Saturday, January 13, 2007

some Cooley notes

Prairie Fire (Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 1998); Winnipeg MB: Lately I've been going through the Dennis Cooley issue of Prairie Fire (edited by Robert Budde and Debbie Keahey) for the sake of an essay on Cooley I'm working my way toward, triggered in part by the second volume of his "love in a dry land" poem, The Bentley Poems (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2006), following his previous collection, Country Music: New Poems (Vernon BC: Kalamalka Press, 2004) [see my note on the collection here] from the same 800-plus page manuscript. Amanda Earl is currently twigged on the same, after picking up the new collection of poems, discovering Cooley herself for the first time. Dennis Cooley is one of those post-1960s poets that never really got the attention that his work deserves; highly praised by writers in the prairies, he seems almost invisible in other corners, despite numerous poetry collections including his selected poems, Sunfall, from Anansi in 1996. Apparently there was a small book written on Cooley's work published by ECW Press at some point (I have yet to find a copy), as well as an unpublished folio by Winnipeg poet and critic Karen Clavelle; what I really look forward to is the critical selected, By Word of Mouth, edited by poet, critic and former Cooley student Nicole Markotić out in May of this year, published through Wilfred Laurier University Press' in their Laurier Poetry Series (apparently the press is holding a party/launch in May with various of the authors and editors from a number of the books…).

To go through Dennis Cooley's poems is to reconsider space, and reconsider the use of the vernacular, and his essay on line breaks in his collection of essays, The Vernacular Muse (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 1987), is still considered the standard. As David Arnason writes in his piece, moving slowly through the published works of Dennis Cooley, up to the selected poems:
Section 2 of Sunfall contains poems from collections that were not yet published when Sunfall came out. Love in a dry land is a series of poems based on Sinclair Ross's As For Me and My House, and written from the point of view of Mrs. Bentley. The collection was accepted for publication several years ago, though it has yet actually to appear. As such, the appearance of a selection of the poems here gives the other collection a kind of ghost-like quality, like the "true story" on which some works are said to be based. The collection, like Lorna Crozier's similar but later version, extends Ross's work in the western imagination.
Or this piece by prairie writer Robert Kroetsch:

Poet Tree Sonnet

for Dennis Cooley

He breaks words like twigs from branches, the poet
pruning towards new life. Consider: an old
cottonwood, there by the Souris, brought back
to green, hearing the staccato riffs, the wordpecker.

Or that time in Japan: I saw a bent woman raking
under pines, heaping twigs and cones onto a fire
there at the entrance to a ryokan, releasing poems.
Beware, I said, to Arnason (we had left our shoes

somewhere at a door), Cooley is fooling you and me
again, pretending he is in Winnipeg, making jokes
inside a burning bush, under the hanging tree.

Or consider that time in Portugal: I praised the burnt
colour of peeled cork oaks: he sawed off the limb
we were out on, suggesting that form and fire rhyme.

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