Wednesday, November 10, 2010

D.G. Jones, The Stream Exposed with All its Stones, Collected Poems

The Stream Exposed with All its Stones

The stream exposed with all its stones
Flung on a raw field
Is covered, once again,

With snow.

It is not hidden. It
Still flows.

The houses in the valley, standing
Motionless below,
Seem wrapped in sunlight like a snow

And are deceptive. Even stones
Deceive us.

The creator goes
Rampaging through our lives: winter
Is a masquerade.

I tell you
Nakedness is a disguise: the white
Is dark below.

This silence is the water’s cry.

I tell you in those silent houses girls
Are dancing like the stones. (from Phrases From Orpheus)
I must admit, I wonder at the subtitle “Collected Poems” of this long-anticipated collection of poet D.G. Jones, his finally-released The Stream Exposed with All its Stones (Montreal QC: Vehicule Press/Signal Editions, 2010). With selections from Frost on the Sun (Contact Press, 1957), The Sun is Axeman (University of Toronto Press, 1961), Phrases From Orpheus (Oxford University Press, 1967), the Governor General’s Award-winning Under the Thunder the Flowers Light up the Earth (Coach House Press, 1977), A Throw of Particles (General Publishing, 1983), Balthazar and Other Poems (Coach House, 1988), The Floating Garden (Coach House, 1995), Wild Asterisks in Cloud (Empyreal Press, 1997) and Grounding Sight (Empyreal Press, 1999), is this actually a collected, or just a really big selected? With newer work appearing in a number of places over the past decade, including poems online at Jacket magazine and the small chapbook, standard pose (above/ground press, 2002), I was actually surprised not to see any new or uncollected included in this collection; is that reason enough to anticipate a forthcoming full collection of new writing?
Ambiguous States

rain on the snow creates
an intimate space

up close, each twig, each dark
string of waterdrops, absorbs
the attentive breath

the rest fog

of half-fog or slippery

the lake becomes myriad lakes
all shallow
and shadowy, like the parts of
an untravelled body

or a lived but deeply receding
lacustrine place (from Grounding Sight)
As I’ve written before, D.G. 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, and more recently, poems that reference and are influenced by more contemporary poets such as Steve McCaffery, Erin Moure and Stephanie Bolster, making him one of the rare Canadian poets that straddles with ease the line between modernism and post-modernism. Can you imagine any other Canadian poets over the years that have had books edited by such as Carmine Starnino and Christopher Dewdney? Seems unlikely to even bother to try. He exists in both “camps” without contradiction, and is also one of the rare few Canadian poets who completely understands 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). Oddly overlooked much of the time, known but not necessarily read, Jones’ poems have an elegance and ease of cadence that require so many of his pieces to be read aloud. If you care about understanding the poetic line, between breath and break, this is an essential book. Really, before everything else that came through the original collections as individual wholes, this is but a good beginning.
Poetry Depends on the Season

tax installments: the lake
a glass darkly

mild in the snow

the black dog breathing
like a fast train
where are the shepherds, where
are the sheep

the government
veut la laine sur le dos

semper fidelis

a bit like the solsice, the
black letter/white page, taxes
gifts, still water

no mam, you can’t
see the bottom of the lake (from Wild Asterisks in Cloud)
As much as there are pieces here that I wish were included but aren’t, the collection wisely takes fuller selections from earlier works, and less on the more recent, and possibly more easily available other collections (and I would recommend highly, if you desire only one, picking up his Wild Asterisks in Cloud). Still, with an introduction by W.J. Keith, it informs, yet somehow misses the pure aspect of cadence and play that Jones’ work revels in, nearly making me wish they had also included a counter-essay by someone like Dewdney, Moure or even George Bowering, all followers of Jones’ work over the years. It is almost difficult reading such knowing that it is only a partial account of what the poems should simply be telling you all on their own.

No comments: