Tim Bowling – Selected Poems (2013)

Tim Bowling

Tim Bowling

There’s a lot of salmon, more salmon, yet more salmon, pheasant, and blood, blood, blood. But then, we’ve wanted too much of the first, and paid too little attention to what the last really is, and really means. And I appreciate the many images of the Fraser River, which I have the good fortune to live near. The deep, personal connection of the poet’s remains clearly true and real. Since 1995, though, Bowling has lived in Edmonton, which I have just left (once again), to return (once again) to the West Coast where Bowling spent his earlier life.

From my perspective, knowing how difficult it is to write what is right and also memorable, to be noted in particular are these two.

“These things happen, my mother said, / as mothers will, for life cannot / be borne at all unless it / seems ordained to those who’d / had to face the loss of all they’d bred. / In black, his mother and his widow wept / tears around his son, safely dreaming, islanded.” – from “Golden Gloves.”

And, “Mostly, I didn’t mind the rain. / It seemed, as always, / too gentle for this world.” – from “A Christmas Card to Strangers.” These words are right. I tried long to capture the winter rain and its sound in a way that mattered, but did not, and threw the lines away. How difficult it is to express the otherworldliness the rain contains in its descent.

Where, in Caravaggio's Dagger, the narrows widen. Stanley Park, Vancouver, in the rain, 11 February 2015 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

Where, in Caravaggio’s Dagger, the narrows widen. Stanley Park, Vancouver, in the rain, 11 February 2015 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

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Beethoven – Piano Sonata 30 in E, Op. 109 (1820)

Glenn Gould: Beethoven Sonatas Opp. 109, 110, 111 (Courtesy: www.myplaydirect.com)

Glenn Gould: Beethoven Sonatas Opp. 109, 110, 111 (Courtesy: http://www.myplaydirect.com)

This sonata has travelled with me since January of 1966, when I purchased, in Ottawa, Glenn Gould’s Columbia LP of Opp. 109, 110, and 111. His interpretations of all three remain, to me, essentially unmatched, but it was Op. 109 that made the immediate and lasting impression upon me, and I have revisited it annually around the same time of each winter.

András Schiff, in his remarkable lecture, declares the third movement of Op. 109 his favourite movement of the piano sonatas, so I was delighted that my own perspective is shared by one whose ability and learning I cannot emulate.

Schiff observes that the final triptych of Beethoven’s piano sonatas shares an interrelationship that is also found in the three final symphonies of Mozart and the final three piano sonatas of Schubert. He points out the allusion to Es ist vollbracht from the Johannes-Passion of Bach; the compaction of material throughout (which, to my mind, is also evident in the F minor string quartet, Op. 95); and, that the sonata, as others have observed, has no beginning and no end, for it arises and subsides in the flow of things.

Beethoven: Op. 109, aria of the third movement

Beethoven: Op. 109, aria of the third movement

The incomparable final movement, of six variations upon a sarabande that is a descendant of the opening aria of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, moves through bel canto, a pointillist “mosaic,” a quickness of thirds, kindness piacevole, a credo that clearly relates to the Missa Solemnis, and a diminution of note values that begin with the minim and ultimately dissolve into the trill. Whereafter the sarabande is restated, and the sonata comes to its end in the midst of all that is around it that is heard in the silence.

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Patrick Lane – Selected Poems (1997, 2010)

Patrick Lane: Selected Poems 1977-1997

Patrick Lane: Selected Poems 1977-1997

Last week I read Patrick Lane’s Selected Poems: 1977-1997. For some reason most of these poems and I do not connect. Perhaps another time will be different. Yet, the “Cougar” resurfaced from earlier readings: the hunters “who shoot their rifles at the sun, / as if with such exultance / they could bring a darkness into the world.” They persist among us, and work still to extinguish the light.

This morning I finished reading Patrick Lane’s Witness, and although again I found much of his work trying, the more recent the poem the more I liked it. What seems to me his favoured device of sketching in a scene, with the use of words and metaphors that dilute or distort rather than strengthen the image or the action, often seems more of an artificial pose that often does not effectively lead to or support the conclusion of the poem, a completion that is often intended to be philosophical or metaphysical. This occurs even when the subject matter is violent or nostalgic. It is as if the poem sinks under its own weight, whether great or light.

Patrick Lane: Witness, Selected Poems 1962-2010

Patrick Lane: Witness, Selected Poems 1962-2010

I am not claiming that the poems are poor, but merely that the technique employed, for me, makes the poem hermetic rather than open. But the later poems, in this collection, do not suffer from this, because, in them, the technique triumphs; and triumphs well. This may be because a number of them are set in places I have lived in or have subjects that are also amongst my own preoccupations. But then, this may also be because the later poems go beyond expression no longer disconnected to an experience that is larger because it is also experienced by others.

I have not given up on Mr. Lane’s work, because reading the first set of selected poems prompted the reading of the second, and so it seems apparent that I should not. Washita is next.

