Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Best Canadian Poetry in English, edited by A.F. Moritz

Song for the Song of the Sandhill Crane

It eschews the ear,

with its toolshed, its lab, its Centre for Advanced

Studies in Hermeneutics and Gossip,

to boom exactly in my thorax,

rattling the bones and waking the baby. Garroo:

the o’s are caves of lunar gravity, the rolled r

recalls the ratchet of life and death.

Why am I standing on this frigid porch

in my pajamas, peering into the mist

which rises in little spirals from the pond?

Where they call from the blue

has nearly thinned to no-colour-

clear. Where

they call form hominids haven’t yet

happened. Garroo:

who can bear those star-river distances?

I’m so lonesome I could die

happy. (Don McKay)

A few years ago, in my essay on the anthology Breathing Fire 2, “the trouble with normal,” I worried about what might happen if Canada started producing a “Best Canadian Poetry” equivalent of the long-standing American series. After Stephanie Bolster’s impressive debut last year [see my review of it here], it seems the series might be falling exactly into that potential trap of mainstream beige through the second annual edition of the series, The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2009, edited by A.F. Moritz (Toronto ON: Tightrope Books, 2009), with a third already in the works by Victoria poet and editor Lorna Crozier. Far more than Bolster, Moritz’s argument of poetry moves almost exclusively into metaphor-driven “finely wrought” verse (one of the driving complains of the Breathing Fire anthologies); is this the “Best Canadian Poetry” or “Best Canadian metaphor-driven Poetry”? The poems, fifty in all (with an appended “long list” of some fifty further), are technically good, but too many read as “good” in similar ways with their neighbours.

Moritz’s lengthy and even muddy introduction doesn’t help, when he includes in his introductions such arguments as “In fact, we know it isn’t so easy to write a poem. To write a good one, worthy of the subject matter that lies within and around us, is hard and rare.” Further on, he says that “The poems here defend faith and hope in human life and in the earth. They uphold the sense, primordial within us, that earthly life for all its hardships and problems is a good gift, the hope that human existence is not pointless, is not reducible to doings and distractions that for each of us end up six feet under.” It’s as though he insists in his argument that poems are exclusively about; doesn’t he understand that poems simply, often, are? Poems are made out of language itself, and not the exclusive property of those who choose subject instead of the pure mechanics of the language. It’s as though he has written not an introduction or edited a collection based upon the best of the available, published poetry by Canadians in Canadian journals during a calendar year, but instead worked something based on an extension of his own personal poetic.

I’m admittedly disappointed that, after Moritz, the third volume is being edited by Crozier, who seems to have entirely too much overlap in consideration with Moritz as to make the range of what the series as a whole could be become diminished. Why not ask someone such as Sina Queyras, Lisa Robertson, Erin Mouré, Christian Bök, Fred Wah or even George Bowering, the first of our Parliamentary Poet Laureates, and allow the series to open up into something that really represents new and different corners of Canadian poetry? It feels as though I’ve wandered into a fruit and vegetable market, and every stall carries exclusively apples. I don’t care how many varieties of apples any supplier might have, if you are going to call it a “fruit and vegetable market” (or, a “Best Canadian Poetry”), then you are required to have more.

Becoming a Writer

What could be easier than learning to write?

Novels, poems, fables with and without morals,

they’re all within you, in the heart, the head,

the bowel, the tip of the pen a diviner’s rod.

Reach inside and there they are, the people

one knows, their scandalous comments,

the silly things they do, the unforgettable feeling

of a wet eyelash on your burning cheek.

This moment, that, an eruption of violence,

a glancing away, the grandest of entrances,

the telling gesture, the banal and the beautiful,

all conspire with feeling and passion to transport,

to deliver, to inspire. Story emerges

from this cocoon, a crystalline moment, epiphanies

flashing like lightbulbs above the heads

of cartoon characters. All this within you

where you least expect it, not so much in the head

as under the arms, glistening with sweat, stinking

with the knowledge of the body, the writer

neither practitioner nor artisan but miner, digging

within himself for riches unimagined, for salt. (Dave Margoshes)

1 comment:

Bryan Sentes said...

rob, really gotta agree with you on this one.