Sunday 28 June 2009

New on my bookshelf

Poems 1959 - 2009 by Frederick Seidel

Sometimes I don't know what to make of Frederick Seidel. Just when you think he's cracking off some bit of eye-rolling Muldoonish clownery, swoosh! Out comes the switchblade! (or sometimes vice-versa). He's been called both a "ghoul" (by Michael Robbins) and the “the best American poet writing today” (lots of people). His writing is extremely complex, not only in its poetics, but also (probably even more so) in its psychology. All this is compounded by the mystery of the author. I went out today to enjoy a coffee and read the introduction to this substantial volume of collected poems. But there was no introduction. No context or commentary. No welcome mat. No doorway in. Just the poems to wrestle with... and readers better be ready for a royal ass-whooping.

House of Anansi didn't have its annual poetry bash in Toronto this year, so I'm only now getting around to the rest of their 2009 poetry titles after first reading Karen Solie's Pigeon.

Gun Dogs by James Langer

Langer is a poet clearly energized by the present-day Canadian renaissance of New Formalism in lyric poetry (which is the hot topic in CanPo according to its champions ...and only 25 years behind the Americans who have long since moved on to more interesting discussions). The mode, however, suits Langer to a tee. Forget whether or not it's fashionable right now (and right now, it is); he's just really very good at making the sounds of language do his bidding, and reading very good writing of any kind should be a welcome pleasure for anyone, shouldn't it? Occasionally the style wins out over substance (a few poems are like scrimshaw -- rustic and ornate, but what do they do?), but overall this is an extremely polished and eloquent book.

Mole by Patrick Warner

There must be something about Eastern Canada that lights a fire in well-rounded poets like Patrick Warner. He strikes me as the same kind and calibre of poet that those other Easterners Milton Acorn and Alden Nowlan were at their very best: equal parts Romantic and Modernist, equally at ease with a tight quatrain or a whirling and lunging stretch of free verse, but also deeply and empathically contending with the haunting material substance of their worlds. Best of all, he possesses the ability to surprise the reader with small yet sublime revelations. Like a beam from a lighthouse, wherever Warner fixes his poetic gaze, he exposes the jagged rocks in the seemingly placid shallows.


Lemon Hound said...

Have you seen Ange Mlinko's pissed off look at Seidel? Link on my blog--it's in The Nation.

Paul Vermeersch said...

Yeah I read that. I didn't agree with it. And it seemed a little too tinged with a really deep personal dislike that could have infiltrated the critical take. I found myself not trusting her pissed-off-ness, as you put it. Actually, some of her complaining about his prosody actually helped me understand it better.

Lemon Hound said...

Deep personal dislike seems to be the back bone of Mlinko's position as a critic. Reminds me of the Tory attack ads.

Paul Vermeersch said...

That is, if an ad hominem position can be seen as any kind of back bone....

MR said...

Hey, I'm the one who called him a "ghoul," & I meant it as a compliment. Is my favorite contemporary poet.

(I'm Michael Robbins, btw—why won't yr blog let me enter my real name?)

Paul Vermeersch said...

Hi Michael,

Of course it's a compliment!

(My comments settings are quite strict -- you have to log in with your gmail/blogger account -- because of the tsunami of hate comments I still get on something I posted over a year ago called "Rant: Why I hate spoken work poetry.")

MR said...

A ha. I hate it too.

If you're interested, I have a review of the Seidel coming out in The London Review of Books—& even tho I'm one of the critics Ange takes on in her review, I have to say, I don't think "deep personal dislike" is a feature of her reviews in general at all. Her recent Moxley review is a real gem.