Sunday, April 11, 2010

Where The North American Poets Meet. . .

Spring has definitely arrived and so I've been immersing myself in poetry and the (fictional) lives of poets this weekend.

New Canadian Library has just published a really terrific anthology: Canadian Poetry 1920 to 1960, edited by Brian Trehearne. It covers a literary period that I really love when writers were experimenting with modernism - a characteristic that influenced Trehearne's inclusion of poets for this collection. As he writes in his afterword: "in their common reaction against Romanticism and its legatees, and in their commitments to modern poetry's possibilities of profound newness - for newness could be profound in and of itself in this period - they make up one great movement in Canada's cultural history".

Some of the selections will jolt you right back to high school (E.J. Pratt's multi-voiced "The Titanic" and Earle Birney's "David"), and any English university student will have come across many of these poets in Canlit courses: A.M. Klein, the wonderful Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Avison, John Glassco, Irving Layton, Raymound Souster and James Reaney just to mention a few. There are nice selections from two of my favourites - F.R. Scott and P.K. Page whose poem "The Stenographers" seems particularly appropriate to read on a Sunday night. I've also been introduced to some poets previously unknown to me - Louise Morey Bowman's "The Tea Kettle" turns that comforting image on its head, and Patrick Anderson who writes of skiers on Mount Royal during WWII in "Winter in Montreal":

and I said: Can you tell me? Is this Canadian
to ski - I mean, to dare so silently
with nothing in front and blue behind like a railway?
I waited for his answer but it was
wafted away in the sanitarium snow
where the skiers flushed like the hectic tubercular
schussed down the fever of their feathery pillow.

There are poems from across the country and (again, why I like this period so much) many of them are set in cities. They deal with all aspects and descriptions of Canadian life (and the weather) but also are set against global events during this period - the Depression, WWII, the Holocaust, the Cold War. A wonderful book to keep by the bedside table and regularly dip into.

I was reminded of F.R. Scott's satirical poem "The Canadian Authors Meet" (yes, also included) when reading Lore Segal's delicious Lucinella. This novella is part of Melville House's exquisite Art of the Contemporary Novella Series which publishes or brings back into print little gems such as this from around the world. Originally published in 1970, this very funny story follows a bunch of poets, a literary critic, the editor of a poetry magazine, Zeus and Hera, and our main heroine at three different stages of her life (sometimes all present at once), during their jaunts at a writer's retreat, an academic symposium and several boozy parties. Their egos, insecurities, idiosyncrasies and libidos are all on display and fair game not only for endless gossip but as fodder for their work. Yet, despite the facade of friendship in this cosy circle, it turns out that not only do most of them not like each other, they don't even - GASP - read each other. And while it's clear they should never marry each other, they yet need each other and stay connected - right to the end. I couldn't stop laughing all the way through this marvellous unpoetic ode to the messiness of everyday life and love.

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