Review of Baby Grand by Guy Birchard (Nairn Publishing House, 1979), Lependu by Don McKay (Nairn Publishing House, 1978), There Go The Cars by John Pass (Sesame Press, 1978) and Poems by Doug Beardsley and Charles Lillard (Islomane Press, 1979)
I want to call attention to two little books from Nairn Publishing House in Ilderton, Ontario (near London), but I notice that they’ve been reviewed in the November issue of Books in Canada, usually the last place one would look for a competent poetry review. The books are Lependu by Don McKay, who wrote Long Sault, and Baby Grand by Guy Birchard, his first book. I agree with August Kleinzahler about each of these collections which throws me into a dilemma. With the paucity of poetry reviewing in this chicken-hearted country, I almost feel that I should point you to the November Books in Canada and give two more books a chance. Reading Birchard is like walking into a fence corner of juicy, tantalizing brambles and pushing deeper because you prefer to taste the blood the thorns tap. Birchard collages archaic usage with movie slang in the most amazing ways; his humour is dark and humid, his eye never glazed. In a way, both McKay and Birchard write what I call accusatory poetry. Lependu, in fact, is the accuser. The book chronicles his night flights and possessions. Lependu is the Lord of the Dance, and the “Ballade du Pendu” is a whirling gallows reel which almost spins you off the everyday flat earth. Wheeze it out loud. My favourite is the final poem in the book, “True Confessions: a phrenology for the antlered man”, a long transformation from hanged man to antlered man which really works, and you’ll know what I mean when you read it.
The other two books, Poems and There Go The Cars, tend to be what I’d call self-accusatory. I think that what I mean by this indefensibly obscure terminology has to do with the very nature of poetry urself. [sic] Beardsley, Lillard, and, to some extent, Pass, assume that the subject (objectified) of the poems is that forest out there in the bush, all those fat sticks pushed into the earth. When they write they compare their personal or domestic order with the perceived order of the fat sticks. Sometimes their order wins, sometimes the fat sticks win. Much hay can be made of this. I call this method self-accusatory. Self-accusatory poetry is meditative and confessional; accusatory poetry plays the devil’s advocate and leads us beyond ourselves. Accusatory poetry is active, and assumes that the fat sticks exist nowhere but in the forest of the imagination, challenging us to enter it.
[continues with review of other books]