Allan Brown - Issue # 99

Love As It Is by Marilyn Bowering. Victoria, BC., Beach Holme, 1993. 97 pp. $12.95.
Hologram, A Book of Glosas by P.K. Page. London, ON., Brick Books, 1994.67 pp. $11.95.

I sometimes think that the classical patron of poetry should be not Apollo, with or without the Nine, but rather Proteus, the Shape-changer. T'his is the characteristic of poetry or of the poet that Keats called negative capability: the poet becomes nothing in order to become any thing (everything would probably be too much to claim). Marilyn Bowering develops a number of dramatic personae in Love As it Is including, of course, that of Marilyn Bowering. P.K. Page's Hologram records a series of subtler but no less satisfying transformations as she moves into and out of the voices of 14 poets who have influenced her. Both Bowering and Page in their own ways present a gathering up and refinement of long practised art.

Love As It Is is divided into four parts: a loose set of I I lyrics and monologues titled Antiquities, and three sequences, The Mercers, Eight Poems for Margaret, and A Cold Departure. Some of the Antiquities poems such as "Christmas in Prague" and "Native Land" have a specific historical setting; others use a narrative base of legend, such as "Tranquille," a re-telling of the King Gargoris story, or "Flowers" in which Bowering explores the Attis myth from a female point of view. The incest theme of "Tranquille" is handled delicately yet clearly. Gargoris' unnamed daughter-lover remembers "The liquidizing melt / of skin on skin" and then goes on to describe her pregnancy - "I felt the golden kernel kick to life inside" - with an image that hints at a positive ending for the tale without disguising its inherent brutality.

This blending of positive and negative-elements is typical of the book. The anonymous women in The Mercers give a naturalistic, often prosaic account of a Newfoundland family: "Tomoffow is Sunday. I go to the kitchen to peel the vegetables" and then "At lunch we wash the dishes" ("The House at Mercer's Cove"). One day follows another as the men go out to sea and "the girls from here work as maids in Montreal." But there are deeper feelings here as well underlying the repetitive drudgery that make it.both comprehensible and comforting:

I touched the swelling

on the child's wrist
and felt the knob of pain.

I held that flower
and gently breathed away its petals.
                   ("I touched the swelling")

Marilyn Bowering appears as a character in Eight Poems for Margaret, a memorial to her friend Margaret Wilson. The sequence presents the final days and death of the poet's friend with care and a kind of muted confusion. The first poem, "The packers are done," sets an appropriate tone for the set. It develops an elaborate floral conceit, much in the manner of a traditional elegy:

  The garden was all your care: 
  nasturtium, rose, chrysanthemum, 
  cat mint.

The easily unfolding, quasi-Elizabethan rhetoric is given a modem twist,

  the two black cats
  from next door
  roll in it -

and then returns to solemnity with

  black-eyed susan, and sweet pea, 
  gentians, alyssum;

and concludes with the bittersweet paradox:

  the open mouths of the livingston daisies,
  closing.

There are no revelations here or claims to a final understanding of the mortal mystery, simply two friends meeting and parting and somehow becoming their own "chorus of spirits" ("I sit up in bed and say it aloud").

A Cold Departure is the most substantial piece in the book. It is an investigation and lyric recreation of the love affair (or "liason", as Bowering calls it) of George Sand and Fryderick Chopin. It consists of a series of excerpts from a letter that Sand wrote to her friend Wojcieh Grymala in June 1838, interspersed with poetic developments of the letter's various themes. The second section of the piece uses passages from six letters Chopin wrote to friends and family between 1838 and 1847.

The poems spoken by or through George Sand are often characterized by a simple naturalism. In "On a Train Travelling," for instance, she sees and brings effortlessly before us "Lake afterlake, white-cliffed, /fathomless, inviting," and goes on to record how "At night bonfires prick the shore." But such imagery can also display a sinister aspect. Her sleep (in "Sleep descends on me") b6comes "a metal cry / ... in my ears" as she enters a tortured mental@ world where "A tree clicks its dry leaves." This tendency reaches a horrifying climax with the Lorca-esque allegory of "I stood at the door of the clinic":

  I put a stone on the table.

  I put white stars on the table

  I put the baby on the table

  I put my knife on the table.

Chopin is given a quieter, somewhat bemused voice. He is equally sensitive and has "spoken to the dead," but the experience puzzles him: "I have broken my word. / But the dead are all I have." His art is instinctive ("I speak before I hear") like that of a child, and like a child he is more concerned with himself than any other: "My heart aches to be opened. / My spirit reaches, and falls back. "It is Sand who finally brings their experiences and memories together in a brief insightful piece that seems to contain both their voices:

  What did we think we could do for each other?
  Enter a mirror?
  What looks back through the glass
  is a spirit trying to enter itself.

Marilyn Bowering's work is a development and refreshing of images and concerns as much as it is an exploration of new themes and points of view. Although A Cold Departure is a self-contained unit, it has interesting links to some of her earlier work. The ambiguities of Sand's and Chopin's liason are, in a sense, a narrative expansion of the suggestive couplet "Pleasure was in exile,lbut we joined in pain" from the poem "Form and Variations" in her The Sunday Before Winter (General, 1984). Much of the dramatic power in A Cold Departure flows from her detailed first-person evocations of Marilyn Munroe in Anyone Can See I Love You (Porcupine's Quill, 1987). George Sand's meditation on miffor and spirit is prefigured by the actress as she experiences "a fated encounter with a miffor" ("Norma Jean"). The "Marilyn" of this book - who is, of course, Bowering exploring herself, one of her selves, as suggested by the common name, which itself is an artificially adopted stage or art name for MM - explains that she too is "trying to find myself, / my sorcery, / my mirror' "Method Acting"). Both Marilyns finally understand, and help us to understand, that "You have to look [atlove] from the in side" ("Interview, 1956").

From time to time Canadian poets will introduce a new form - rather, an old one - into our national literature. Some of these transplants take hold, some don't. Bliss Carman's experiments with vaguely Greek models were an egregious failure. John Thompson's use of the traditional Persian ghazal in Stilt Jack (Anansi, 1978) was a brilliant success and has been followed by writers across the country, from Eric Folsom in Ontario to Phyllis Webb in B.C. It looks now as if the glosa, akind of tribute poem first developed by Spanish court poets of the early Renaissance, is securing a firm place. Hologram, of course, forms an early watershed in its use. Other samples include Steven Heighton's "You were wary, at the firstbrush of the wing," an elegy for Tom Marshall which appears in The Ecstasy ofskeptics (Anansi, 1994), and Jay Ruzesky's "I want to say something" in Painting the Yellow House Blue (Anansi, 1994). And, appropriately to this double review, Marilyn Bowering's "Letter from Portugal" from Love As It Is.

P.K. Page gives a succinct formal definition of the glosa in her Foreword: "the opening quatrain [is] written by another poet; [and is] followedby fourten-line stanzas, theirconcluding lines takenconsecutively from the quatrain; their sixth and ninth lines rhyming with the borrowed tenth." There are 14 such in Hologram, deriving from (or, as she puts it, marrying with") an intriguing mix of writers from Sappho and Seferis to Eliot and Auden.

Page handles the rhyme scheme with ease and frequently adds new, shifting patterns of her own. The first stanza of "Exile," for example, glossing George Woodcock's "Imagining the South," shows her skill at interweaving full and slant rhymes. It is also a good example of the way in which this formal device supports the subject of the uncertainty of vision - things seen, not seen, half seen - in the poem as a whole.

Tomorrow a change of lens or soft-focus filter 
will alter the past. its edges will smudge and blur, 
its embroideries and its subtleties disappear.
it Will be generic, unparticular,
unlike today which is bright as a name brand, clear
and familiar as the palm of your hand.
And though you may squint and shade your eyes and peer
back through time, mists will obscure the scene.
Whatever you long for has been left behind.
There will only be yesterday, only thefading land.

Theobligatory "hand/land" pair defines the stanza with the slant rhyme of "behind" supporting them (along with the unexpected internal rhyme "brand" from line five). Another set of three rhymes, all full, straddles the third, fifth, and seventh lines with "disappear/clear/peer."Line two's and line four's "blur / particular" may be full or near full rhymes, depending upon individual variations of pronunciation, but "blur" forms a clearly directed slant rhyme to line five's "clear" (alread part of another set) and y also maintains a subtler connection with the end rhyme "filter" in line one and the internal rhyme "alter" in two. The "ee" sound of line eight's "scene" looks back to "peer" while the "n" is continued with "behind,@ and "land."

Some of the poems in Hologram relate to her own earlier writing. "The Gold Sun," which glosses Wallace Stevens' "Credences of Summer," is governed by a tension of ideas working both with and against her poem "Kaleidoscope." The imagery in "The Gold Sun" also employs a rhetoric of what might be termed the negative made positive, as in the line "a snow on which no swan / is visible," which echoes stylistically a tradition of French poetry going back as far as Baudelaire.

Some of the echoes also work as friendly parodies. Dylan Thomas' unmistakeable voice roars out of "Love's Pavillion" (from "And Death Shall Have No Dominion")

Though they rattle the stones 
in their broken brains,
in their thicket of words 
who will find a way?

"Inebriate, "glossing Leonard Cohen's "I Have Not Lingered In European Monasteries," neatly captures his loose, slightly prosy style:

Unending sunlight falls upon the steep slope of the hillside where the children play

and continues with an almost embaffassingly accurate image of his common manner and material:

 And I am beautiful.  I know my worth
 and when I smile I show my perfect teeth.

The sharp enjambment of "steep / slope" here exhibits another bit of verbal dexterity as Page both hides and prepares for the rhyming of "steep" (line six) with the quoted tenth line, "During the day I laugh and during the night I sleep."

There is, of course, an underlying seriousness in the book, as in all of Page's writing, along with the wit and waywardness. This formal "marrying" of voices has come late in her writing career and may well be a formal though not necessarily a final - testament. The last poem, glossing Mark Strand's "The End," addresses the issue of human mortality with a familiar image, "when [we are] held by the sea's roar, motionless, there at the end," and the suggestion of a wholeness that contains both the changing and the changeless: "We are the water within the wave and the wave's form."

About twenty years ago I attended a reading that P.K. Page gave at Queen's University in Kingston. She spoke then of herunderstanding of the word "religion" (re + legere) as meaning "to read again." Her re-readings in Hologram deftly and decorously "pay homage," as she puts it, to "those poets whose work I fell in love with in my formative years." The homage is still real and both her own forms and years are made graceful by it with this latest collection.

Contributors to Issue # 99

All letters sent to contributors c/o The Antigonish Review will be promptly forwarded to the contributors.

Kenneth Banks was born in Toronto in 1948. He was educated at the Univerity of Guelph, Ontario and Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS. He has been published previously in The Antigonish Review. He has two books in print: The Tyrian Veil, 1983 and Persephone, 1985. For the last decade he has made part of his living as a fisherman working on Pictou Island.

