In the foreword What the Poets Are Doing: Canadian Poets in Conversation, editor Rob Taylor gives his inspiration for the collection: 2002’s Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation (Nightwood Editions) edited by Tim Bowling. Where Bowling’s editorial vision encompassed an homage to Al Purdy (who died in 2000), Taylor’s honours the work of deceased poet and Tragically Hip singer Gord Downey. The title, What the Poets Are Doing, echoes a lyric from the Tragically Hip song “Poets.”
Luke Hathaway’s small and beautiful book should be on your bedside table even if it is as heaped as mine. Just 4” by 5” and fewer than 70 pages, the book consists of untitled, spare, and simply-worded poems which evoke the cycles of life, the seasons, and human longing for meaning and connection. The poems expand in your head, opening your mind to matters beyond the day-to-day.
“Poets are like great chess players with language,” Don Paterson says: “they look less at the next move, or the next ten moves, than at a Gestalt, at a system of relations.” If poems are creatures of relation, gestalts fashioned in intense awareness of larger gestalts into which they play, then it’s possible that poems can help us think through our relatedness, to each other, and to the world in which we live—that poems can become, if it’s not too grand a phrase, repositories for ecological understanding.
Poems about Orpheus are a dime a dozen: I’m not sure any myth has been reimagined more often than that of the ill-fated Thracian poet and singer. So if a poet wants to write a new Orphic hymn, it had better be pretty damn good, or offer something that hasn’t been done before: injecting an Orpheus poem into an indestructible microbe, à la Christian Bök, for instance. Which brings me to the unfortunate group of poems that close the second section of Earth and Heaven, all centred on Orpheus. With the exception of Steven Heighton’s “Were You to Die,” none do anything to enhance understanding of the complex Orpheus myth, a field already trodden, in the 20th century alone, by H.D., Rilke and Milosz to name but a few. Playing with myth, simply for the sake of doing so, can be a problem with myth poetry in general and with this anthology in particular.
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 […]
by Luke Hathaway
by Luke Hathaway
(How Poems Work, November 2005)
As in Outram’s “Story,” the aural weave of this poem is tight: not only with rhyme and alliteration, but with repetition (heft/heft, evening/evening, thunder/thunder). Like Corkett’s poem, this one employs a strong falling rhythm that elbows its way into one’s mind. Unlike Outram’s and Corkett’s poems, however, George Johnston’s “Firefly Evening” does not have an obvious narrative line. It is less about story than it is about image; its effects are less cerebral than sensual.
(How Poems Work, October 2005)
If Outram’s “Story” draws its stylistic authority from the diction of religion and mathematics, Corkett’s “Moses Wisdom” draws its stylistic authority from the diction of the nursery–a no less formidable source. Nursery rhymes are, for many of us, the initiation into figurative language, into rhyme and metre, ordered speech: in short, into poetry. When we recognize the diction of “Moses Wisdom,” then, it is with a very old part of our memory; buried that deep, education is transmuted into instinct….
(How Poems Work, September 2005)
“[P]oets are like great chessplayers with language,” Don Paterson says; “they look less at the next move, or the next ten moves, than at a Gestalt, at a system of relations.” A short poem offers us a prime opportunity to study this ‘gestalt,’ for just as every ‘move’ takes place within the larger system of the language, it takes place within the smaller system of the poem: each word in a poem is related to each of the others. These relations may be aural, grammatical, semantic, or spatial; they may be consonant or dissonant. They overlay the straightforward progression of the poem, so that the best poems–particularly once learned by heart–take on, for me, a quality of ‘thingness,’ of substantive existence that transcends their linear construction.
Richard Outram’s poem “Story” comprises a single sentence, twenty-six words in length. It is divided into two three-line stanzas. (The break, appropriately, comes after the word ‘breath.’) The first line of each stanza has three strong stresses; the second and third lines have two stresses each, though the metrical distribution of these stresses varies. The rhyme scheme unites the stanzas: aba cbc–or, if we count the slant-rhyme, aba aba….