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Alice Munro – The View from Castle Rock (2006)

The View from Castle Rock

The View from Castle Rock

The theme, the form, and the content are all magnificent. The theme is family, and the form is the interrelated short story. The fictional presentation is in the context of an historical narrative, the first part dealing with the origins, emigration, and settlement of the family. The theme of family is first presented through a story of emigration, and then re-stated, after settlement, through a story of livelihood. The second part is comprised of six variations on the re-stated theme, followed by a third part that is a brief recapitulation that concludes the work. Parts one and two are equal in length.

The two stories on the theme are the two longest in the book; the prelude, two of the settlement stories, and five of the six variations are about the average of 29 pages in length. The equilibrium amongst the smaller and larger units of the form is impeccably well judged.

The View from Castle Rock

The View from Castle Rock

The title story, the first statement of the theme, “The View from Castle Rock,” is rendered well beyond reproach. “And in front of [the young lad of two, Young James, on board the emigrant sailing ship to Canada] is [his grandfather Old James], the old man with his rumbling voice, insistent but remote, and his blast of bitter breath, his sense of grievance and importance as absolute as the child’s own. His nature hungry, crafty, and oppressive. It is Young James’s first conscious encounter with someone as perfectly self-centred as himself.”

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

My wife and I were in Edinburgh many years ago, for her father was an Edinburgh child who came with his impoverished family to Canada in the first years of the 20th century; and she and I made our way to Castle Rock, and probably climbed up to it; though I cannot remember it with any certainty, nor can I remember the view. But I understand its abundance of horizon upon the sea that Alice Munro has her story voyage upon.

The power of a great storyteller is her ability to make the story relevant to the reader, no matter whether the relevance is of similar or of dissimilar experience or perspective.

The fifth story, “Working for a Living,” is the compressed restatement of the theme, now set in Ontario. Its reworking of the theme is encapsulated in a description of the father, as he “was edging towards a life he probably could not clearly visualize, since he would know what he didn’t want so much better than what he wanted.” Or, put more plainly by the narrator, “[W]as his life … something only other people had a use for?”

The Indian Ocean at Dar es Salaam, from the Hotel Kilimanjaro (Courtesy: www.daressalaam.kilimanjaro.hyatt.com)

The Indian Ocean at Dar es Salaam, from the Hotel Kilimanjaro (Courtesy: http://www.daressalaam.kilimanjaro.hyatt.com)

“Hired Girl” is the 8th story, and third variation of the theme. It is set on an island in Georgian Bay. The entire story has undercurrents. There are deft references to the Odyssey, Henry V, and Isak Dinesen. Nausicaa is the place of landing; Montjoy, who informed the King that he is before Agincourt, is the name of the maid’s employer; Mira, who sails from Lamu to Zanzibar, is the story-teller in “The Dreamers” from “Seven Gothic Tales.” The Dinesen book becomes a gift to the hired girl from the husband of the employer, whose wife thinks Nausicaa is a Shakespearian creation. At that point, in the last page of the story, the spelling is changed from Montjoy to Mountjoy. But the use of the Dinesen quotes opens again, for me, a small door back to a world only half-forgotten, as I stand on the shore of this ocean here, and find again Dar-es-Salaam vibrant behind me.

This again is the fineness of the immediacy of the power of the storyteller.

One of the most remarkable attributes of Munro’s writing is her ability to incorporate allusions as well as suggestions of contemporaneous and local mores, almost as still living manifestations, or the colourations of the time, or as the interlinear of memories, into her stories. One that I particularly like is found in the 7th story, “Lying Under the Apple Tree,” with its echoes of Eden, is the unstated but implied reference to the transient cheerfulness of song at wartime.

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Susan Musgrave – Origami Dove (2011)

Susan Musgrave (Courtesy: www.susanmusgrave.com)

Susan Musgrave (Courtesy: http://www.susanmusgrave.com)

After such a long time, I was glad to be back once again in 100 Mile House, free of dependencies, more or less. Quesnel, though, is another matter.

The book is corporeal. In it are sorrow and hurt, and little complaint. As it materializes, some of this body you can touch, whether you want to or not. The random acts of poetry place upon one another disconnections of images; but I like this, as I favour them myself.

Wednesday, May 8, 2002, 8:03 am, Vancouver, BC: To Simon Fraser University at half past ten; but I was apprehensive, fighting with myself. Driving along Hastings at Main, the radio was playing Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, and the heart-melting 18th variation, in Db, came on; and looking at all the misery around me at that wretched corner of the city, thought that Rachmaninoff, the musician, had an understanding of such misery and that it should not be despised, for each person loses himself in a different and special way; and tangentially the sounds of ‘Wotan’s Farewell’ also revived, as they often do when I am at that place.

Downtown Eastside, Vancouver (Courtesy: www.theglobeandmail.com)

Downtown Eastside, Vancouver (Courtesy: http://www.theglobeandmail.com)

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