontario. I was delighted to see that Baudolino was going to be reviewed, and all would be made clear.
When I began to read David Solway's review, my sadness at not being able to speak Italian returned. Maybe, I thought, Italian cannot be massacred the way English can. My depression (and incredulity) deepened with lines like, "...as we peer into this richly dendritic story, we find those "embedded sememes" at work, those inevitable but shrouded textual branches ramifying out into the bibliomorphic dimension we are also meant to explore..." Why is this happening to me? I spent $40.00 for the hardcover version¨a MAJOR decision for this father of four!
Baudolino's mentor, Bishop Otto, tells him, "The world condemns liars who do nothing but lie, even about the most trivial things, and it rewards poets, who lie only about the greatest of things." I can feel that the story of Baudolino is "working" because I want to be lied to¨but I want to be lied to by the poet¨and the translator and the literary critic stand between me and the true liar. As I write this letter, I am half way through the book. Is there anyone who can rescue me? Por favore!
Michael Reist,
Caledon East, Ontario

Dear Editor,
(David Solway's reply to Robert Hounsell and
Michael Reist)
First, I agree entirely with Mr. Hounsell that the poet should not be in the business of producing puzzles and parlor tricks addressed essentially to a like-minded cadre of partisan cryptographers. He is certainly right with regard to Roy Miki. I have before me a press release from the Governor General's Literary Awards committee where I learn that Miki "explodes the notion of the documentary by infusing it with luscious imagery, poignant memory and social wit." Judging from a representative piece, entitled "interior poem", in which we're told that "bilateral fortitude binds the contract basks in genetic/drift" and that "rounds of canticles colchis diffused hounds/in autumnal glaciers bark new of the demise/of freight trains," the process at work looks more like implosion than explosion. Clearly there is nothing luscious, poignant or witty about it. What we are getting here, as Carmine Starnino argued in the last issue of BiC, is a poetry that survives only on the charity of its own dubious and inscrutable poetics. Perhaps we should take Miki at his own cloacal word when he informs us that "i prefer metamucil/before I revise a poem." No doubt the same is generally true of the GG jury of poet-critics when they assess one.
Secondly, I'd like to assure Mr. Reist that my intention in the Baudolino review¨which was also an Eco overview¨was in part facetious and in part respectful. The language to which he objects is effectively Eco's own, so formidably deployed in the two semiotic volumes I mention in my piece. "Dendritic" plainly has to do with trees¨a favourite icon of philologists and semioticians¨and "bibliomorphic" is a word Eco himself is rather fond of. And Oh, those "embedded sememes" rolling around in the textual hay! The fact is, I tried to remain faithful to his specialized diction while at the same time having a little fun of my own with it. Obviously this didn't come through. My advice to Mr. Reist is: keep reading, and pay me no heed.
David Solway

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