Gabriel's Wing

by Allan Cooper
ISBN: 1894031830

Post Your Opinion
A Review of: GabrielĘs Wing
by John Lofranco

Allan Cooper opens his collection, Gabriel's Wing-yet another beautifully made book from Gaspereau Press-with a single poem that sets a rural and nostalgic tone. "The Driftwood Man" is an exemplar of concise simplicity. Eastern influences are apparent from the start:

The potatoes grow
in neat rows
beside the brook.
The earth
breathes evenly.
That was years ago.

Cooper's has moments of brilliance, but only when he sticks to Spartan simplicity; any attempt to philosophise sends the poem tumbling into meaninglessness or clich.
A first book often feels rushed. The poet wants to get his or her work out there, and so sacrifices sober reflection for momentum and energy. This appears to be the case with Alan Cooper; while austere with his lines, he might have thought longer about the quality of his words.
For example, Cooper commits the mortal poetic sin of writing about cats. This is not to limit the subject matter for poetry; however, whenever cats are concerned it seems the poetry becomes irrelevantly domestic. This frightening trend seems to have left the parlours of little old ladies' poetry circles and has planted itself, like a big fat tabby, in the poetry of older, established Canadian poets. (The cutest cat moment I've seen comes in Robyn Sarah's poem "Bounty": "No, look - here comes the cat,/with one ear inside out./Make much of something small.") Meanwhile, Cooper doesn't content himself with one mention of cats in the incredibly ineffectual "The Best Days" ("It's when the cats are content"). "Small boy and leaves" also has a cat that "jumps out of the leaves/and onto the boy's shoulder", and in "Faces" we "can't understand why/the cats left." Perhaps it was the poetry.
This feline fetish is a shame, because elsewhere, as in "The Shed of love", Cooper's poems are simple, word-steady, and taut. Here's the second stanza:

There are faces in senior's homes
folded with light. One smile
and they smile back at you,
bearing lanterns
dissolving the ballast
of anger and grief,
from this world
to the next.

In "Honeybees", a longer sequence of couplets that link through enjambment (they're not quite ghazals but do have that detached ghazal-like quality), Cooper's simplicity allows the broader impression of the poem to settle in on the reader. This quality is especially poignant at the end of "The Night Heron":

I need to ask you this question:
when you say "love,"

why do you weep? Now,
you mean everything to me.

Cooper has purchased the pop-song clich quality of the last line with the innocence and intensity ("I need to ask you") of the previous ones. Despite the "I", it is the absence of an overbearing, editorialising voice that gives this speaker credibility. In "The Night Walker's Poem", however, it's as though he's trying too hard to attain Zen, with vague pronouncements that fail to be profound: "I don't think I was meant to come here/it just happened." Isn't effortlessness the point of Zen? And, while I'm asking rhetorical questions: Why is it that poets think that by being vague ("some messengerthey're determined to be somewhere elsesomeone's expecting us") they can gesture to a vast body of untapped meaning?
If I may mention another pet peeve: as meaning is not implicit in cats, nor in grandiose notions of vagueness, it's not likely to be found in simple, one dimensional adjectives like "small". For example, in the first of "Two love poems", instead of saying "this is the small farm of love," it would help to show us how small. The second of these is small enough, though, that the poem speaks for itself:

Love is the unformed haze
rising through the poppies
and the eyes, weeping, see it.

In "Small boy and leaves" we have the same problem: small seems to be the default setting-surely the poet has a greater vocabulary than he is letting on.
Sometimes good poets write bad books. This is clearly the case with Allan Cooper's Gabriel's Wing, as amidst all the vague, small, cat poems, there are some gems-"Honeybees", "Hope" and the final poem of the first section, "Green Ears of Wheat":

There are openings to the other world through the
green ears
of wheat. Haven't we always expected this?

Especially when the rain falls in slanted bars across the open sky, the opened heart.

For hearts, like wheat
are meant for bending.

How much can we take?
"Bring on the wind," whispers the wheat.

Again, it is the isolated simplicity that seals the deal. We are made to feel like we've heard this wisdom before, but, thankfully, we are not told where. The transposition of heart and wheat is natural, and as a reader, my heart sang along to the wheat's challenge. When the poet has us whispering along with the wheat, that's the "something" we've been looking for.

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