John A. Bamstead teaches in the Department of Russian Studies Program at Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS. He has published articles on Russian poetry in a variety of journals.

Ronna Bloom lives in Toronto. Her poetry has been published inSinOverTan and WRIT, and she has new work forthcoming inParchment. She is currently working on her first book of poems.

Joan Bond is a transplant from the prairies to Halifax. She has published poetry in Dandelion and Pottersfield Portfolio.

Allan Brown was bom in Victoria, B.C.; lived for 22 years in Kingston Ontario; moved to Powell River, B.C. in 1992. Literary editor of Quarry magazine for three years; in Kapuskasing, ON in 1987-88. Poetry published in various Canadian magazines andnewspapers since 1962; critical writings since 1975; eight books and chapbooks of poetry; two completed mss. on hand. Has had poems and reviews publish previously in The Antigonish Review.

Barry Butson is an Ontario high school teacher. His work has appeared in many literary journals throughout the U.S.A., the U.K. and Canada, including The Antigonish Review #95. He has selected some of his poems for a manuscript called Long Steps, which he hopes will be published some day.

Alexander Dick is a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of Western Ontario. Although he writes mainly poetry, he is currently beginning work on his first novel.

Timothy Ellis lives and works in Toronto. He has two poems appearing in an upcoming edition of The Fiddlehead.

Ross Thompson Finley lives in Toronto. A recent Honours English graduate from St. Francis Xavier University, he won Third Prize for Poetry in the 1994 Books In Canada National Student Writing Contest. This is his first published poem.

Ian Fraser's favorite town is Montreal, Ormstown, or Sudbury. Or Port Moresby. Maybe Sheffield or Anger, France. Halifax. This story was written in Halifax, and it's his first published; he'll likely stay.

Kristjana Gunnars lives on the Sunshine Coast in B.C. and teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of Alberta. She is the author of six books of poems and four fiction and essay texts. Her most recent book is The Substance of Forgetting.

Blanche Howard is a novelist, playwright, and teller of short stories. Her most recent novel, A Celibate Season, (Coteau, 1991), was co-authored by Carol Shields. This is her third story to appear in The Antigonish Review.

Michael Hulse is a freelance poet, critic and translator, part-time lecturer at the university of Cologne, associate editor of theLittlewood Arc international poetry list and co-editor of The New Poetry (Bloodaxe, 1993). He is presently preparing the first titles (Stevenson, Swift, Melville) on a new classics series he is editing.

Troy Jollimore grew up in Liverpool, N.S., and was a student at the University of King's College, where his friends encouraged him to switch his major from Sheet Metal Sculpting to Philosophy. He now studies at Princeton University and has published poetry in The Malahat Review.

Timothy Kaiser grew up in northern British Columbia and rural Saskatchewan. He is a high school History and English teacher now teaching in Hong Kong. These are his first published poems.

Nina Kossman's Behind the Border, a memoir about her childhood in Moscow, Russia, was published in Aug. 1994 by Lothrop, a division of Wm. Morrow. A book of Kossman's Russian poems came out in Moscow in 1990, and In the Inmost Hour of the Soul, her book of translations of Marina Tsvetaeva's poems came out in 1989. She lives in New York.

D.S. Martin is a poet and teacher who lives in Brampton, Ontario. His poems have appeared in literary magazines in Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Sue Nevill's poetry is familiar to readers of many Canadian literary periodicals, including TAR. Recently, her work appeared in Grain, Event and Windhorse Reader: Choice Poems of '93. Nevill's first book, I Was Expecting Someone Taller was published in 1991. A second ms., Countries Too Wide For Us, is now complete.

Edward O'Connor is a writer and editor living in Toronto. Stories by him have also appeared in Quarry and The Seattle Review.

David A. Petreman teaches Spanish and Latin American literature at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His poetry has been published in many literary journals in Canada and the U.S. He has just finished a book of poems on his experiences in Chile.

Robert Edison Sandiford is a Montreal writer whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Another Chicago Magazine, Erotic Stories (U.K.). His story collection, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, will be published next year. Currently, he is working on a collection of erotic love stories.

Mark Sabourin lives in Toronto, where he publishes business books and renovates his house. The Law of Gravity is his first published fiction.

Jay Schneiders is a neuropsychologist in Denver, Colorado, and serves as consultant to the literary organization Writers' Conferences & Festivals. His work appears in The Georgia Review, Queen's Quarterly, Windsor Review, and other literary journals.

Darlene Searcy lives in Winnipeg where she writes, teaches, and continues work on her graduate degree in Media Technology. She has published poetry in a number of Canadian literary magazines.

Giles Slade teaches at Kwantlen College in Langley, B.C. His current book project concerns the history of male gender ideology.

Elizabeth Stevens lives in Bedford, Nova Scotia. She is a former joumalist, has worked for CBC radio-television and contributed to local and regional newspapers and magazines and The Globe and Mail. This is the first time her poetry has been published.

Sheila Stewart lives in Toronto. She is a graduate student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Her poetry has appeared in Contemporary Verse 2 and she has prose forthcoming in WRIT.

Jane Spavold Tims has published or has upcoming poems in The Fiddlehead, The Amethyst Review, The Antigonish Review, Green's Magazine and the Cormorant. She is presently working on a mystery novel and a series of poems on lakes and rivers in New Brunswick.

Jane Aaron Vander Wal lives on the Bay of Fundy shore in Nova Scotia. One of her first published poems appeared in The Antigonish Review in issue #84. She has published since then in a number of Canadian literary magazines and has just been selected for New Voices in Poetry Canada.

J.A. Wainwright has published five books of poetry, the most recent of which is Landscape and Desire: Poems Selected and New(1992). He teaches English Literature at Dalhousie University.

Dana Wilde has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The Wallace Stevens Journal, The Journal of Modem Literature an others. He as taught college English for years in Maine and is in the last stages of his doctoral work at Binghamton University in New York.

Virginia Wray is an Associate Professor of English and Assistant Dean of The Faculty at Lyon College, Arkansas.

Howard Wright teaches Art History at the University of Ulster. His poems have appeared in a pamphlet 'Yahoo' (Lapwing Publications, Belfast 1991) and in several Irish anthologies. He was Highly Commended in the 1994 Blue Nose Poets-of-the-Year Competition (London); and a selection of his work will be published in a Staple First Editions showcase issue, July 1995.

Contributors To Issue # 87-88

Russell Buker lives in Judique Nova Scotia. He has contributed poetry to the Antigonish Review since its early days.

Fred Cogswell founded The Fiddlehead Review which he edited for many years. He also launched many literary careers as editor of the Fiddlehead Press which published hundreds of chapbooks (now Goose Lane Editions). He was professor of English at the University of New Brunswick He is retired in Fredericton, N.B.

Sr. Madeleine Connolly is a sister of the Congregation of St. Martha. She has been associated with the University Library both as Librarian and as head of Cataloguing for nearly four decades.

Sheldon Currie teaches English at St. Francis Xavier University. He is the author of The Glace Bay Miner's Museum and The Company Store (Oberon).

Stewart Donovan teaches Anglo-Irish Literature at St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Bninswick. His novel Maritime Unionwill be published by Non-Entity Press in the Autumn of 1992.

Louis Dudek, one of Canada's best known critics and writers, taught at McGill University and is now retired and lives in Montreal. His most recent book is Small Perfect Things (DC Books, 1991).

C.J. Fox retired several years ago from Reuters World Desk in London. He is an authority on Wyndharn Lewis and has edited a number of anthologies by Uwis. He contributes articles and reviews to London Magazine and PN Review.

Leo Furey teaches English at Central Conununity College in Grand Falls, Newfoundland.

Michael W. Higgins teaches at St. Jeroine's College, University of Waterloo where he is also Assistant Dean of Arts. He has produced a number of radio and TV programs for the C.B.C. on religious themes.

Michael Hulse is a poet and translator. His most recent book of poetry, The Mother of Battles was published by Littlewood Arc(1991). He is presently living in Gerinany.

Sr. Margaret MacDonnell was for many years Professor of Celtic Studies at St. Francis Xavier University. She is a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

John MacEachern is a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia.

Alistair MacLeod teaches at the University of Windsor. His last book, As Birds Bring Forth The Sun and Other Stories was published by McClelland & Stewart (1986).

F. W. MacKenzie teaches high school in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia.

David Adams Richards lives in St. John, New Brunswick. His most recent book Dancers At Night, was published by Harper Collins (1991).

Peter Sanger teaches English at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. He is the poetry editor of The Antigonish Review. His most recent poetry book is Earth Moth (Goose Lane, 1991).

James Taylor teaches English at St. Francis Xavier University. He is a fiction editor of The Antigonish Review.

Patrick Walsh is a playwright and professor of English at St. Francis Xavier University.

Terry Whalen is a professor of English at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was for many years editor of The AtLantic Provinces Book Review. His book Phillip Larkin and English Poetryhas been recently reissued by MacMillan.

Clare MacCulloch

 

Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolfe, edited by Joanne Trautmann Banks. New York: Harcourt Brace jovanovich, Publishers, 1990.

By 1941, the year of Virginia Woolf's death at fifty-nine, the inspiration that was the Bloomsbury saga had waned for most of its participants. Since then, the cultural contributions have seen further decline and lack of interest. What remains though is a fascination with the cult of personalities of that era. We can't seem to get enough of these people and we turn to the cast of characters rather than their artistic expressions. Diaries, letters, biographies, reminiscences: the "literary" sections of most book stalls are glutted.

Clive Bell, first amorist and later brother-in-law of Virginia Woolf, in his delightful reminiscences, Old Friends, recounts a charming, albeit somewhat romantic, memory.

I remember spending some dark, uneasy, 
winter days during the first war in 
the depth of the country with Lytton 
Strachey.  After lunch, as we watched 
the rain pour down and premature darkness 
roll up, he said, in his searching, 
personal way, "Loves apart, whom would 
you most like to see coming up the drive?"
I hesitated a moment and he supplied the 
answer: "Virginia, of course."

That anticipation forever denied us, her letters are perhaps the nearest thing to capturing the quickness, the wonder that is Virginia Woolf. What "was" is lost. The diaries, more contemplative and piercing than the letters, are more revealing of the working out of problems, literary and personal, of her overeducated mind. The letters are more spontaneous, from the heart, and delicious.

