Allan Briesmaster’s new volume yields the rich gifts of his long, involved bond with poetry. Behind his careful work pulses an instinct, both genuine and inevitable of a writer who sees poems everywhere, all the time.
There is a Gerard Manley Hopkins feel to many early pieces, an ecstasy in nature and a meditative music that turns on pure energy. With unwavering concentration, Briesmaster wanders through the natural world to rediscover the human. A late Romantic in love with rural Ontario, he packs these poems with the precision of a sensual cartographer, carefully charting the “reptilian repose” of “Reedy River” with its “flat sidewise architecture” through memory and depth to “the blue empty surface and breadth// of dry heaven.” Easily connecting systems and realities, Briesmaster feels a change of season in November buds as “Light weight, on emptiness// of the invisible keystone in earth’s arch” (“Curved Light”).
His word wizardry is both dazzling and accessible, embracing the glamour of language, its shape-changing. Katabatic winds fan the imagination of a boy on an Antarctic expedition in his snowy backyard. (“Antipodean”). In “Fungi Near Lost Lake,” these transforming organisms become “the transient genitalia of the undersoil.” They are “well-buried…behind the light-housed coastlines of our brains.” His words catch the ineffable. Music is “the breath of statues” (“On Music”). In “Of the Painted North,” a response to the McMichael Canadian Collection, “the great forms convene…heart-stone, bedded in that flow…tumult wrested away through the blue fluent snow.”
A poet who plays pleasingly with form, Briesmaster is inspired by other artists. His creative conversations with poets include Neruda, Paz, Rilke and the Chinese master, Du Fu. Working with a translation of Octavio Paz, Briesmaster retains the structure of the original while changing its metaphors, to produce his own a mind-expanding love poem: “full boreal curtains fan from the starry darkness/ that sums my manhood’s apex of flung seed” (“Venusian”).
Resolute with emotional literacy, The Long Bond quests widely, pondering the galactic and the existential, “Fossil Moth” travels the trauma of a childhood move from Kodiak Island, arriving at the consolation, years later, that “no-one need abandon// the shapes of wings.” There is a “print of flight embedded in all” that lets us “soar, sing from…stone…flare at the fossil stars.” Many poems praise the “utterly other”-ness of things. “The Spruce We Saw” is the “slow swirl of primal power.” Birds are what we aren’t, flying “through waking wind-swirl…marrowed and feathered with fire” (“Give Praise).” In “Animal Thoughts,” “The curious looks a cat shines at your eyes/ mimic your inner scans for deities.”
In his years of devoted poetry-making, Briesmaster leaps easily and often from roots to philosophy, pleads for the planet, inviting us to feel what it feels (“Ask”) and inevitably arrives at the liberating self-knowledge that “Alert along the margins of invention,” it is “Better to be a knower than be known” (“Acceptance”).
Informational poem notes reinforce Briesmaster’s belief that poetry can and should reach a wider readership than its practitioners, a desire, one hopes, still shared by all poets. He has long found nourishment in an ever-widening community of poets, one that continues to be vitalized and enriched by him.
Patricia Keeney is an award-winning poet, novelist and arts writer. Her latest poetry collection, Orpheus in Our World is based on the earliest of Greek hymns with contemporary dramatic commentary. Her newest novel, One Man Dancing tells the story of Uganda’s legendary Abafumi theatre company in a time of political upheaval.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.