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Topic: Chris Jennings

Determiners and Indeterminacy: Andy Weaver’s this

The last entry in Andy Weaver’s latest book is:


is   the


in   the


Fidelities: Carmine Starnino’s This Way Out

I’m sceptical of the word “progress” when talking about poets and their careers. Progress implies too strong a value judgement, as though, by some objective measure, we can say that practice and the wisdom of age necessarily make for better poetry. There are too many contrary examples of canonical poets whose best work came in their early- or mid-careers to accept the proposition (Wordsworth and Lowell come immediately to mind). I like “career” much better as a verb–swift, uncontrolled action–and, even better, I like “career narrative” as the record of those twists and swerves. _This Way Out_ is definitely a swerve in Carmine Starnino’s narrative, one that draws out a basic conflict that has been playing through Starnino’s poetry for some time. To be more precise, it’s a conflict in the poetics more than the poems: a conceptual tension between “writing about x” and “writing poetry.”

Lost and Found Poet #5: Philip Child

Philip Child: WWI Poet and University of Toronto Scholar
Rediscovered by Chris Jennings, who, like Child, once worked for the University of Toronto Quarterly.
Arguably the best-known of Canadian poems written about the experience of World War I, “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae is a poem that isn’t much praised for its techniques or the subtlety of its themes. Philip Child shares McRae’s claim to immediate experience of the war; more, he saw what McRae didn’t: the way war fostered a culture of modernity and a modern literature. Both technically and thematically, Child’s poetry tries to harmonize a life segmented by experiences before, during, and after the war. An award-winning novelist before he turned from fiction to poetry, Child wrote two books of poems that fascinate as a highly intelligent, highly literate veteran’s attempt to make sense of an experience that few living voices still share.

Coy and austere: Margaret Avison’s Books of Revelation

You can measure the success of Margaret Avison’s career by the major awards accorded to nearly half of her books: two Governor General’s Awards and a Griffin Poetry Prize. If you put little stock in awards (fair enough), then the better measure may be the list of anthologies (an appendix to this volume of Always Now) in which her work has appeared, particularly before the release of Winter Sun in 1960. She was first anthologized by A.J.M. Smith in The Book of Canadian Poetry: A Critical and Historical Anthology (1943). Her poems appeared in anthologies published by both First Statement and Contact, edited by John Sutherland, Louis Dudek, and Irving Layton. Earle Birney, Bliss Carman, Ralph Gustafson, and Eli Mandel all selected her work for Canadian poetry anthologies, and Denise Levertov pursued Avison’s second book, The Dumbfounding (1966), for Norton (a point Avison records when giving “Thanks” here). In other words, before Avison had published her first monograph, she was recognized as a representative Canadian poet by some of the enduring names in Canadian poetry, and after Winter Sun that reputation spread.