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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fast Forward: New Saskatchewan Poets, eds. Barbara Klar & Paul Wilson

I’m always taken with an anthology of any kind of arbitrary grouping, whether with the recent Chicago anthology The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century [see my review here], Post-Prairie: An Anthology of Poetry and Writing the Terrain: Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets [these reviews, unfortunately seem to have been taken down from the Word site], or The Winnipeg Connection: Writing Lives at Mid-Century, edited by Birk Sproxton and Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century, edited by Jason Camlot and Todd Swift [see my review of both here]. What is it about geography that compels? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years; another question I’ve been asking for some time, where are the new Saskatchewan poets (brought up again a couple of years ago when Talon produced Post-Prairie and included only two Saskatchewan natives, the long-moved Karen Solie, and the transplanted Sylvia Legris)? Edited by Hagios publisher Paul Wilson and Barbara Klar, two accomplished poets in their own right, Fast Forward: New Saskatchewan Poets (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2007) includes the work of Sheri Benning, Belinda Betker, Carla Braidek, Bev Brenna, Lynn Cecil, Sandy Easterbrook, Bernice Friesen, Tracy Hamon, Julia Herperger, Wanda Hurren, Laura Edna Lacey, Anne Lazurko, Taylor Rae Leedahl, Holly Luhning, Sharon MacFarlane, Neal McLeod, Wynne Nicholson, Brenda Niskala, Jeff Park, Doloros Reimer, Paula Jane Remlinger, Mansel Robinson, Crystal Sikma, Jennifer Still, Michael Trussler, Daniel Scott Tysdal and Joanne Weber. As the editors write in their introduction:
Saskatchewan is shaped like a big empty page. The blank page, the Chinese say, contains the infinite. There are infinite ways for snow to fall; there are infinite ways for the poem to be written.

It’s been a generation since the publication of the last anthology of new Saskatchewan poets. Almost overnight, it seems, another group of poets has surfaced in the community and grabbed the attention of the literary journals. It is time to showcase them, to gather their voices and celebrate a changing consciousness. Six hundred pages of submissions later, Fast Forward is the result.

While a few of these poems are about place, an anthology of Saskatchewan poets is not necessarily about being here. Poetry is by definition innovation; each of these poets has turned a unique form of experience into art. These poets are looking up from the prairies toward possibility and a broad view with subjects as diverse as
ancestry, love, birth, death, history, nature, and growing old.
Saskatchewan has always had an interesting arts history that has seemed separate somewhat from the rest of the country; recently I watched a documentary on the Emma Lake workshops, highlighting a history of inventive visual art in Saskatchewan that has continued for decades. For some reason, the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops (founded by Kenneth Lochhead and Arthur McKay) managed to work with some of the most inventive artists of the 1940s through to the 1960s at their peak, producing out of their workshops painters such as Roy Kiyooka and the “Regina 5” (Kiyooka, who should have been included in such, but is an argument for another piece altogether). What becomes interesting, though, is how the avant-garde of the visual arts can engage with Saskatchewan on a ground level, but somehow the writing community doesn’t seem terribly interested or aware of what is and has been happening with writing in the same way; how can one explain the discrepancy? Still, one of the poets included in this collection is Daniel Scott Tysdal, originally from Moose Jaw but currently schooling in Toronto, who has been described almost as Saskatchewan’s “great (white) hope” through his first collection Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method (Regina SK: Coteau Books, 2006), working through a number of extremely interesting formal applications as well as with using voice, and multiple voices (despite the fact that the work included in this anthology I wouldn’t call his best). Another “new” poet that has been much discussed over the past little bit has been Sheri Benning, currently of Saskatchewan but formerly of Edmonton, where she did doctoral work at the University of Alberta, now author of two trade poetry collections from Brick Books, including the recent Thin Moon Psalm (2007). But still, the benefit of much of this anthology is that there are a number of poets inside that have been living on the periphery, just waiting and working their way into a larger and wider attention.
A Letter to Jorie Graham

An answer isn’t expectation,
isn’t knitted from the yarn

of any poet’s words. Isn’t everything
something? There’s usually a why

and an oh, each of these sometimes
spidery, sometimes eight different paths

that channel my brain, gesture with parted legs.
Each one a foot or two plotted institutionally

like a house on the low prairie field,
an erection of wood and glass, something

birds stare at, flap into, circle
like an interruption of interest.

(I’m building something like it.)
Not imitation, or repetition,

just easy movement,
a hawk, crow, or even the robin

at five, then four, then three
every morning. The word’s turn

synchronized, seasoning
its way through months until

even the days begin to hide
somewhere underneath, laugh

at the green north side, frozen
features wasting away. A façade

realizes its own alter ego, leans
a mole nose against the backside

like an address, one place
to the other, my forehead

to paper, horizontal sense of blue stretched
skin and veins and ink. (Tracy Hamon)
Part of what makes this anthology compelling is not just the poems and the poets themselves, but the fact that a number of them have short prose pieces in the back, small essays talking about their process, whether generally, peripherally or about a specific piece. As Benning writes in her “’Stare, Stare, Stare’: Learning How to Read Wolverine Creek”:
Lawrence Buell writes that according to contemporary literary theory a writers’ capacity to render a faithful mimesis of the natural world is considered to be relatively unimportant and her interest in doing so is often thought to be a secondary concern (p. 84). Literary depictions of nature are all too often thought, by critics, to exist for their symbolic or ideological attributes rather than as objects of contemplation for their own sake. Buell adds that “all major strains of literary theory have marginalized literature’s referential dimension by privileging structure, textuality, ideology or some other conceptual matrix that defines the space discourse occupies as apart from factical ‘reality’” (p. 86). Thus literary theory has turned the attempt to generate writing which articulates and foregrounds the environment into a puerile, untheoretical pursuit.
The editors mention that it’s been a generation since the last anthology of new Saskatchewan poets; I almost wish that they would have mentioned what that might have been? Part of what makes regionalism so frustrating is that from where I live, I would probably never know unless I go out of my way to ask; I know Edmonton’s NeWest Press published two volumes of the anthology Ride Off Any Horizon (1983; 1987), but they were more “prairie” than any specific province; I know of a number of “prairie” anthologies and even some for Manitoba. What other were the Saskatchewan ones?

1 comment:

Saskatchewan Publishers Group said...

Saskatchewan/prairie anthologies:
The Wascana Poetry Anthology (Canadian Plains Research Center)
The Wascana Anthology of Short Fiction (Canadian Plains Research Center)
Sundog Highway (Coteau Books)
A Sudden Radiance (Coteau Books)
Coteau Books also did the "Cracked Wheat" series (100% Cracked Wheat and 200% Cracked Wheat)

There were others, as well, but that's going back a ways.