Thursday, August 21, 2008

Patrick Friesen's "Carrying The Shadow"

Patrick Friesen's verse in his 1999 carrying the shadow reminds me of Hilles' Nothing Vanishes. The latter declaration is false in both books. I've had an easier time with lines being etched into my brain and spirit by cliched sportscasters than by the efforts of these two gentlemen.

Friesen's poems, in this collection, are maudlin. But why put them down with one withering adjective? Here's the text. Make up your own mind. (These are all poem endings, and mark a frequent compositional ploy -- wringing tears and steaming hearts -- in verse which bases its entire projected appeal on a reader having a hanky and a bucket nearby.)

"ask the lilac
where beauty is
ask the willow
for its tears"

"already I remember
and the world dies
a little more"

"each stone here
on this ground
the astonishing centre
of forever"

"there is room
for you
in heaven"

"nothing to say
but the words
struggling to be true"

"the door's open
there's light
for your feet
I'm ready
for you
at last"

"I look both ways
down the dark hallway
so familiar so strange
the sigh of a breath
and the stars in my eyes
flicker from far
as I turn
in the doorway"

"mulling my way
toward heaven"

"my fingers delving
into hidden places
feeling the loneliness
and the secrets there
it's in my hands
the stone's relief
how light fingers
the words"

"we wipe our eyes
and tug back
the umbilical
never goes slack"

"and the sun boils down"

"when it's still
you can hear it
scratching at the door"

"what we adore and kiss
beneath the snow"

"how my ear hears
a trifle differently
the same words
and so wants more or less


"gasping at the beauty of the sudden fall
arriving then arriving arriving"

"and I'm here for its skin
for its breath and cry
learning the ecstasy
of its solitude"

"I want to sit with you
I want to stroke your hair"

"a last look
into my children's eyes
and the hand oh god
of my beloved"

Again, these are the endings to eighteen different poems. After you've read the first three or four, do you think you'd get a premonition, even a knowing, of that great tearcloud in the sky positioning itself over your head for all the rest of them?

I've heard it said that there's a change in young people's reading choices these days. Books are often rejected if a major persona (in a poem) or character (in a short story or novel) is unsympathetic. If this is so, it means that heavy-handed, fuzzy moral prescriptions are more important than negotiating honestly the complex, difficult, and often troubling reality we live in. In other words, art is replacing religion as the soother of jangled nerves in our problematic world. Matthew Arnold's dream, then, is coming true, but not in a humanistic sense, but in a sentimental (and therefore false) one. Of course, it just seems to be poetry that's affected and infected; the short story and novel still have lots of punch and pepper and fire and believeability and sensuousness and anger and bluffness in them. I should also exempt the poetry from many other nations. (I've been reading some exciting contemporary American poetry lately, and I'll give some brief reviews of it down the pike.)


Zachariah Wells said...

Not that I disagree with your assessment of the work you quote from, Brian, but isn't the Everything-Here-Is-Dreck impulse just as false as Friesen's tear-jerking? There's lots of good, and some excellent, poetry being written today. Even in Canada!

Anonymous said...

You've read a lot more contemporary CanPo than me, Z, and I agree there's much that is good as well from what I've read. I'm simply scooping up books lately, almost at random, and commenting on what I've experienced. And these aren't unknowns from vanity press outputs, of course, but finalists or winners for our most esteemed award. I think it's important to assess those people.

The vast majority of anything published anywhere is dreck, so reading from an undifferentiated pile just brings it to the fore.

I've given a few mildly or wildly positive reviews of contemporary Canadians; I'm sure I'll give a lot more. The hyperbole from my post results from my diving into the mass.

Zachariah Wells said...

I agree, it is important to assess the grossly overrated. The top prizes have been, at best, an erratic index of quality. At worst, they've helped promote some truly terrible writing as being the best. The thing is, tho Hilles' and Friesen's collections are only a decade or so old, they're practically forgotten already. I think you're the only one talking about them. Whereas a contemporaneous collection like Babstock's Mean still gets talked about quite a bit. If you're looking for a '90s collection to blog about, I'd recommend Steven Heighton's The Ecstasy of Skeptics.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Zach, I read the Heighton book you mention and immediately fell in love with it, many years ago now. Selfishly (to me), I wish he'd quit writing novels and short stories so he could concentrate on more poetry, though his eclecticism probably helps all his work. I haven't read his latest poetic effort (caught some fine outtakes from it from a lit journal a year ago, can't remember which one).

I'll include some Canadian raves, past and present, shortly, but I seem to be using this blog more as a means to deal, hotly, with whatever I've just currently finished reading.