Friday, June 10, 2005

In Fine Form

Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve have done a great job with this anthology. It’s comprehensive, instructive, and energetic. There are plenty of surprises here too. This epigram from Dorothy Livesay put me in mind of Stevie Smith:

I shall lie like this when I am dead--
But with one more secret in my head.

and one of my favourite Atwood poems:


you fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye

The Blues section is strong. No doubt thanks in part to Jan Zwicky and Brad Cran for their Blues anthology. Included here are great poems from George Elliott Clarke and Wayde Compton as well as a strong prose poem from Christine Wiesenthal whom I hadn’t heard of before.

The ghazal section provides a sense of the history of the form in Canada. The shadows of Phyllis Webb and John Thompson hang over every ghazal written it seems to me and I’m especially fond of the Thompson ghazal with its opening couplet:

Yeats. Yeats. Yeats. Yeats. Yeats.

Why wouldn’t the man shut up?

Shreve and Braid also trace the radical departures of the form in Canadian hands. Trish Salah and Andy Weaver’s ghazals would have filled this section out nicely.

In the “Haiku and other Japanese forms” section I was a little disappointed by the lack of range, but thankfully there is a haibun from Wah, and a great little haiku from Michael Redhill titled “Haiku Monument for Washington D.C.”.

Great villanelles from Molly Peacock and PK Page almost make me think I love the form—which generally I find as pleasurable as a Sunday sermon. But in these women’s hands, as in Bishop’s “One Art”, the repetition (one of my great peeves), becomes almost pleasant, at least not grinding.

I loved the McWhirter sonnet with its fabulous gravelly word play: “Where I ramble/by Jericho in the March/Mist and murk to take stock,/I glimpse and eagle perched/On a hemlock”, and I was very happy to see the sonnet by Paul Dutton—whom I had not heard of before but intend to find out more about.


Onset tense: to tone to set,

no sense to note-not one; no, none.

So one soon tosses on to net

tenses, notes, tones. One soon sees one

to ten senses. Soon one’s not too tense...

On the other hand I was disappointed not to see one of the excellent bp Nichol concrete sonnets. In fact that touches on one of the quibbles I had with this anthology. Although it’s great that Nichol and Bök (and Dutton) are included, the idea of form here is conservative on the whole. And given how innovative Canadian poets are, that’s a shame. It was a good opportunity to present the full spectrum of form in Canada and though it is a great effort, it does fall just a little short.

Nonetheless, this is a fabulous addition to Canadian poetry, bound to be a central text. It fills in some important gaps, and will be a great teaching tool. I have to confess that one of my ghazals is included and I’m happy to be part of the project.

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