Thursday, August 07, 2008

A brief note on D.G. Jones

You Can’t Escape It

freedom must respect
the frame

it is no crime to want the painting
to match the room

the insect
has an intricate design
but cannot grow
as big as an elephant
the whale
requires water

miniatures may require
special attention, expect
rarities: laser art done
with the aid of an electron

you may wrap the earth

the emperor and his entourage
may view it
from a terrace on the moon

god and astronomers enjoy
large views

Lately I've been re-reading Wild Asterisks in Cloud (Montréal QC: Empyreal Press, 1997), my favourite poetry collection by Canadian poet D.G. Jones. One of the few poets who straddles modern and postmodern from his early collections in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Frost on the Sun and The Sun is Axeman (both published by the defunct Ryerson Press) to his more recent collections Under the Thunder the Flowers Light Up the Earth (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1977) which won the Governor Generals’ Award, The Floating Garden (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1995), Grounding Sight (Montréal QC: Empyreal Press, 1999) and small chapbook, standard pose (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2002). There have been rumours of either a collected or selected poems of Jones' happening from Montréal’s Signal Editions / Vehicule Press for a few years, but so far nothing has been confirmed.

In this piece, from his collection Wild Asterisks in Cloud, Jones writes the narrative like a ghazal, leaping from point to point while still having one. Writing between languages (he has done a number of translations, and founded the bilingual literary journal, Ellipse), between styles and graces, Jones manages to work all eventually into the spaces of his poems with an enviable ease. Jones knows precisely how to break a line, and much can be learned from just watching how he does it, listening to the breath and because and the music of each turn. One of the few Canadian poets (along with George Bowering and David Donnell) who taught twenty-something me, through example, the purpose and point of a perfect line break. Much, too, has been made of his collection of Canadian criticism (there have been books apart from Atwood’s Survival), Butterfly on Rock (University of Toronto Press, 1970).

There is so much quotable in a poem by Doug Jones, with nothing extraneous. Constructed along the lines of a number of pieces of his, including the halting, jagged edge and increasingly tangentical leaps from line to line over the years, Jones, a resident of Quebec’s eastern townships, seems one of the few English-language poets of his generation visibly influenced by some of the Quebec poets that came before him, notably the late Anne Hebert. His Wild Asterisks in Cloud is one of those collections of poetry I get happily lost in for a few weeks, every time I open it, along with Kroetsch’s Completed Field Notes (1989; 2002), McKinnon’s The Centre: Poems 1970-2000 (2004), Newlove’s The Night the Dog Smiled (1986) and Bowering’s Delayed Mercy & Other Poems (1986). These are books I repeatedly pick up, every few years, as a series of touchstones, writing an earlier poem during one of these periods, the piece "for cybele creery & jonathan wilcke (after jones" from my collection paper hotel (2002), and this one, published in (the now out-of-print) name , an errant (2006):

for doug jones

the poems will come, he says, once
the wood gets cut

he captures the hard, thin
& leans
by the backdoor

when the trees look like bones

a seasonal thing, what
pertains to the breath

not an accident of birth

once it can be seen, it can
finally be transcribed

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