The letters were first published in six large volumes between 1975 and 1980. And what a literary feat that was. After the widespread critical acclaim of the first volume, we waited anxiously for each successive volume edited by Joanne Trautmann (now Trautmann Banks) and Nigel Nicolson. Thirty-nine hundred letters made for quite a read. Since 1980 approximately one hundred more letters have surfaced. Trautmann Banks concludes that: "It seemed that the attics of her correspondents had been emptied and not much more of interest would be found." The audience for these recent finds was somewhat selective as the letters were published in Moderm Fiction Studties in the summer edition of 1984. Recently twelve "new" letters have appeared and they have proven Trautmann Banks to have been hasty in her judgement; indeed, "much more of interest" has been found.

A box of files being moved to Charleston - the country home of Vanessa, Clive Bell, and Duncan Grant and now a literary shrine of jewel proportion - contained four very interesting letters. The first two are from Virginia when she was perhaps five. One of them is to the "evil stepbrother," George Duckworth (of later infamy due to his influence on Virginia Woolf's complex sexual attitudes), and is undated.

MY DEAR GEORGE
I AM A LITTLE BOY AND ADRIAN IS A GIRL I HAVE
SENT YOU SOME CHOCOLATES GOOD BYE
VIRGINIA.

Little did anyone realize that the many letters to follow over a lifetime, that is surely one of the most complex and socially revealing, would be such a continuing treat. The promotional material provided to reviewers from Lester & Orpen Dennys puts it this way:

Reading CONGENIAL SPIRIT is like opening
a beautifully wrapped box of rich, 
Belgian chocolates and discovering that
each chocolate is unique, and that you 
can eat as many as you want without 
guilt.  Here is Virginia Woolf brought 
to life.  With her letters, she reveals
to us a woman who is simultaneously 
vulnerable, flirtatious, cheerfully 
malicious, perceptive, witty, gossipy, 
and, above all, shockingly entertaining.
She possesses an enviable talent for 
playing to her readers' interests, 
making it seem as if their concerns are
her own passionate concerns as well.  
To Roger Fry she writes about reading; 
to E.M. Forster about writing; to Clive 
bell about love; and she flirts with 
numerous men and women in innumerable 
ways.  She is a great and generous 
hostess who uses the page as her 
drawing-room.

Margaret Drabble is more succinct: "They are a wicked delight."Congenial Spirits is a distillation by Trautmann Banks of those six volumes plus all the recently discovered letters, fragments, and "four public letters to editors of periodicals." "They were excluded from the complete edition on the grounds of their being another form, more polemic than correspondence." And that is fine for the general reader who wants/needs his reading edited for him. But who is this gentle reader? Surely no one who tackles the letters of Virginia Woolf. It is more shocking to learn that for all the breadth of the six volumes, that too was bowdlerized. Surely an editor of Nicolson's standing and a scholar in Trautmann Bank's league would not be in the expurgation business. The rationale falls short, in my opinion, of acceptability.

Among the new material must be counted
restoration of excerpts omitted from 
the complete edition for fear of 
hurting people then alive.
Cuts have been made within the 
majority of the chosen letters.  
This is also controversial.  A good 
argument can be made that letters 
should be printed in their entirety so 
that a writer's rhythms and intentions,
however casual, are not broken.  But my
reasoning ran like this.  Cutting 
allows more letters to be printed in 
the space allotted.  Uncut versions may
be read in the complete edition, where,
of course, apart from possibly libellous
language, nothing was omitted within a 
letter.... I have made no cuts in the 
new letters.

So are there cuts or aren't there? One hopes not. But the facts are confusing.

just as annoying is the directive regarding Trautmann Banks' footnoting principle. "The passages are gossip about friends' love lives, and curious readers will have to search them out themselves." The synopsis on the book jacket belies this judgement call.

Virginia Woolf was a correspondent 
of genius - high-spirited, inventive,
witty - whether commenting on a 
domestic crisis or the state of the 
nation, a social outing or a 
peregrination of the writer's mind.  
She wrote to charm and entertain her 
friends, with the added seductiveness
of gossip and cheerful malice.

Spare us omissions. Besides with so much published, most of us have picked up the details we are interested in from other sources; we would like to read the facts directly in their context.

But this is not to agree with Trautmann Banks' conclusion that Virginia Woolf "lives in her letters." The fact is: Virginia Woolf is dead. What we have here, at best, are documents from/of that life.

The Virginia Woolf who creates herself
here is different from the one who 
slowly emerges from the six original 
volumes. This Virginia is simultaneously
more vulnerable and more admirable 
... her laughter is heard even more
clearly.

If she "lives in her letters" then the life cannot be manipulated by condensation or clever editing. Such a process demeans what was her life. And she cannot defend herself from the grave.

Give us back the "complete" collection, all six (plus additions) volumes of it with no omissions or editing. Throw this abbreviated collection to the Readers' Digest people. This is like getting a postcard of a detail of a painting or it is like hearing a few strains of classical music on the radio and then making believe that we have heard a symphony. I began by being very excited about this book. When I finally got through the first eighteen pages of introduction, I was ready to give the letters themselves another chance.

And then comes this.

The condensation of time in the first
group of letters - inevitable because
few fine letters were written and 
fewer kept - makes Virginia's early 
life go by in a rush.  The important
events, the illnesses and deaths, 
appear to happen off-stage.  Of course
they were central.

So much for Virginia Woolf living in the letters.

There is, though, a very interesting letter in this first batch. As Trautmann Banks rightly points out, Letter la contains "one remarkable sentence that can fairly be described as the earliest Virginia Woolf narrative now in print."

... Mrs Prinsep says that she will 
only go in a slow train cos she says 
all the fast trains have accidents 
and she told us about an old man of
70 who got his legs caute in the weels
of the train and the train began to go
on and the old gentleman was draged 
along till the train caute fire and he
called out for somebody to cut off his
legs but nobody came he was burnt up. 
Good bye.

Charming.

Because "inevitably, the story told by the letters left gaps," Trautmann Banks partly solved this problem by providing firstrate linking passages and footnotes. She refers the reader to the cc superb biography of his aunt" by Quentin Bell and she does not assume that the reader knows most of the background and cast of characters. I would further refer anyone coming fresh to this material toBloomsbuiy, also by Bell. In just one hundred and eighteen pages, he tells the Bloomsbury story better than anyone else has thus far managed. I would also caution the reader not to make too much of the voluminous amount on the period and the players. In a letter to me on 17 December 1976, Duncan Grant wrote:

It is indeed a bewilderment to me that
the world should take so much interest
in what, so far as I was concerned, was
only a group of friends: all very 
different but sharing a love of truth,
beauty, and the honesty of your own 
friendship.

But perhaps, as the century draws to a close, we know too well the price of letting light in upon the magic.

Acknowledging that "Olivier Bell's assistance to scholars everywhere is the backbone of Woolf biography," Trautmann Banks has included concise biographical material, lead comments, footnotes and references. The Family Tree is informative and the index is excellent.

It is only the ending, like the beginning, which I find unsatisfactory. Trautmann Banks feels that, taken as a whole, Virginia Woolf's life should not be perceived as a tragedy. But surely every life's end is a tragedy and Virginia Woolf's pathetic and desperate end is poignant to say the least. This condensation of the letters points this out too sharply.

To be sure, condensing a life usually
falsifies it.  A life often comes to 
seem more tragic in summary than when
it was lived at its normal rhythms.  
Loves, illnesses, achievements and 
disappointments pile up and death comes
in 500 pages.

Agreed. And that is the problem with this collection. But then Trautmann Banks turns the point. "Sometimes, though, the process of condensing distils an essence that the whole disguised." And then she finds the new Virginia Woolf "simultaneously more vulnerable and more admirable."

Furthermore, her laughter is heard 
even more clearly.  In spite of its
end, at 59, in suicide, hers does not
seem a tragic life.  After all, why 
should a life be judged by its eleventh
hour?  Surely that's too literary.  For
her and for her family, her mental 
illness was truly terrible, but for 
decades she was sane, prolific and 
inventively comic.  In the end her 
supporting web dissolved almost 
completely.  She could only throw one 
thin line to Vanessa and two to Leonard
before giving over her fragmented self 
to the waters.  But for most of her 
years she was the brilliant fulfilment 
of the imaginative, playful little girl
whose letters begin this volume.  Given
her griefs, it was a courageous life.

Courageous, yes; and hence the more tragic.

The world was eventually too much with her. Her house was hit while the rest of her beloved London was bombed and her heart, like her spirit, was broken. And then it all came closer and the River Ouse in Sussex beckoned irresistibly. The writing was surrendered for the easier talk and consolation was found in reading.

I've had too many distractions to 
write.... But not too many to read
your paper.  I find it useful, 
suggestive, and sound.  I agree with 
most of your arguments.  I wish we 
could meet and discuss them.
           (Letter to Shena, Lady Simon,
                          jan.22nd,1940)
Your letter reduced me to two days 
silence from sheer pleasure.  You wont
be surprised to hear that I promptlv 
lifted some paragraphs and inserted 
them in my proofs.  You may take what
action you like.
                   (Letter to G. B. Shaw,
                          15th May, 1940)
Its a good thing to have books to believe in.
                  (Letter to Ethel Smyth,
                          17th May, 1940)
Did I tell you I'm reading the whole of
English literature through?  By the 
time I've reached Shakespeare the bombs
will be falling.  So I've arranged a 
very nice last scene: reading Shakespeare,
having forgotten my gas mask, I shall fade
far away, and quite forget. . .
                  (Letter to Ethel Smyth,
                    1 st February, 194 1)

But, of course, that is the world of fiction, not reality; romance not history.

The last words were in a letter and to Leonard.

   You see I cant write this even, 
                  which shows I am right.

After gratitude and acknowledgement of their affection, she added this numbing postscript: "Will you destroy all my papers." Leonard, in the name of literature, denied her last request. And that has made all the difference. But he couldn't make her come alive again. Nor can Trautmann Banks in The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf.

However, after looking through these excerpts, editions, selections, one is titillated back to the original six fine volumes. Those are the Belgian chocolates unlike these bon-bons. Back to the full set, the slow life. And then one thinks of Strachey and what it all was. "After lunch, as we watched the rain pour down and premature darkness roll up (on us all) loves apart, whom would (we) most like to see coming up the drive?" "Virginia, of course."

 

Stephen Morrissey

The Woman on the Shore by Al Purdy, McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1990. ISBN: 0-7710-7217-1

The Pangs of Sunday by Sharon Thesen, McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1990. ISBN: 0-7710-85552-4

Al Purdy's latest collection of poems, The Woman on the Shore, confirms Purdy's unofficial status as English Canada's poet laureate. More than any other poet in the last twenty-five years, Al Purdy has defined what it means to be Canadian. Purdy easily joins a number of creative people whose work has been crucial in the evolution of a Canadian identity: I refer to Margaret Laurence, Hugh MacLennan, F.R. Scott, the members of the Group of Seven, Emily Carr, E.J. Pratt, and others.

