Review of Lependu
From August Kleinzahler , Books in Canada, November 1979

The world well limned

Review – Lependu and Baby Grand

Deep-Tap Tree, by Alexander Hutchison

Lependu, by Don McKay

Baby Grand by Guy Birchard

HERE ARE THREE books of poetry you’re unlikely to buy your old auntie in Sudbury for Christmas. And that’s a pity, because the old girl would have a winter of delight digging into these splendid and unlike collections. What they have in common, however, is rich, carefully orchestrated movement, sharp detail, and strength of vision – that is, a way of looking at and through the world that is hard-won, not manufactured or teased up in the hot house environment of creative-writing courses.

Alexander Hutchison’s Deep-Tap Tree is the most polished and ambitious of the three books. A Canadian whose roots are in northern Scotland…

Lependu is Don McKay’s third book and no easy matter to discuss in a few words. Let us say that it is about phrenology and London, Ont. Or perhaps better, Death in London, Ont.:

                        le flu
is dicing my mind through the switchboard
at London Life is renting my nerves
for the first class fire prevention system
at the University of Western Ontario. I’ll be
preternaturally alert, abstract
a veritable oignon pour

                                  le chef inconnu
le flu du pendu

The problem is saying what McKay’s work is about is part of the pleasure in reading or listening to it. His work is constantly in motion; nothing is static. Lependu is, after all, about Lependu in London, and you will have no doubt about that after reading the book.

And speaking of jazz, if Guy Birchard played tenor sax he would go way out on the limb where only delicate-footed birds dare perch. He likes to let his syntax roam, and if you’re accustomed to some sleepy combo you’ll have one bloody time keep up with Birchard. Speaking of birds:

The owl said, Stay
cool and neighbourly. No need
scared impatience, no need for warmth.
Love’s away but alive. Too high
a profile and people will clip
your wings

the way they
split the magpie’s tongue to teach it
to speak. It flies away angry
spitting blood, saying nothing.

Baby Grand, Birchard’s first book, is a wee book indeed, only about 30 pages. On the other hand, if you read it properly, you will be spending more time with it in the end than with the collected works of James Michener.

And just think, these three guys are wandering around Canada right now – alive, well, and with their books eminently for sale.

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