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Topic: Christopher Doda

Approximations on Target: Steven Heighton’s The Waking Comes Late

Heighton opens his sixth collection with “The Last Sturgeon,” where a man “always walked / a little above his life / not knowing it was / his life, while it waned / from walking-coma / to coma,” introducing a theme of emotional disconnection that runs throughout The Waking Comes Late. In the titular poem, a man laments his knowledge of plant life has come too late to share with his mother, and in “All Rivers Arrive,” a woman weeps over her dying mother, unable to express what she wishes she had while the mother was coherent, before cancer took control. And in two early poems about having a crushed larynx, the speaker considers the things he should have said before his power of speech was imperilled: “I meant to tell you, I / thought I told you / I couldn’t / quite.” In these excellent poems, Heighton shows how technical mastery can merge with acutely relevant subject matter to great effect. In fact, when it comes to language, Heighton is a remarkably efficient poet: I rarely find, as I often do when reading Canadian poetry, myself mentally editing as I go along. Words here are too precious to be left out of place, whether his own or those of others.

Like It Means Anything: Samuel Andreyev’s The Relativistic Empire

Early on in The Relativistic Empire, Samuel Andreyev’s second collection, he asks “when did things / begin to lose their cohesion?” a question that could serve as a motto for the book as a whole. Actually to talk of this book ‘as a whole’ is rather irrational, as the only facts that make it complete are its finite number of pages and its two covers; it lacks even a table of contents, giving the impression of a free-form group of poems placed together at random. The poems themselves are (mostly) short, and generally feature a kind of deliberate nonsensicality. A typical example reads, “a thin layer of ice / protects the tongs only / to grasp an elusive concept // flown into paradise with- / -out removal colliding /jeeps stuck in mud,” the sort of language sequencing designed to stymie meaning.

Necessary Voices: Kanina Dawson’s Masham Means Evening

Masham Means Evening is unique among poetry books published in Canada this year, not because Kanina Dawson’s style is especially engrossing but because she documents her time in the Canadian forces during her tour of Afghanistan. Structured chronologically, from her landing in Kabul to her return to civilian life, this poetic diary largely deals with […]

Lost and Found Poet #7: George Faludy

George Faludy: Torontonian and Great 20th Century Hungarian Poet
Rediscovered by Torontonian, poet and critic Christopher Doda.
George Faludy died last year at the age of 96. Widely considered the greatest Hungarian poet of the 20th century, he spent 20 years in Toronto, taking Canadian citizenship in 1976, and only returning to Budapest after the end of the East Bloc in 1989. Faludy ran afoul of successive governments in his native land: he first fled the fascists in the 1930s for France, northern Africa, and the US only to return in 1945 to a Hungary increasingly under communist control. He was arrested in 1950 and spent three years in a secret concentration camp in the town of Resck. Deprived of any means of writing, he began to memorize his works and took the extraordinary measure of organizing salon-type discussions with fellow prisoners. Many of those who dropped out of the discussions later perished, while those who talked into the long nights survived. Again fleeing Hungary after the suppression of the 1956 uprising, he bounced around Europe for a decade before arriving in Toronto in 1967. The essay on him introduces some of the main themes and characteristics of his work, and argues that translation is an underappreciated art in Canada, especially that which comes from Europe outside our two official languages.

Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler-Henry's apostrophe

Thirteen years ago Toronto poet Bill Kennedy wrote an apostrophe, a poem in a series of statements meant to address absent people, ideas, or entities as though actually present. The piece amounted to a lengthy group of “you are” lines of an increasingly bizarre, obscure and allusive nature: “you are a pretense to universality,” “you are a B- grade on a C paper,” “you are a piece of performance art that deep down inside wants to be a bust of Beethoven sitting on a Steinway grand piano,” running the gamut from high to low culture, from Robert Southey to Robert Plant. Some years later, he and fellow poet Darren Wershler-Henry created a Web site that could trawl the Web seeking out other “you are” statements. When each of the original lines was inputted, the ‘apostrophe engine,’ as they call it, would amass an entirely new poem comprised of “you are” lines. The outcome is apostrophe, a highly entertaining and truly innovative book that operates with a panopticon view of the Web, removing sentences from their sources and jamming them together.