The Woman on the Shore isn't Purdy's greatest book but anyone who likes Purdy's work, or poetry in general, will want to read it. One of Purdy's concerns is that Canada is being destroyed by our politicians. In "On the Death of F.R. Scott" Purdy not only eulogizes Scott, the poem expresses great concern for Canada. Purdy feels that without men like Scott we have few people in this country who ask 9 4 what's fair and equitable for everyone/ What's right?" In this dark age of Brian Mulroney, honest men have fallen silent or are simply ignored.
Purdy writes:

But the country goes on
content with incompetent leaders
the bland sleepwalkers
      and glib sellouts of Ottawa
- a man of warm feeling and nobility dies
no flags half-mast on public buildings 
citizens remain calm in non-emergencies 
for we exist in a special geography
      of isolation from each other
           and fear of emotion

Few Canadians today would disagree with the sentiments express'ed in Purdy's "A God in the Earth"; in this poem Purdy lists our last five prime ministers and then refers to Prime Minister Mulroney as "a man who loves his friends/so much he loves the country/less and less/and gives it away free to Americans."

It would be an error to suggest that Purdy is a political poet as, for instance, Gary Geddes or Tom Wayman are political poets. In the best poems in The Woman on the Shore Purdy shifts the reader's awareness from particulars of everyday existence to a recognition of an almost cosmic dimension of life. Most people only exist, they do not live full and meaningful lives; we spend much of our time waiting for living to begin, in the meantime we are amused by entertainment that is a diversion from facing ourselves. Purdy isn't afraid to look beyond our society's preoccupation with escaping from the self; the cosmic dimension lies specifically in transcending the self.

"Horses" is a poem with a strong rhythm; it has a Lawrentian and Whitmanic quality as it progresses through Purdy's memories of horses, a town's market, and his youthful feelings. Of course, like many great poets, Purdy is burdened with self-consciousness that separates him from ever being totally at one with his environment. In the middle of "Horses" Purdy pauses and comments on the inevitable fate of these animals:

(They are of course dog food
and cat food long since
while the planet cycle
repeats and repeats and vultures over
my head are cancer-stroke-heart disease
but I pay no attention
now is parenthesis
now is going backward)

Another poem, "Barn Burning," begins prosaically:

Stayed up late
working on a prose piece
around 2 a.m.
when a great light bulged in at the windows
and peered at what I was writing
making it trivial

Purdy drives to the fire and begins a meditation on the apparent transience of human life:

I stared higher:
the Big Dipper the North Star the
planets dangling like grapes 
in a gigantic vineyard
and even the home galaxy I'm standing on
all vanished
and words lost their connectives

This is the creative person's healthy-minded resolution of selfconsciousness; it is an awareness that something greater, perhaps spiritual or philosophical, lies beyond the isolated self. Most of us are preoccupied with the details of everyday living and we fbrget that a greater spiritual dimension even exists. It is Purdy's gift to be able to remind us of this; in Purdy's "cosmic dimension" there is escape from the triviality and meaninglessness of life. Purdy writes in another poem, "An Arrogance," of building his home in Ameliasburg; the poem then progresses to a meditation on his own existence:

Occasionally
wandering my rural domain
I notice a hole in the earth
a kind of bump under the horizon
an old house foundation with maybe
rotting timbers old bricks rusty tin cans
and think
       that's what awaits us
it happens to pyramids and mud shanties
and all I can do about it
my small passion for permanence
is to stand outside at night 
(conceding probability to the "Big Bang")
in the full rush and flow of worlds
dancing the firefly dance of the universe
stand on my local planet and
neighbourhood galaxy 
beside my crumbling little house 
inside my treacherous disappearing body 
while the dear world vanishes
and say weakly
           I don't like it
           I don't like it

 -to no one who could possibly be listening

I suspect that the greatness of Al Purdy's poetry lies, at least in part, in this type of meditation. Purdy's is ultimately the voice of an individual who is profoundly aware of his isolation and the inevitability of death. This awareness defines his work and helps push Purdy beyond the limits of so much contemporary Canadian poetry. As long as we have poets like Al Purdy there is still hope for this country, despite the ignorance of our politicians.

There are few poets whose work can match Sharon Thesen's for lyricism and originality. Thesen's The Pangs of Sunday is a selection of the best work from her four previous books as well as new work. Her writing is excellent throughout this book; there isn't a poem that doesn't use the exact word to communicate some insight or image that expands the reader's world. Indeed, her language is lyrical and rhythmic; she has a sure grasp of the rhythm of language that is distinctly her own. In "Praxis" she writes:

Unable to imagine a future,
imagine a future better
than now, us creatures
weeping in the abattoir
only make noise and do
not transform a single fact.
So stop crying. Get up. Get out. Leap
the mossy garden wall
the steel fence or whatever
the case may be & crash
through painted arcadias,
fragments of bliss & roses
decorating your fists.

Iagree with the reviewer who labelled Thesen a "brilliant lyricist." In one poem she writes of "a small plane/trailing a river of plastic words." Thesen is the equal of two other poets who are also "brilliant lyricists," Jack Spicer and Artie Gold.' Whe@ reading these poets the reader is liable momentarily to hold his or her breath in awe of their originality and lyricism.

Having said the above, I regret to add that Thesen's poems fall to touch me deeply. Too often I am impressed with Thesen's ability to write a perfect poem, but afterwards I feel disappointed because I am left emotionally and intellectually unmoved.

Thesen is a poet who works best at the verbal level; however, the average reader is willing to tolerate some "bad poems" as long as the poet shows a willingness to take risks and invite the reader to participate in the poetic experience. I don't feel this invitation in Thesen's work.

Her "Poems for Malcolm Lowry" goes deeply into the artist's consciousness, but the intensity of exploration found in the Lowry poems is largely absent in Thesen's other work. Thesen's Lowry states, "Where I sit it is dark"; unfortunately, the very thing that might hold the reader's interest, evidence of C.G. jung's shadow archetype, is absent in many of Thesen's other poems. This is important because the serious reader has a spiritual hunger that is not satisfied by verbal perfection or lyricism. Unlike Lowry, where 'I'hesen is it is not yet dark enough.

Reno Odlin

 

...And Friend

The Pleasure of Their Company by Alister Kershaw. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia, 1986. xv + 199 pp. Hardbound, no price listed.

After the War, Graham Sutherland was commissioned to paint a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. Nothing we knew of Sutherland's previous output - in which, characteristically, wisps of pigmented nebulosity coagulate toward something almost recognizable, in rather the way a skillet of scrambled eggs sets could have prepared us for what was arguably the greatest portrait in the history of English painting. (I speak as one thoroughly aware of the achievements of Wyndham Lewis, and of Hans Holbein the Younger as well.)

I have just now, in fact, been looking at a photograph of the painting. If the Brits wanted a portrait exemplifying the traits which saw them through the Battle of Britain, they got it. (According to legend, the photographer Yousouf Karsh secured a comparable effect by the simple expedient of snatching away Churchill's cigar just before pressing his shutter release.)

Churchill's reaction was predictable: "It makes me look like a half-wit, which I ain't." The painting, presented to Sir Winston, was hidden away in the basement at Charters, where one fine day, after the hero's death, Lady Churchill took a match and burnt it up.

At least she was direct about it. And she was destroying what was after all, in the narrowly technical sense, her property.

* * *

When Cromwell's campaign in Ireland ended, the living population of that island had been reduced to some 500,000 souls. That too had at least the merit of directness.

Two hundred years later, more or less, Benjamin jowett wrote: "I have always felt a certain horror of political economists since I heard one of them say that he feared the famine of 1848 in Ireland would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do much good."

* * *

Like many another, I encountered Alister Kershaw's name first in the Dedicatory Letter to Richard Aldington's marvelous Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry (London: Collins, 1955). It was Kershaw - a young poet who had come bounding up out of Australia in 1947 with, it seems, a measureless capacity for enjoyment - who in an unlucky hour urged Aldington to take up the Life of that most ballyhoo'd of all England's War Heroes.

Aldington always did his home-work: in the course of this most remorseless investigation, the Boy Scout's Rôle Model was irrefutably stripped of all legendary attributes, and revealed for what, in the end, he was: a self-promoting, poisonous little pansy, the bastard brat of an Anglo-Irish Baronet, with a gift for projecting illusions and a certain coy modesty about his most incredibly inflated boasts. The list of his dupes was long, and their names distinguished: Basil Liddell-Hart and Churchill himself, of course, and all those Garnetts, and a rather large number of highly-placed Public Officials. Oh, yes, and Robert Graves. All had invested significant portions of their own reputations in maintaining the Lawrence Legend; all stood to look like total fools if the truth were made known.

"Poor devil - he committed accuracy!" said Pound of a historian relegated to obscurity by the progressivists. Kershaw's book tells us at last the true story of what was done to Aldington:

Lawrence of Arabia's reputation, when 
looked at dispassionately, proved to be 
very largely - oh, very largely 
indeed - based on the hero's own stories 
and these were as preposterous as the
wildest of Roy's gasconading yarns although 
not nearly as amusing.  Talk about putting 
the fox among the chickens!  If Richard was
right, if Lawrence was only a gifted con 
man and his exploits just Falstafflan 
inventions, where did that leave the 
authors ... of all those adoring works 
dedicated to the greater glory of the 
Prince of Meccaé In the middle 
of nowhere looking like bloody fools, 
that's where.  Something had to be done 
and fast.  And something was done, fast.
Under the generalship of Liddell Hart, 
Our Military Correspondent on The Times 
or some other wretched paper, the battle 
plans were drawn up, drawn up before 
Richard's book had ever appeared but when 
the news had already leaked out that it 
blew the gaff on Lawrence.  Hart himself 
(a friend of Lawrence's and author of one 
of the innumerable glutinous hagiographies) 
would review it in such-and-such a rag; 
Graves (another friend and author of yet 
another wide-eyed "biography") would review 
it in the weekly so-and-so; Kennington 
(another friend and editor of Lawrence's 
Letters), and various other of Lawrence's 
chums would have their say in the remaining 
newspapers and reviews.  Senescent Sir 
Winston (for whom Lawrence was one of the 
greatest Englishmen who ever lived) had, 
through in intermediary, provided Richard 
with some information which, although Sir 
Winston didn't realize it, helped to 
demonstrate Lawrence's awe-inspiring mendacity.
Now Liddell Hart - "the Capting," as Richard 
sardonically baptized him - instructed the old 
gentleman to recant, which he obediently did.
Say what you like about the Capting's military 
genius, there's no denying his skill as a 
planner of cabals and boycotts.  In due 
course, Richard's book was "reviewed," if 
that's the word, exclusively by Hart's 
disinterested witnesses.  At his behest 
(with Sir Winston, Mr. Graves, old Uncle Dave 
Garnett and all backing him up), the servile 
English Press proceeded to denigrate, insult 
and misrepresent Richard on every possible 
occasion.  It still does.  Magna est Veritas et praevalebit.  Not if the Liddell Harts have 
their way, it won't.
. . . Hart and his pals, stung by the 
revelation of their own idiotic credulity, 
did everything they could (which was plenty) to
exacerbate the public's resentment.  Even 
Lawrence's aged mother was trotted out 
("Just think how she must feel") in order to
emphasize the callous traducer's lack of decent 
sentiments.  There were calls for the appointment 
of a Royal Commission (presumably with a view to 
having Richard sent to the Tower), there was some 
Edwardian huffing and puffing about horsewhips.  
Were questions asked in the House of Commons?  
I can't remember, but it wouldn't have been 
surprising.
Publishers, of course, are selflessly devoted 
to literature.  But the poor brutes have a 
living to make like the rest of us.  They
can't be blamed for not wanting to publish 
an author when they know his books will either 
be violently abused in the press or totally 
ignored and when the general public has been 
brainwashed into thinking that he is a 
combination of Jack the Ripper and Heinrich 
Himmler.  Almost overnight, then, the whole 
of Richard's works were allowed to go out of 
print and it was made clear that he would be 
wasting his time writing anything else.  He 
had never had any income except the royalties 
from his books.  Now he had nothing whatever.
While the exultant Capting drank himself into 
a crapulous stupor in the London clubs, while 
Graves relaxed from his efforts in the comfort 
of his Majorcan villa, while Sir Winston lolled 
dopily on the yacht of a Levantine parvenu, 
Richard was forced to leave Lavandou, to settle 
with [his daughter] Catherine in a pension in 
Montpellier and survive as best he could.  But 
for [Geoffrey] Dutton, the English novelist 
Bryher and one or two others, he might very 
easily not have survived at all.
. . . This was Richard's first experience of 
real poverty, but his stoicism was admirable.
With that curious naivet6 which was one of 
his most endearing characteristics, he was 
honestly puzzled that he had provoked such 
an uproar just by telling the truth, but he 
spoke of Hart and the other members of the 
lynch mob without rancour....

