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Review of Abraham
From Fred Wah , Books in Canada (May, 1988)

From aleph to Merz

Review of: The Merzbook: Kurt Schwitters Poems by Colin Morton and Abraham by Colin Browne

NOTICE THE ISBNs. [0919627463 and 0919626335] But these two books of poetry share something besides a numerical coincidence and their authors’ first names. Both collections are powerful illustrations of the range of intellect that occasionally still operates in poetry. They document how the poem can still embody the act of knowing, the verb of it, the mind as it makes (poíein). Thus these two books are delightful in the sheer activity of their poetic sensibilities. They are well worth reading simply because the writers value formal risk, gauge mind-language perception, and incur the extent of current poetic composition. […]

Colin Browne’s Abraham also plays off a persona. But the biblical Abraham is used here in some vast plot of the mind as a device through which a narrative poetic process posits and works out the right questions and maybe the right answers. Browne seeks to reconstruct his own, a family, story through the principles of known particulars. That is, he moves from concretion to concretion and the connections get the mind into shape, into narrative — join the dots. What is intriguing about the way Browne does this is how, because it is an oblique process after all, his poetry becomes such a solid track for the imagination’s fragmentations.

The estrangement of the connections in the book is slightly mollified by the glossary. There the reader can see early on the large poetic propositions Browne has chosen to work with. For example, there is the aleph on the cover, which begins a structural run actualized in the alphabetized titles of the poems, the semitic field and hierarchy of names out of Babel, and language as imprinted root of consciousness, to be written, written over, crossed out, even. Such poetry can be heavy going but delightful in its demands on the intellect. The scatter of allusion in the book is primarily Canadian-European, an alphabetting of childhood, the Second World War, the father, boy scouts, cameras, and other “dots”. “Jerusalem” gets to Tzuhalem on Vancouver Island:

Mount Tzuhalem from porch: no rabbit’s foot. Wanting
sublimity. What’s grand looms lowryized, summons nuke.

Though the matrix of image and language is based on a compositional stance of negative capability, some of the strongest poems work keenly on a music. There’s lots of rhythm in the line. The ear gets tone led through some of the difficulties the mind encounters: “Trees & adj., noises’ moises sequaciously reproduced / then cranked. Hoofs, whoops, the like. Local ‘colour’. I”

The skill and intense ardour of the mind at work in both of these books is delightful. The least one can learn from poetry that makes sweet music of the intelligence is that we can still measure, have measure.

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