Poets three: Stillness with Borson, action with Mouré, glosas with Page
Reviewed by Cary Fagan (The Globe and Mail (March 25, 1995))
Review of Night Walk by Roo Borson, The Green World by Erin Mouré and Hologram by P.K. Page
[Begins with reviews of Roo Borson & Erin Mouré]
P.K. Page, who lives in Victoria, was born some 40 years before Borson and Mouré, and her own selected poems were published a decade ago. Hologram contains just 14 poems which employ a 14th-century Spanish form called the glosa. Each begins with a quotation of four lines from another poet. Page then uses one line from the inspiring poet as the last line of each new stanza. There is also a rhyme scheme that plays on the reader’s ear very subtly, as Page uses near rhymes.
Page approaches these poems with an appealing humility, as homages to the poets she is borrowing from and as glosses on their lines. In the introduction she writes of how she wanted to avoid doing mere exercises, but some of these poems do seem only that, if elegant exercises to be sure. Her elaborations on Leonard Cohen’s lines from I Have Not Lingered in European Monasteries seem to point out what a poseur Cohen can be. Nor can her new stanzas match the stark beauty of Robert Graves’s The Vow. Yet even these poems please the reader’s ear (especially when read aloud) with their gentle musical cadences, classic imagery, and easy formality.
But four and five of these poems are wonderful examples of making new from old. In the title poem she draws on the Greek poet George Seferis for a richly imagined description of an early morning view. In Autumn Day she gives us a delicate simile within a metaphor, culminating in a line of Rilke:
The whole world is a cup
one could hold in one’s hand like a stone
warmed by the same summer sun.
But the dead or the near dead
are all now knucklebone.
Whoever is alone will stay alone.
Page turns the necessities of the glosa to surprising advantage. The need to find a rhyme in Poor Bird provides a clever inspiration for turning Elizabeth Bishop’s ever-searching sandpiper into a pointillist artist. Auden makes her think while Dylan Thomas makes her sing. In these few poems she finds a way to speak through other poets and yet to be herself. This book is a delightful love poem to poetry itself.