Not a very pretty picture, is it? = There most certainly is a genuine English Tradition, and it has nothing whatever to do with Fair Play. What they learn in their Public Schools is sodomy, and Bandar-Log solidarity, and hatred of all that which walks upright and alone:

The school consisted of about six hundred 
boys. The chief interests were games and 
romantic friendships.  Schoo-l-work was 
despised by everyone; the scholars, of whom 
there were about fifty in the school at any 
given time, were not concentrated in a single 
dormitory-house as at Winchester, but divided 
among ten.  They were known as "pro's," and 
unless they were good at games and willing to 
pretend that they hated work as much as or more
than the non-scholars, and ready whenever 
called on to help these with their work, they 
usually had a bad time.1
The sight of a mud-caked Christian Gentleman 
tearing down a field hugging a dirty ball, 
and a dozen dirty Christians, as gentle as 
himself, at his heels, seemed to him entirely 
as it should be.  Did it not harden muscle: 
and did it not add hardiness to a Christian 
Gentleman's moral uprightness?  In the School 
chapel the C.G. in question would learn to 
smite people hip and thigh, and to exact an 
eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  The 
canes of the prefects, as well as those of the 
masters, would harden this Christian 
Gentleman-in-the-making in other ways; and 
fagging toughen the little rat who was to 
become a Christian Gentleman, and teach him 
the beauties of Authority.  His learning to 
fear his redoubtable headmaster would be great 
practice for fearing God2

But we are publishing very near what once (before 1755) was Acadia, and probably need no such reminders.

Other favours Kershaw confers on us include the restoration of Roy Campbell from the moping incompetent, booze-fighter, and shabby liar portrayed in Peter Alexander's Roy Campbell: A Critical Biography (Oxford University Press, 1982):

Roy's stories, even the ones that were 
hardest to swallow, usually had some basis 
in reality.  I don't know (and I don't suppose 
anyone else does) whether, as he claimed, he 
once caught a wild boar in a sardine net; I don't
know whether, as he also claimed, he held his 
wife by the heels out of a high window in order 
to show her, right from the beginning of their 
marriage, who was going to be the boss.  But I 
do know, to give just one instance, that he really 
was, as once again he claimed, a famous bullfighter
in Provence: I know because, when I introduced him 
to some fishermen friends of mine in the South of 
France, they had obviously never heard of the great
poet Roy Campbell whereas they were fairly bowled 
over when they understood that this was the great
razeteur Roy Campbell.  They had seen him in the 
bullring at Arles a dozen times before the war, 
they could remember in detail his outstanding 
exploits, they begged for the honour of paying 
for his drinks, and my stock soared high as one 
who was a copain of Roy Campbell.
Besides, how much of his stories was true, 
or whether there was any truth in any of them, 
is not of the slightest importance.  They were 
comic masterpieces, a glorious enrichment for 
everyone who has the privilege of hearing them,
they were filled with stupendous imagery ("Man,
that bloody bull came at me like a galloping 
graveyard"), and they were recounted with 
incomparable gusto.  To this day, it is 
impossible for two or more of Roy's friends to 
meet without one of them sooner or later saying,
"Do you remember that story of Roy's about ... ?"
and instantaneously it is as if he were in 
the room, delighting us again with some 
astonishing tale made all the more entertaining 
by his unabashed South African accent.

That is how friends ought to be remembered, and Mr Kershaw does as much for ten old friends now under the sod - friends little known today, or, if known, execrated for their failure in life to kowtow to the Gods of the Day: Adrian Lawlor, P.R. Stephensen, Roy Campbell, Henry Williamson, Richard Aldington, Serge Berkaloff, George Gribble, Rachel Annand Taylor, Louis Marandon and Sir Oswald Mosley. Odd men out the lot of them - except "Banabhard" Taylor, of course (odd Woman outl), who ought to be better remembered if only for the vigour of her remark about D.H. Lawrence:

"There was something touching about him in 
his youth.  He was so" (that ominous pause 
again) "so sweetly unaware of how quite 
exceptionally tedious he was.  It's to be 
regretted, I feel, that genius and a minimum 
of social grace never go together."

The book has been a long time reaching us from the Antipodes. It had a tough reception in Australia, apparently because it was disrespectful toward certain entrenched Left-Wing dogmas:

I had never gone along with the 
mystico-arithmetical belief in Number as 
Beauty, Number as Wisdom, the principle that 
six was just half as good again as four and 
twelve twice as good as six.  Anyway, even if 
one had been sold on the merits of the wretched 
system, one was sick to death of hearing 
everyone constantly yammering about it.  You 
could execrate communism (not too much) or 
(God knows) fascism, you could say what you 
liked about Catholicism or Protestantism or 
Freemasonry, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, 
sailors - but just lay a finger on democracy 
and all hell broke loose.  You could hardly 
breathe because of all the incense perpetually 
being burned to the glory of democracy.

and too respectful toward the friends he was writing about, and that may have slowed its passage. Thou shalt not remember Sir Oswald Mosley with affection, neither shalt thou call him by his nick-name ("Kit," if you care):

On the day war was declared, he had 
published a message to his followers, calling 
on them "to do nothing to injure our country, 
or to help any other power".  That was when 
the British communists were being vociferous 
about the wickedness of the "imperalist war".
So who was arrested?  Mosley, of course; and 
for what is known as good measure, Lady Mosley 
with him.  Their three-month-old baby was given 
the benefit of the doubt.

(One wonders what all those bureaucrats at EC headquarters in Strasbourg would think if they found out they were but enacting a perverted version of Mosley's dream of the Fifties: "Europe a Nation! ")

Nobody will ever claim this raffish, conversational, hastysounding prose - but it cannot possibly have been written as hastily as it seems! - as a masterpiece of English Composition; but a contribution to the history of our time it most assuredly is, one not to be overlooked by anyone who seeks to understand what has really been going on - and a deeply and continuously entertaining one at that. If I haven't got that much across, I have quoted all this, in vain.

1. Robert Graves on pre-WWI Charter house,Good-Bye to All that Cape, 1929.

2. Wyndham Lewis on Arnold's Rugby, Self Condemned, Methuen, 1954.

 

Sr. Bernetta quinn, O.S.F.

Tweno-three ways of looking at the New Testament.- Variations on a Theme

Incamation.- Twenty-three Contemporary Writers on the New Testament, edited by Alfred Corn. Viking Penguin, London, England, 1990.

Significantly, Alfred Corn's gathering of essays on the New Testament is entitled Incarnation, the omission of the definite article turning it away from the Christ Randall Jarrell pictured in "The Old and the New Masters": ". . . everything there is pointed/in Van der Goes' Nativity, toward the naked/shining baby, like the needle of a compass." But any critic evaluating a work should not blame it for what it does not intend to do, in this case the aim being more akin to autobiography and literary criticism than Scriptural exegesis.

The volume is dedicated to a quartet of writers: Flannery O'Connor, in life a devout and intelligent Catholic; W.H. Auden, a poet of distinctly religious motivation in the Anglo-Catholic tradition; Simone Weil, a Jewish philosopher and social activist strongly attracted to Catholicism; Robert Fitzgerald, former editor of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, a Roman Catholic. (Among the contributors is Jonathan Galassi, currently editor-in-chief of that firm, whose thoughts on the letter to Philemon are impersonal, directed rather towards elucidation of his topic.)

Now in his forties, Corn is a poet and novelist who teaches at Connecticut College in New London; he himself has an essay in the anthology. He tells the interviewer for Contemporary Authors:"It seems to me that a poem, story, or novel as part of its nature ought to be (if only inferentially) a kind of working model for the well-lived life" (V. 104, p. 92) - one way of describing the Bible though open to the charge of' litotes. A person whose career is writing may be expected to concentrate his or her treatment (only nine,hers here) on skill of composition rather than interpretation. However, exceptions exist: for instance Larry Woiwode, a Presbyterian from North Dakota, achieves a superior summary of the Acts of the Apostles from the viewpoint of one who considers the Scriptures the word of God.

 

In choosing his authors, Corn has relied on recommendations (which coincided with his own preferences) in extending invitations, the books assigned intuitively. Like five others represented, he is an Episcopalian, though in his teaching youth an atheist, as he tells us before narrating a life-shaking "vision" in a Connecticut cemetery. Frederick Buechner is a Presbyterian minister. Four of the respondents are former Catholics: Mary Gordon, David Plante, Robert Hass, Marina Warner. Several others might be called searchers, a way of defining agnostics though searching does not always apply. One of the twenty-three, Guy Davenport, recalls how Thomas Merton labeled him a "pagan" in a friendly conversation.

