Friday, November 14, 2008

Ken Belford’s lan(d)guage

I slept beside a grizzly, each of us unaware
of the other, and when I awakenened, heard
his breath next to mine. Time began for me
in that instant when I arose and saw him
sleeping there with a salmonberry leaf
on his head. No longer alone, all things since
are altered by that switch. What else is there
to know, each of us asleep and happy?
But he awakened just then and barreled off
into the brush, toward everything necessary.
At that moment everything I knew left me
And now a new world has taken place.
It comes to the same thing—astonishment
that this should happen at all. But I heard
him breathe, and saw him make tracks
before I could think. To see this thing
was not horrendous, and to see it go
was not delightful. Nothing meaningful
occurred, but time started with a big bear.
This is not about anything, but I’m waiting
for some thing to come up behind me
in the night. I’m like something else now,
and every breath I take anticipates
that moment I want again and again.

Prince George poet Ken Belford’s newest collection, lan(d)guage, a sequence of poetics (Halfmoon Bay BC: Caitlin Press, 2008), through it’s series of poetic meditations on, among other subjects, poetics and the natural world surrounding him in his British Columbia north, is comparable to books such as Barry McKinnon’s Pulp Log (A Poem in 59 Parts) (Prince George BC: Caitlin Press, 1991), or even George Bowering’s small book of criticism, Errata (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1988). There has been quite a shift in Belford’s poetics over the past few years, with a gap of some thirty-odd years between his first two poetry collections and when his next trade books appeared, starting with Pathways into the Mountains (Prince George BC: Caitlin Press, 2000) and continuing with Ecologue (Madiera Park BC: Harbour Publishing, 2005). The shift and the gap could even be comparable to what John Newlove ended up doing with The Green Plain (Lantzville, BC: Oolichan Books) and The Night the Dog Smiled (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 1986) after the years of silence following his Governor General’s Award-winning Lies (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1972), or the years of silence from Vancouver poet Jamie Reid (unlike the fifteen year publishing silence of Toronto poet Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, who seemed to emerge a stronger and more mature version of the same poet he had been when he left).

Moving more into considerations of “eco-poetry,” and a deeper lyrical shift that moves slightly askew from the heavier narrative of his previous works, would the shift have happened had he been publishing books the whole way along, showing the progression of moment to moment between points A and B? Was it the appearance of writer and editor Rob Budde into Belford’s north that precipitated such a shift (I’m sure there were other factors) in Belford’s poetics, and even his return to publishing?

Places don’t always travel with people
but the place that held my attention
for half my life still aggravates a flow
of associations. And when I write out
the points of entry into that discursive
instability, I remember those places as
the sites of danger. I think of the duplicity
of landscape images and text, those
photos of old men fishing, the paintings
and clever songs about place and
what is described in the follows—
the becoming, and then the disappearing,
the whirlpool in the center of the story of
the construction of locally produced landscape.
I put a river on a map. I can talk with conviction
About the Upper Nass. My home in Prince George
isn’t large or secluded. I live among the poor.
In my early days on the Nass, I spent much
of my time looking for food until I escaped.

I’m intrigued by this suite of poems, less somehow a sequence of poetics than a sequence showing a definite poetic shift for Belford, a sequence of poems that situate themselves in a lyric geography of the British Columbia north, in the centre of a poetic that includes Rob Budde, Barry McKinnon, Gillian Wigmore and numerous others.

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