After reading Fraser Sutherland's preface to these selected poems ("The Matuschka Case") wherein "the poems represent the core of my poetic preoccupations over several decades", I was more than a little disappointed to enter the first and eponymous entry. It is very prosy, a news tidbit actually, with a bizarre other-life-manifesto as the last-line payoff (unless I'm completely off-base, and that last line is ironic). Even as prose, it's clumsy in segments, particularly: "it seems to me,/is not the sexual satisfaction part of it".
Imagine my surprise, then, when I continued and found delight after delight. Sutherland is a man after my own heart, someone who not only eschews the single theme, but who is more or less equally adept at the difficult achievement regarding various emotional and intellectual content.
There are too many poems to illustrate these differences in a short review, but a few are worth mentioning:
It's a bold choice to write a poem about the great German lyricist Georg Trakl ("Georg Trakl Visits Chaffey's Locks, Ontario, One Day In Fall"), with its inevitable attraction of comparison and contrast, but Sutherland's own effort is a delightful tribute ("in the goldrip maples sundered angels,/ their leaves bleeding bread./ Stripped trunks were purifying agony,/agonizing purity.")
Another bold poem is styled as a repugnant first-person sadist, ("Phoning"), a particularly welcome addition in contemporary poetry, where many authors (first-person or not) beseechingly attempt to convince us of their spiritual attunement. And the tone of conversational ease is perfect in affecting the contrasting horror.
Too dark? Sutherland can shift gears delightfully. "Whitefaces" is a hilarious portrait of the crushing boredom and "purity" of the Scots/Calvinist lineage. -- ("They add bleach to their wash") -- again, another wonderful antidote to too-often humourless contemporary musings.
The collection has a seductive interplay between lyricism and plain statement, hard-headed world-weary wisdom and emotional reaching out. I'm not privy to the internal machinations of CanLit careers, with their attendant communal support or neglect, but what strikes me as the reason for Sutherland's underrating may have to do with his refusal to toe a particular thematic and/or stylistic line. Pity. He should be more well known.