Although each writer tries to focus on the impact that the New Testament book has made on his or her sensibility, there is considerable concern with questions of authorship, some playing private eye" as they study the commentaries about their subjects. Editor Alfred Corn says there are no scholars among those chosen (Xiii), although it seems unfair to deny that title to Reynolds Price of Duke University, who has translated thirty stories from the Bible (The Palpable God) and who in his contribution renders the apostle John in words as near to their Greek origins as he can; or to John Updike, who also turns to the Greek in analyzing John (Updike's polished prose begins Incarnation). This attraction to speculating on who wrote each selection is natural, but at the same time distracting from the autobiography which Updike's readers, for example, would much appreciate.

Among those most helpful in autobiography are three of the four who were once Catholics: Mary Gordon, David Plante, and Robert Hass; in fact Gordon's offering is subtitled "Parts of a journal." Robert Hass, who now teaches English at Berkley, came away from his education by sisters with a memory of the ten Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and the seven fruits of the Holy Spirit (italics are mine); he writes: "I don't remember exactly when, in what stages, I shed my Catholicism" (p. 324). Ironically, Hass uses Wallace Stevens, that poet who shortly before his death in 1955 at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Ct., entered the Catholic Church (cf. my "Wallace Stevens, Poet: 'The Peace of the Last Intelligence,"' inRenascence for the summer of 1990 (pp. 109-204).

Another writer notable for personal recollections in his essay is Robert B. Shaw, a Mt. Holyoke professor who remembers vividly his Presbyterian childhood centered on a minister-grandfather who furnished his first impression of God (p. 268). Two of the cornmentators speak of the pain their jewishness has cost them: Grace Schulman and John Hersey. Schulman's Aunt Helen was a victim of the holocaust; towards the end of her chapter Grace relates her pain to her poetical career in "For me, the benediction that grows out of torment is the essence of art" (p. 345). Hersey, existing in a world nominally Christian, is especially articulate in his reminiscences about the grave reasons why Roman Catholics in general need to implement the Church's official plea for forgiveness from the Jews.

Considered as revelations of interior landscapes, some passages in the book offer marvelous epiphanies, such as Corn's account of a New Haven cemetery episode on a sunny day, referred to above (it occurred in the early 1970s). Sitting on a flat tombstone, he put a Bach piano selection on his tape-recorder:

A four-voiced fugue began playing 
brilliant strains of harpsichord 
counterpoint interweaving into a 
golden sonic tapestry superimposed 
over the grass and trees and sunlight 
I was seeing ... I felt the sun and 
earth revolve around each other, the 
irresistible tug of grass and tree and 
creature toward light and heat, the 
interweaving of earth, breezes, sky, 
and something else in perfected 
counterpoint, and myself at the heart 
of things, simply allowing these sensations
and intimations to play through me ... The 
sun sent brilliant iridescent shards of light
through my eyelashes as I squinted and 
squinted.... This was an 'in the body' 
experience, but it was also a period of 
ekatasis, or ecstasy, which I cannot - I 
speak as a fool - convey completely 
(pp. 142-143).

Other such moments have followed in Corn's life, but he continues to resist them, feeling that "they interfere with getting the task done" (p. 143).

Simone Weil (1903-1943) provides a pattern for such an unusual happening as the one which turned Alfred Corn's life around (he is now an American Episcopalian). She had her first mystical experience in a Portuguese cathedral listening to a Gregorian chant: "I felt, without being in any way prepared for it (for I had never read the mystical writers) a presence more personal, more certain, more real than that of a human being, though inaccessible to the senses and the imagination" (First Supplement to Twentieth-Centuty Authors, p. 1054). Such "sudden manifestations" or epiphanies, asjoycean criticism calls them, link Weil not only to Alfred Corn but to the well-known American lecturer and poet, Amy Clampitt, who records an incident, similar in mood to Eliot's Burnt Norton rose garden, where the lotus rises slowly on water made out of sunlight:

Of the immediate particulars, I recall 
mainly that on a Sunday afternoon 
I had wandered into the museum familiarly 
known as the Cloisters, where in the midst 
of listening to a piped-in motet, for an 
unasked-for moment aft habitual concerns 
gave way to a lapse of consciousness - or 
perhaps it is clinically more accurate to 
speak of a lapse so complete that it amounted 
to perfect serenity (p. 222).

Only later did Clampitt realize that the word for what she had known was Grace. But this radiance did not transform her life as it did Corn's.

Through Incarnation, the character of Saint Paul goes through several metamorphoses. Randall Jarrell, fascinated by him from childhood ("The Lost World"), would probably have raged at the distortions of the apostle from Tarsus in some of the portraits, perhaps partly the result of taking a book of the New Testament in isolation: e.g., Guy Davenport's "We cannot blame Paul; we can only say that with the best will in the world he unwittingly returned our spiritual life to the bonds from whichjesus freed us" (p. 241), or David Plante's diatribe, though he to some degree redeems it on p. 119 with his sublimation of the enormous statue of Paul above the Commons, lifted against the night sky and looking at Christ's body, traced in the stars, with greater love than Plante "would ever have for anyone in his life" (Ibid.).

Rita Dove, on the contrary, is quite good on Paul, subject of a poem written high above the blue waters of Lake Como, "On the Road to Damascus." No doubt Jarrell would have viewed some of her essay favorably, though not her calling him "a founder, if not the sole inventor of Christianity" (p. 222), even though the Greensboro poet too had a tendency to overvalue Paul's role in the establishment of the Church. His many lyrics on Christmas (such as "The Old and the New Masters," quoted above),give a better insight into how he regarded Jesus.

But best of all Pauline characterizations is the Reverend Frederick Buechner's, with its stress on agape.- the most precious thing he [Paul] ever received, "the most precious thing he ever had to give," the ending of his piece on the first epistle to the Corinthians (p. 129).

To return to the title of the anthology, incarnation derives from the Latin incarnari, "to be made flesh," and can mean "the giving of actual form to or making real. " Such is the sense behind Wallace Stevens' "Peter Quince at the Clavier," the last stanza of which begins: "Beauty is momentary in the mind,/But in the flesh it is immortal"; Susannah's loveliness, it declares indirectly, would have perished were it not for art (be it poetry, painting, or music), capable of rendering it permanent.

Robert Penn Warren, in his Yale creative writing classes, was in the habit of saying, "Read your Bibles!" Readers of Incamation can well exclaim "Deo gratias! " that these twenty-three artists have done so. From each examination, a unique facet of the New Testament emerges, separate as one of Stevens' thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird, variations on the theme ofjesus Christ taking on the human condition out of compassion for us all.

Stewart Donovan

Pax AmericanaBlood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies by Christopher Hitchens. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990.

In a relatively short time Christopher Hitchens has achieved the status of being England's preeminent journalist, and with his recent appointment as Washington editor for Harper's Magazine many would argue that he also deserves to hold that title for America.1Blood, Class and Nostalgia (his seventh book) does much to support the case for Hitchens as our generation's Muggeridge2 or, as some would have it, Orwell. The book is a critical survey of the historical, social, political and cultural relationship that existed and exists between Britain (large and small b) and America (small and large A). What Hitchens illustrates most of all in this work is his ability to do what many of the historians warn us not to do generalize and judge. Here he is on a period of history that is of some interest to us at the moment:

The period of decolonization and receivership,
which saw the United States take over the 
former position of the Belgians in the Congo, 
the French in Indochina, the Dutch in 
Indonesia, and the British in
the Mediterranean and the Middle East ... At 
such times, there was liable to be grumbling
about American "imperialism" from the British
Establishment and sanctimony about British 
"colonialism" from the Washington side.... As
in the case of the Churchill-Roosevelt 
correspondence on Iranian and Saudi oil, both 
nations rightly suspected the other of 
self-interested designs. (United Fruit 
lobbyists in Congress had played on this 
memory artfully, pointing out that British 
oil assets were being menaced by 
nationalization in Iran, that American assets
in Iran might be I next, " and that the habit
of nationalization should not be allowed to 
spread to or from Guatemala.  If they could 
see the connection, so could others.) Iran 
was to be the alternative scenario in the 
drama of "receivership."

In a chapter entitled Greece to Their Rome Hitchens remarks that the ' literary mirror is often the most precise." And it is the sections of the book in which he discusses Edmund Wilson, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Adams, Henry James and especially Kipling and Mark Twain - that show us his extraordinary erudition and insight into British and American culture:

When Kipling aimed for the sublime, 
he always stuck at the imperial.  This 
Was a form of temptation which Twain, 
as it turned out, was well able to resist.  
When, a decade or so later, Kipling became
the semi-official laureate of the 
Roosevelt-Lodge set, with his verses 
urging white solidarity and the conquest 
of the Philippines, Twain emerged as the 
greatest and most scornful opponent of the
new imperialism.  Striking at the very 
point that Kipling had made his own - the 
emulation by Americans of the trailblazing 
British - he wrote witheringly that his 
fellow countrymen should "let go our 
obsequious hold on the rear-skirts of the
sceptred land thieves of Europe."

Hitchens the cultural and literary historian is no less perceptive than Hitchens the contemporary journalist. He describes the night in Washington when the Churchill Club had Prince Philip invest Ronald Reagan with the silver medallion and chain of the award.

The occasion draws to a surreal close 
with the singing of Rosemary Clooney, 
whose evocations of Killarney and 
Cloghamore have reduced many a St. 
Patrick's night to maudlin and lachrymose
demonstrations.  The Irish-American community 
has been the slowest to succumb to the general
insipid Anglophilia (being one of the few 
ethnic American groups polled, for instance, 
that did not instinctively side with Britain 
in the Falklands conflict).  But tonight Ms. 
Clooney eschews the green in favor of what 
looks like a jacaranda tent, and when she does 
sing of Cloghamore there is nothing in her 
rendition to discompose the Crown.  Faced by
an alliance between "the quality" from both 
sides of the Atlantic, even Fenianism succumbs
to sentimentality.

One could argue that this is comedy but Hitchens has real moments of comic brilliance. His report on the correspondence between Evelyn Waugh and William F. Buckley is a case in point.

Shortly before the showing of Brideshead,
Mr. Buckley had printed a defense of his 
own close relations with Evelyn Waugh, and
a reply to the detractors and mockers of 
those relations, in the National Review
of November 14, 1980.  His indignation had 
been aroused by a review of Evelyn Waugh's 
Letters written by John Kenneth 
Galbraith.  Galbraith had made much of the 
fact that in 1960 Waugh wrote to his old 
schoolmate and friend Tom Driberg as follows:
Can you tell me: did you in your researches
come across the name of Wm.  F. Buckley Jr.,
editor of a New York, neo-McCarthy magazine 
named National Review?  He has been 
showing me great and unsought attention 
lately and your article made me curious.  
Has he been supernaturally "guided" to bore 
me?  It would explain him.

