Jenny Haysom

Sundry Labours and Rose Windows: Luke Hathaway’s All the Daylight Hours

Luke Hathaway’s second collection of poetry, All the Daylight Hours, “took shape over the course of twelve years” and reads as something of a miscellany, especially when contrasted with his debut, Groundwork (Biblioasis, 2011). One supposes that these books emerged concurrently, and that the poet channeled her output accordingly; in Groundwork, he organized poems around three distinct themes, and in All the Daylight Hours, he gathered what was left—his sundry, daily labours. That said, All the Daylight Hours does have loose themes, but they might be better described as recurrent intellectual concerns and aesthetic tendencies, the kind that arise over years of reading and writing.

The reading experience is central to Hathaway’s work as a poet, and—for better or worse—we are regularly reminded of this. It is no coincidence, then, that the book begins with an allusive vignette in “The Bather,” a small poem that serves as an aperture through which we might view and interpret the entire collection:

The lake (Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves…) took down
the trees in all their detail, held up
the light in its descent.

Here, the lake is instantly associated with representation, and Hathaway highlights the connection with his quotation (Richard Wilbur) and the choice of a symmetrical, reflective form. Notably, the verse is cinched at the waist where the poet-bather is “broke[n]… at the waterline,” but concludes with total submersion: “As long as she could hold her breath / she watched through leaded glass.” It is as if to say that the lake—or artifice—is a lens through which the poet looks and apprehends, a kind of rose window.

Another fine poem on the theme of symmetry and art is suitably entitled, “Reflection.” This sonnet begins with a glimpsed swan and then attempts to recapture that fleeting moment with one apt metaphor after another: “The swan slipped under the bridge—a palmed card, / a dropped coin, a swaddled child, delivered / or abandoned.” Hathaway relies on poetic language to conjure what has disappeared, and then again recaptures the vanished image through a breathless flow of literary references. The final lines once again emphasize the power of language to retain what is lost, even if art is just a reflection or an outline, a kind of negative image: “Truer / words were never spoken, never taken / back. In your negative the swan is black.”

All the Daylight Hours is filled with expertly rendered poems like these, and also includes a few exercises—namely, songs of academic experience. While these pieces can be clever and entertaining, Hathaway’s poems that explore lived experience are the ones that really engage and impress. For example, the suite for St. John’s, entitled “When the Weather Comes,” perfectly captures the city’s quirky charms. Another poem, “Bats,” unfurls like a bleak prophecy and dazzles with vivid metaphors. And the dark, solstitial “Lullaby” is freighted with echoes of Plath’s “By Candlelight,” but never makes the connection explicit. Like its close predecessor, Groundwork, All the Daylight Hours is a record of consistent intellectual activity—of reading, writing, and crafting. Together, these collections serve to debut a resonant and elegant voice.

Jenny Haysom lives with her family in Old Ottawa South. Among other things, she is working on a first collection of poems.

This review also appeared in print in Arc 73.


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