Reading 15 Canadian Poets x 3

I used to frequent and comment at Bookninja quite regularly until I began to feel a little uncomfortable about my complete ignorance, with few exceptions, of Canadian poets.

When I enquired, one of the members recommended 15 Canadian Poets x 3, edited by Gary Geddes. I ordered it quite awhile ago, but I'm just now finally getting around to reading it. Doing so has been an interesting experience, though so far the poetry doesn't seem radically different from poetry written in America during the same time period.

The collection presents poets in the order they were born, a not unreasonable structure but I would have appreciated it if the editor had also included the dates particular poems first appeared since most of the early poets included died within the last ten years. Many of these early poets remind me a lot of Archibald McLeish, especially in their "liberal" views.

Not unexpectedly, there are a number of excellent poems in this collection, and it's difficult to pick just one and say it's a favorite. However, after covering the first 80 pages, I would have to say that my favorite poet so far was Dorothy Livesay who is quoted as saying, "I suppose that all of my life I have fought against obscurantism! For me the true intellectual is a simple person who knows how to be close to nature and to ordinary people. I therefore tend to shy away from academic poets and the academic critics. They miss the essence." Though I don't tend to shy away from academic poets, I do have a special fondness for Taoist like wisdom.

Perhaps I was drawn to her poetry because it seemed remarkably liberated for an artist born in 1909, perhaps I merely liked the short, direct lines.

THE UNQUIET BED

The woman I am
is not what you see
I'm not just bones
and crockery

the woman I am
knew love and hate
hating the chains
that parents make

longing that love
might set men free
yet hold them fast
in loyalty

the woman I am
is not what you see
move over love
make room for me.

and

SORCERY

My breasts are withered gourds
my skin all over stiffens
shrinks–the pubic hair
bristles to an inch

Not to be touched and swept
by your arm's force
gives me the ague
turns me into witch

O engineer of spring!
magic magic me
out of insanity
from scarecrow into girl again
then dance me toss me
catch!

Perhaps I'm drawn to both of these, and particularly the last, because they remind me of my favorite Yeats' poems, the Crazy Jane Sequence, i.e. "Crazy Jane Meets the Bishop."

Like Yeat's sequence, these poems are an affirmation of life, and, particularly, of the body's part in that life.

They are, at the same time, a condemnation of society's continuing prejudice against older women, as suggested in the phrases "gives me the ague" and "turns me into witch."

They are at the same time powerful love poems that should appeal to readers of all ages in lines like "O engineer of spring!/ magic magic me/ out of insanity."

In the process of doing a little research on Livesay, I also discovered a down side to discovering poets this way in that I couldn't find a single book store that actually sold any of her books, a problem I discovered earlier when I tried to order books by Milt Acorn, another prominent Canadian poet. I did, however, manage to find this interesting interview

5 thoughts on “Reading 15 Canadian Poets x 3

  1. Thanks for turning to poets from Canada and including the link to the lively spirited interview with Dorothy Livesay. I continue to be enlightened by your photos and writings. For me, your blog is a classroom in the best sense of the word.

  2. Hey Loren. Isn’t there still an all poetry bookshop on 45th St. in Wallingford up in Seattle? It’s near the big Dick’s drive-in just west of the interstate. If anyone has Livesay’s books, they do. I’m sorry I can’t remember the name of the shop. I could call friends who still live in Seattle to find out for you, even get a phone number, if you’re having real troubles.

  3. With andru’s motivation, I checked another source, Powell’s books in Portland, and, sure enough, they had a new book by her and one by Milt Acorn.

    I guess they don’t sell through Amazon anymore.

  4. Hello,
    I’ve not read poetry in years, but for some reason was given some Al Purdy to browse through.
    I can see why he’s called a ‘people’s poet’…he goes to where you live,he sits down right beside you while you’re waiting for the bus. He’s at the corner store when you’re buying lottery tickets. And he’s probably in the crowd at your great-aunt’s funeral.

What do you think?