There is much more comedy in Hitchen's work, as Gore Vidal and others have pointed out, but these are grim times. As I write, America and Britain have all but bombed Baghdad and Iraq out of history.3 At present there is more "blood" than class or nostalgia in these Anglo-American ironies.

On April 19, 1988, Hitchens flew to Yorktown and boarded the USS Iowa. The enormous Second World War battleship "named for America's most pacifist and isolationist state." The ship had been recommissioned by the Reagan-Weinberger rearmament administration and was returning from a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf:

Amid the Iowa's array of martial 
features is one incongruity.  The admiral's 
quarters boast a large, luxurious sunken bath.
This fitting, which is found on board no other
ship, was installed for the comfort of the 
disabled Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In 
November 1943, he boarded the USS Iowa
and steamed at top speed across the Atlantic 
and through the Mediterranean to meet Winston
Churchill.  Their first place of rendezvous, 
ironically enough, was Tehran.  In those 
days, Persia was a semi-colony of the British,
and in 1944 it became the site of a squabble 
between Churchill and Roosevelt over competing
British and American oil concessions.  Later, 
in the 1950s, it became the site of an 
Anglo-American cooperative covert operation 
to overthrow a nationalist government and 
secure the Pahlavi [the Shah of Iran] dynasty.
It was to deal with the direct consequences of
that folly that the USS Iowa and her sister 
ships had again been seen in Middle Eastern 
waters.  The USS New Jersey had spent 
some days off the coast of Lebanon in 1984, 
tossing shells as heavy as Volkswagens from 
her sixteen-inch muzzles at the supposed 
positions of Iranian sympathizers.  I wasn't 
the only person to be reminded, by this 
classic gunboat demonstration, of Joseph 
Conrad's bizarre evocation in 
Heart of Darkness:
Once, I remember, we came across a 
man-of-war anchored off the coast.... 
In the immensity of earth, sky and water,
there she was, incomprehensible, firing 
into a continent.

Later Hitchens is given a personal demonstration of the old ship's power, a demonstration that Iraqi men and boys have been experiencing for the past few weeks:

As the huge, beautiful ship cut its way 
through the water toward its new home 
port on Staten Island, I stood on the 
bridge to watch a few demonstration 
broadsides (saying a silent valediction 
to those faraway Druze villages, as the 
gigantic shells went screaming off toward 
the horizon) and talked with Seth Cropsey,
Under Secretary of the Navy and an occasional
defense essayist for Commentaty, The Public 
Interest, and other organs of neoconservative
reflection.  "I think you'll find," he said,
"that most of our people have studied and 
admired the British example."

Hitchen's book should be standard reading for every American, British and Canadian student.
Heart of Darkness, indeed!

Notes

1. Hitchens also has a tentative connection with Canada. The Canadian businessman Conrad Black recently bought The Spectator so he could personally fire Hitchens. Hitchens had been writing nasty things about Black's friend, Ronald Reagan. Black, as it turns out, was just too late in acquiring The Spectator as Hitchens had already moved on to another paper.

2 . Like Muggeridge, Hitchens has taken on the cult of the Monarchy in England. His book, The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favorite Fetish, has not brought him the kind of hate mail that Muggeridge had received from an earlier generation.

3. The impact of the bombing of Iraq upon the American psyche has yet to be calculated, but we might do well to remember the American poetiames Merrill who talked about the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in his poem The Changing Light at Sandover. Merrill, who expressed a belief in the transmigration of souls, felt that the souls of'those in the two bombed-outjapanese cities had been so annihilated that they were not reusable in the cycle of reincarnation.

J.K. Snyder

Black and White Tapestry by Fred Cogswell. Ottawa: Borealis Press. 1989. Unpriced.

Domestic Economy by John Donlan. Ilderton: @ Brick Books-Coldstream. 1989. $9.95.

Winter by Patrick Lane. Regina: Coteau Books, 1990. $8.00 paper; $21.95 cloth.

Fred Cogswell's forceful, passionate and convincing attachment to the strictness of such apparently archaic forms as the sestina and villanelle permits him to continue to be at over seventy years a vital and interesting poet. Black and White Tapesig contains poems about marriage and long love, about loneliness, teaching, and the heroism in any real attempt to live, but most of all about poetry and the poet's rage, even in old age. The rage is fiercely under control in his own case, but fully admitted; wild and uncontained and at last fatal in that of his friend and fellow artist Milton Acorn, who is the object of a fine elegiac sestina, as perceptive of Acorn's flaws as it is compassionate and forgiving.

In old age Cogswell senses an upwelling of forces, energies, passions that put before him the deep appeal of chaos, of letting go. In these poems, using these strict, intricate forms, he is able to look at the experience, to know it and survive it. The poetry is not always beautiful, nor often even very handsome, but there is a solidity of execution which grows on the reader and an unpretentious seriousness that commands respect. The pleasure one gets from this book is quite like that one has in finding one of the few remaining genuine hardware stores: a quiet, darkish place, with a settled sense of work and a notion of order that honours the idea of craft, knowing, as it does, that all serious craft is in the service of the beautiful and, in so far as we can make it, the true. I suppose it is a man's poetry, but one of those rare men strong enough to love and to absorb the hurt in loving. Perhaps Cogswell is responding to and challenging what is likely the best known villanelle in this century: the higher courage may be to go gentle into that good night, having so long acknowledged and mastered one's rage.

 But strength comes back as I
 remember well What a gypsy said
 at the county fair; "Don't quit on
 love, boy.  Though it hurts like
 hell, How much you live depends on
 how you care."
                       (Loneliness)

There are bigger and even better poems in this book, but "Lost and Found" gives I think the quickest picture of the man and the sources of his art.

With the unconscious importance
That money plays in an old man's life
I take the credit card from my purse
And in two seconds sign away
Sixty-nine dollars and fifty cents,
An evening's food and drink for two,
Plus ambience and a waitress' tip. 

But as I sign -I smile. In the glass
Beyond the cashier's head I see
The white flash of my own false teeth
And in my brain a memory-tape
Unrolls a cloudless weekend
In the fall of nineteen thirty-eight
When a long two days of searching brought
The greatest satisfaction I yet had known.

On hands and knees, face near to the ground, 
Foot by foot, I searched among the stubble
Of an eight-acre field of barley,
Hoping to find a porcelain tooth
That fell from my bridge during the day
When I gathered the shears into stocks.

On the second day in late afternoon
My eye picked it out from the tiny rocks
It resembled. I was ecstatic.
A new one would have cost six dollars.
At a dollar a day, the going rate
For labour, my time had been well spent.
Besides this, I had the satisfaction
Of proving all the folk wrong
Who called me a fool for looking.

The straightened youth, proud enough to look the fool, has lived to be a wise, old lover. Cogswell's sense of value is gold standard. The human rightness of this, the mix of memory and desire, is humanity at a very high, even extraordinary level. How selfdisciplined the boy, how wisely extravagant the older man. It is in this sense, and in this sense only, that law is the basis of freedom.

Patrick Lane's Winter is a weak, bad book, but it is the weak, bad book of a determined and ambitious poet. It is always a struggle to write and the struggle here is ghastly to watch, but one does watch it, ghastly as it is; which argues for some fundamental strength underlying the sloppy writing, the indulged bad habits, the absurdly portentous self-regard. Whatever else it may be about, Winter is not about the weather in Canada. Nothing in this collection is as good as Lane's "Winter Kill" (in The Measure, his best book), which, besides being a beautiful poem, is so deeply part of its place you expect to turn it over and find Property of Hudson Bay Company stamped on it. Winter is made up of forty-five sketches, each in turn titled "Winter", which seems to be a kind of universalizing term for a confused agglomeration of unhappy states, dominated by the most dreadful of them, the incapacity to feel anything at all and the perverse will to make that kind of impotence into a strength: "sitting perfectly/still/and only remotely human". Phyllis Webb's lines which Lane uses for an epigraph are an accurate epitome of the intention.

No one, not even a poet, is obliged to feel more than he or she actually does feel. Keats knew the 'feel of not to feel it', and it was a drowsy numbness that pained his sense; Coleridge's finest poem addressed his own awareness of his creative and emotional impotence. Lane is essentially a romantic, and exhaustion has always shadowed the romantic. It is not what Winter is about that is the problem; what is perplexing is the intellectual shambles consequent upon Lane's attempt to deal with it. In this book he seems to work from a notion that poetry is simply a matter of saying any damned thing you want, so long as it is sufficiently excessive and narrowly self-regarding. One would like to think that the abstract, anonymous 'he', who is the hero of these fragments - as if 'he' were less a pronoun than a mere cold, masculine syllable, a sort of degree zero morpheme - was other than autobiographical, but it isn't,likely, and the presence of a stifling egotism is hard to avoid. Like all egotisms, it is death-centered, death-obsessed. Dying, in terror of dying, but attracted, not entirely surprisingly, by a flight toward death, this kind of ego cannot bear either the happiness of courage, or even the anguish of others.

 He has already decided on the north
 He will die only when everyone else 
 is suffering the simple deprivations
 in the season where the weak have
 no place.
                          (Winter 32)


 a sharp lean hero, immaculate and alone.
 Already he is practising his cool walk, 
 hands in pockets, his cold clean eyes
 staring through all the pain there
 is at nothing.
                          (Winter 43)

Nor will it surprise to find this cold self-centredness accompanied by a truly bathetic sentimentality.

 His tears quickly freeze, forming
 delicate icicles on the pale hair 
 of his lip. If he stands perfectly
 still in the wind he can breathe
 their small impossible music.
                          (Winter 19)

Self-approval flirts dangerously with the ludicrous here; you can't contemplate the imagewithout wanting to laugh. It is doubtful that even Pater would have aspired to such exquisiteness. Or, further, given the current agony of the Roman Catholic priesthood in Canada and its victims, how could Lane permit himself these lines from Winter 10:

 he watches the people enter The Sacred Heart
 just before midnight, just before mass ...
 He likes to stare at the priest 
 standing behind them, the one who
 touches with great gentleness
 the choir boys in the sanctuary.

That's not far enough away from a thousand old jokes to stand as poetry at any time; at the moment it is either mindless or vicious. Nor will the picture of Christianity in the poem be recognized by anyone who actually practices the religion; it seems to be derived from the more expensive kind of Christmas card.

The real problem with Winter is that one cannot read it, if by reading one implies some possibility of understanding. This is not to speak of current critical notions of the impossibility of reading or the aporias of expression. One can, I suppose, move through the images, letting them register as they will. But the moment one asks what has been said, the trouble starts. Poetry has a certain responsibility to the facts, no matter what it may eventually want to do with those facts, even to the point of denying them; which is a different thing from just getting it wrong as Lane so often does. From Winter 16

 The old moon sleeps with the young moon in her arms.  
 Words like that are like reaching out
 in the darkness ...
 to find nothing at the end
 of the hand but cold.

