I first discovered the poetry of Peter Trower by a lucky perusal through some forgotten second-hand bookstore round about 1982. I was immediately mermerised by it, though not only, as others have likewise been affected, by the blunt first-hand subject matter, but also the accomplishment of its artful composition.
Because Trower is noted as a "logging poet", those not intimately familiar with his work fire up the assumption machine, the cogs working overtime to mesh with the ready conclusions: "he's an amateur" --(what poet isn't?) -- "unsophisticated as to finer detail and feeling" --(i.e. he doesn't moon over twilight and silence in three hundred poems over four books and ten years) -- "unaware of modern thrusts in poetry" -- (he doesn't write hermetically about poetic composition, and so doesn't automatically bore to death anyone not a poet, and many perceptive ones who do write verse) -- "buried in his own world" -- (some of the greatest poets of the twentieth century wrote largely out of their own experiences, but their material transcended any one-dimensional reading of the events transcribed) -- and to sum up: "a rube" (usually used as a contrast to an "academic" or "teacher" of whatever stripe).
First off, it's a wrong tag, even leaving aside the asinine presumptions. Trower's best book, Ragged Horizons, (1978), contains 50 poems, only 16 of which directly involve logging or lumber related experiences. I enjoy just as much the non-logging efforts. And what a delight is the variance in subject matter among those poems: concentrated elegies and lyrical sonorities about individuals in bars, hospitals, on streets and in rooming houses; love poems; natural description with finely interwoven metaphysics; existential musings and anguished self-identity.
The accumulated experience of Trower's poems create a personal, strong stamp whereby a reader is confident that when specific tropes are used, they are accurate and vividly sensed. The raven in "The Ravens" is imagistic wonder and metaphor, ironic messenger and metonym, and it doesn't take a ten year manic scrutiny of European and Egyptian mythic excavation (ala Ted Hughes) to decipher the clues. Furthermore there is a respectful distance between the narrator's observer (largely autobiographical) and that which is observed. I say respectful because there's a humble admission that other humans, and especially animals, are mysterious to the isolated, subjective individual, no matter what spiritual authority is advanced. This is where Hughes (again) and Tim Lilburn (and others) get into so much trouble. Especially in Lilburn's (up to now) mid-career poems, the narrator merges with animals, not even as first-person/animal mouthpiece, but as undifferentiated soul and physical embodiment. This is nonsense, and reminds me of (on video) a starry-eyed interviewer who once asked the Dalai Lama what the nature and quality of his (the interviewer's) soul was. The Tibetan adept laughed good-naturedly, with surprise that such a question could be pondered, and said, "I don't know".
This is not to say that Trower simply trudges the ground of simple description, however harrowing or otherwise interesting it may be. Experience these words of his from "The Ghosts":
"like lavender cadavers
in mothballed leather coffins.
Trapped in the old enigma
I drift through the vague rooms
of the house that no one remembers
where one letter comes that is always black."
That is Vallejo-like in its frightening otherwordly reminiscence.
I happened to stumble across an MA thesis on the Web (don't have the link right now) which sheds some biographical light on why Trower may have been left out of the contemporary canon. The gentleman (again, sorry for not recalling the name at the moment) maintained that even though Trower eventually kibbitzed with Acorn, P. Lane, and Purdy, all working-class poets with prominence and received respect, even adoration, he was (and still is) neglected because of the aforementioned "rube" factor. Purdy and Acorn had easily-seen ties to the "common man" (whoever the hell that is), but they could also stud their lines with references to D.H Lawrence, French symbolism, John A. MacDonald, and Trotsky. Funny, I don't remember Thomas Hardy throwing in casual allusion (not that Purdy et al operate that way) to impress. But when it comes to Trower's modus operandi, such a ploy would be inorganic and unneccessarily jarring, and it would deplete the power of first-person grappling with personal experience.
I can't remember the rest of the MA thesis argument on this point, but my own view is that Trower is more of a curiosity than a figurehead -- grudgingly given a little more pull and admiration than initially -- because he entered his best writing years at the wrong time, which is to say when Warren Tallman, George Bowering, and the rest of their nauseous acolytes were gaining favour among their cornered (both physically and authoritatively) students. Trower (of the same geography) is not a composer of metapoetics. Wallace Stevens was a great poet in that line -- his career was based on it -- but it takes a great poet to break foundations and set up his or her own house. When I read other poets' cliquish, clever, half-smirking lines on "the compositional poetic life", I'm more than a little annoyed. It's directly analogous to going to a symphony concert and listening to the conductor regale you in minute detail with how the composer constructed the movements. Play the fucking music already!
Thankfully, Trower knew better. And judging by the response he has received to his live readings (which I've experienced), his listeners and readers do, as well.