The town of Baysville in the Muskoka region represents for London poet John Donlan the creative, questing source of life.
These poems tap into that energy which underlies all of our human existence; thus, when one reads this work, all sorts of connections and recognitions come to mind.
The structure of the poems is tight – akin to the sonnet. In Donlan’s last book Domestic Economy (Brick Books, 1990), the poems were fashioned into strict quatrains. This submission to specific forms does not limit nor make routine the ideas, observations, and feelings; rather it frees and emboldens Donlan.
In the coda to his new book, Donlan includes Wildwood Machine, one of the poems closest to the sonnet (minus the rhyme scheme), and then two works, Grief and One Of Us, which explode the form he has set for himself. The effect is exhilarating.
All of the poems, except those in the coda, are dated and are presented in chronological order. This is a tremendous way to appreciate the changes through time that thought and imagination have wrought upon the poet. Baysville is a record, from October, 1988, through June, 1992, of Donlan’s many concerns, loves, and fears.
The poem Shield delves into the sad ecosystem of the planet, but Donlan brings it home to us: “Look – rhino-horn dust; / and just the cleverest carving / in ivory; mahogany napkin-rings;/ plenty of hot water heated by power/projects translated from the Cree / and other former residents of James Bay.”
Window of Opportunity records the grief of separation and divorce from a loved one (What we’re left with is us …”) and the pain in observing others: “On a lawn a mom and kids haloed in sun:/ it looks like a stone paradise. It must be. And/ love’s rope joins this weight to another, spinning/ like an Argentine bola to bring us down,/ running on empty, crying, driving home.”
However difficult life may be for the poet, he can renew himself with a revelatory diving into the waters of Lake of Bays. A collection to be read and reread, Baysville charts the assured growth and maturity of John Donlan as a poet.