But what the bard who made the grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spense wrote was

                       the new Moon
 With the Old Moon in her arms.

The difference matters. To what degree Coleridge's great Dejection Ode, which takes those lines for its epigraph, sponsors or lies behind Winter is not clear, but it would have been worth Lane's more careful study. From "Winter 27"

 Everything is so thin,
 a leaf, a thought,
 that moment in Kings when 
  the woman lies with the leper
 and he is not made whole.

There is a leper in Kings (there are several), but no woman lies with him and he is made whole.

 delphiniums because the temple in the rock
 and the oracle singing her enigmas
 as she tricked men
                        (Winter 29)

But the etymology of "delphinium" brings you to the dolphin, not the oracle at Delphi.

 The host is sitting in his study, staring
 at a painting from the Ming Dynasty
 ... so much like
 the porcelain of the period, pale
 with only the faintest of green
 buried beneath the pure hard surface.

But Sung celadon ware is not Ming enamelled cloissonné. It goes on.

The doubtful echoes of Bataille, the gratuitous slighting of Alex Colville, surely a greater poet of essential cold than Lane, the patronizing appropriation of a laughing old "Eskimo", the whole atmosphere of intellectual self-satisfaction resting on such shaky foundations is depressing; far more so than the attempt to write a book of poems out of Alden Nowlan's hyperbolic pronouncement that "we live in a country where simply to go outside is to die." You can freeze to death in the Sahara; it isn't just snow or cold that kills. If we have lost meaning -

But what does it mean?
The old Eskimo laughing at such a strange request,

we didn't begin to lose it at Cape Dorset, N.W.T. For us the question of meaning, the questioning of meaning, was posed in Tubingen, or Paris, or New Haven. Primitive art is always meaningful, just as everything is invested with meaning in the universe of the primitive. Nothing is gained by suggesting it is otherwise. It is precisely part of Colville's power that he is able to show us the uncanny quality of an ordinary present drained of meaning, but filled with an anxious absence that is almost palpable.

Perhaps having written this ugliness out of himself, Lane can make a new start. He is a poet of many starts, too many of them in the wrong direction. His real strength is narrative; as Marilyn Bowering so perceptively said at the beginning of the career, it lies in the "looking for something to share poems", in the "details of here". One gets these in the early poems; they are most fully achieved in The Measure. If you want to know how good Lane can be, put his "Just L' ing" from that book beside Frost's "Out, Out" and watch the Frost poem reveal itself for the more or less worked-up-out-of-the-newspaper thing that it is, while Lane goes for, and gets as nearly as a man can, the whole truth: a truth that includes the crazy, almost in admissible, surreal beauty of someone's tossing a severed hand from a bridge at night, only because there seemed to be no rational alternative.

 I knew I couldn't keep it and I couldn't
 give it to his wife.  Bury it?
 What for?  The life was gone
 and he was still alive.
 It was cold and it was night and I
 had shift-work in the morning. 
 I threw it high off the bridge
 and for one moment it held the moon
 still in its fingers before it dropped
 into that darkness below.

Lane might have stopped there; many poets would have, but he goes on to bring that strange moment back under the pitiless laws of production. The man who lost his hand loses his wife and his job as well, because "there is no work for a man/with a stump. And Claude, the boss,/didn't want him there. You can see why." I can't think of anyone who has captured the voice of working class stoicism better than that. It is Lane's subject and his real vocation:

 First-Aid-Man to this village
 of slaves and broken lives.
                (Blue Valley Night)

Canada still needs a poet who can tell the truth about those lives, since it so little wants to hear of them, and when Lane forgets himself he can tell that truth with powerful conviction. But, it should be added, only when.

John Donlan's Domestic Economy is a remarkable book; one way or another, it will be an important one. No one who cares for or about poetry, especially perhaps, poetry in this country will be disappointed in it; and there is a deep temptation in reviewing it to say only that if you do care, you will buy it; pointless even to single out or name poems, since none misses the extraordinary intelligence of the whole or the sheer, triumphing pleasure of the poet's sense of having broken through to statement:

 Tunnelling out of occupied space
 each barky trunk leaves its grave of ground
 writing in its green calendar
 Congratulations on finding your voice.
                              (Missing)

Domestic Economy constitutes one of the most assured, as well as the most beautiful, depictions we have of post-modern Canada; nor is it easy to say which is the more astonishing: the easy command of everything philosophical and cultural that has gone into bringing about the post-modern or the intimacy and immediacy with which the daily facts of life in this country are brought to art.

Beyond that, as if it weren't enough, Domestic Economy forms the most penetrating and serious criticism, certainly the most creative, yet made of the major poet of our time, John Ashbury. I suspect Donlan is a young poet - all that one can learn from the biographical material accompanying the book is that he lives in London, Ontario, and has a silver tabby cat - but he is a young poet who has given himself the hardest task of all: to unlock the technical secret of a master with such absolute authority that he is free to speak as he will with it; to do in fact what the master himself seemed incapable of or unwilling to do. Like Ashbery's Shadow Train (1981), Domestic Economy is a sonnet sequence: fifty poems make up Shadow Train; Domestic Economyhas forty-nine. This sonnet form, of which there were two or three instances in Ashbery's earlier collections (though they attracted no attention as the possible solution to the problem of the sonnet, a form which English poetry seems not able to do either with or without for very long), is made up of four unrhymed quatrains, whose verse has completely abandoned a metrical base. Rhythm is controlled solely through phrasal patterns measured with exacting tact by enjambment and caesura: here is Donlan on the "Wire"

 Making choices, we flex risk like a muscle,
 launch out over the near-absolute zero
 between solitudes. Another day, another
 universe to feed like an insatiable child

 who forgets the last time he was full. 
 His attention wanders like a searchlight,
 hates shut doors more than a cat, barges in
 with wet feet, sings as it flies

 its spaceship into a de Kooning.
 The figures of grace we shape in the air
 are necessary.  That they're performance too
 makes them invitations to a brief

 freedom from what most people consider
 possible. After the show, let's have
 a drink: let's have whatever the spruces are having
 if it'll make us as wild as them.

The effect is an exhilarating release into intelligence and inclusiveness - this is a poetry whose door is always open - without surrendering any of the luminous pleasure that comes from tight formal beauty. The aesthetic gain of closure comes almost miraculously without that sense of things being forced or foreshortened: the "frantic completeness, as Ashbery described it in "Grand Galop", of Surrey who with Wyatt brought the sonnet into English.

 Let us find out, if we must be constrained,
 Sandals more interwoven and complete
 To fit the naked foot of Poesy:
 Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
 Of every chord, and see what may be gained
 by ear industrious . . . ,
         ("If by dull rhymes our English
           must be chained")

Keats proposed nearly two centuries ago, endeavouring as he said he was, "to discover a better sonnet stanza than we have." No poet in the language has had a more industrious ear than Ashbery's; there is a sense in which it might be said (he has archly said it himselo that as a poet he has done anything but listen, but of course it was the listening of genius, and the reward has been immense for the vitality of the art. There is no more going around Ashbery than there was a way to go around Wordsworth or Eliot. Ashbery is never mentioned inDomestic Economy, nor in any direct way alluded to, unless it be in an anonymous bit of verse, more or less Ashberyesque, which makes up the second quatrain of the first and title poem. Eliot said good (we would now say strong) poets steal, weaker ones borrowed. Domestic Economy is an appropriation of a form, not the imitation of a style. Far from being a piece of ventriloquism or tour de force of pastiche, Donlan's Domestic Economy grants the highest kind of confirmation to the older poet's technical discovery: it now belongs to the book of forms as solidly and as certainly as Milton's breaking the "turn" (volta) at the sestet in the Petrarchan sonnet.

Donlan's own discovery is that the form is not necessarily wedded to the notorious Ashberyian obscurity, that apparent flight from meaning, the "leaving out business", which has reduced more than one critic to complaining that often there is nothing more going on in his work than an airless, somewhat supercilious display of bravura syntax, signalling little beyond its own virtuosity. Sufficient acquaintance with all of his work would of course limit that view, but one knows where it comes from. By contrast Donland is as direct, real and as simply 'there' as the

                         bright
 Cutlasses, Challengers, Z28's! - hard as
 the Precambrian Shield we abandon, leaving
 its lakes beaming along neglected sideroads ...
                        (Cold Pastoral)

At the same time the cars are wonderfully and distantly commented on by the title's allusion to Keats and by the full phrase, "Put up your bright/Cutlasses . . . ", where Othello steps in for a cameo appearance. Donlan is a post-modern, but his security in the canon is consummate. His is a world in which a meditation, witty as Donne but gentler, on the Heideggerean notion of Venvindung (the historical 'overcoming' or healing which recognises that health is a kind of belonging and the beginning of responsibility though of course Donlan breathes no word of Heidegger) begins in history and ends in the new A&P that has replaced the old pool hall:

                  Doctoring history
 is one way we keep the present manageable,
 racking the pool balls into a tight triangle

 before the next hard break shatters their order
 as'far as the table's rubber boundaries.
 The old poolhall, where so much that is irreplaceable
 happened is gone.  But in the new A&P some faces

 still shockingly connect. You hadn't expected
 so much to survive, the important parts, the human
 memories that contradict or duplicate yours,
 those others who contain you as they live.
                                   (The Past)

The pleonastic insistence of the book's title ("economy" is literally,oikos, nemein, domestic management) is deliberate. ehind it lies indeed plenty of "homework" of the other sort; though their names, like Heidegger's, are never mentioned, the intellectual presences of Levi-Strauss, Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, Kristeva, the whole poststructuralist pantheon can be felt, but in no conceivable way as intimidating. They have to rub shoulders with ". . . Ti-jean, Stompin Tom, What's-his-ears,/play[ing] it for us again in our cheap kitchens . . . " We have come perhaps to that "condition of complete simplicity/(Costing not less than everything)" which Eliot at the end of Four Quartets sets as the prerequisite to "arrive at where we started/And know the place for the first time."

Does anything know us better, more prophetically, or with more troubled love, than "Stable", written two years ago, the day after Canada day

There must be something I forget to worry about.
That panic trying to lodge behind your breastbone
is useful energy, like the Reversing Falls,
for the right person. Who are you, anyway?

After several days on the respirator your sense of identity
can slip, leaving all that buoyed you up
unknowable. You drown in your strange body,
a terrified machine among machines.

You come out of it a step closer to the stars,
each self a story among other stories.
It's surprising how little your spirit really needs:
my letters to Santa went into the stove,

blackened to negatives, restless, flew up the chimney
on hope to the North Pole. 0 Canada
during your fireworks last night
many of us felt ash fall on our upturned faces.

If Domestic Economy is apprentice work, it is the apprentice work of an enormous talent. For the moment we can only be grateful for the compensation and consolation it offers to a country that has all but lost its soul.