Alden Nowlan – Greatness in Poetry

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Alden Nowlan is one of those poets whom I never got to meet, and always wish I’d been able to do so.

I first saw one of his poems when I was in high school. And as with that poem, his other poems: they always evoke, a ‘yes!,’ about honesty and the truth of things. Always memorable. You’ll find them repeating themselves at the least expected moments.
The poem that first struck me was his ‘Aunt Jane.’

Aunt Jane

Aunt Jane, of whom I dreamed the nights it
thundered,
was dead at ninety, buried at a hundred.
We kept her corpse a decade, hid upstairs,
where it ate porridge, slept and said its prayers.

And every night before I went to bed
they took me in to worship with the dead.
Christ Lord, if I should die before I wake,
I pray thee Lord my body take.

 

©Alden Nowlan

Just to be sitting in your own world and to have 8 lines smack you awake out of the blue, away from your concerns and take you to revelation so quickly, so easily, and with such delight – amazing.

But Alden has many, many poems of the kind that do so – surprising in their humility, strength and understanding. His are the works you could carry in a small book with you and find sustaining every time you looked.
He covers history, patriotism, and more all in a beautiful way.

One other:

Canadian January Night

Ice storm: the hill
a pyramid of black crystal
down which the cars
slide like phosphorescent beetles
while I, walking backwards in obedience
to the wind, am possessed
of the fearful knowledge
my compatriots share
but almost never utter:
this is a country
where a man can die
simply from being
caught outside.

©Alden Nowlan

 

Brilliant work.

And from Alden Nowlan, Selected Poems

A Poem About Miracles

Why don’t records go blank
the instant the singer dies?
Oh, I know there are explanations,
but they don’t convince me.
I’m still surprised
when I hear the dead singing.
As for orchestras,
I expect the instruments
to fall silent one by one
as the musicians succumb
to cancer and heart disease
so that toward the end
I turn on a disc
labelled Götterdämmerung
and all that comes out
is the sound of one sick old man
scraping a shaky bow
across and out-of-tune fiddle.

 

©Alden Nowlan

These poems of Alden’s are a few of the good, and representative of his best. You need the book to even begin to get an awareness of his greatness.
Robert Frost may be more well known, but for me Alden wins the laurels.

© Dean J. Baker

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Patrick Lane, a great Canadian poet – and his poem, Legacies

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Patrick Lane, a great Canadian poet. In the tradition of Al Purdy, and Charles Bukowski for those who are unfamiliar with great Poetry. The designation I use – the Canadian part, anyway – to specify country of origin.

Of course as to great and to a degree greatly unremarked poets except or even including within the country of their origins I would have to also mention Kenneth Patchen, whose book The Journal Of Albion Moonlight is not strictly poetry yet is poetry at the core. Something along the lines of Louis Ferdinand Celine‘s Journey To The End Of The Night, or his great Death On The Installment Plan. A few books, along with Djuna Barne‘s Nightwood and a few of Anais Nin‘s, with Blaise Cendrar’s ought to be de rigeur reading ( especially so his Moravagine).

Now of course these have nothing directly to do with Patrick Lane, but they are indicative of what greatness inspires in the fact of a joyful association and the discoveries made along the way.

One of his poems from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane

Legacies

I’m smoking one of his cigars tonight
after this one
there’s only one left
a pack of cigars
Remington shaver
swagger-stick from the First War
and nothing else
legacies from the old man.

Once in all his eighty years
I saw him – father of my father,
forbear
passing my father to me
in one sudden moment
of a prairie night
begat
begat

and I sit here and smoke his cigar tonight
while I clean his earthly hairs
from the razor
sit and smoked
sit and consume legacies

© Patrick Lane

  • and that is just the first page…

Aslo, you might take note of his memoir – What The Stones Remember: A Life Rediscovered of which a few comments are:

“To read this book is to enter a state of enchantment.”—Alice Munro

“Patrick Lane has written a memoir of heartbreaking struggle that manages to be beautiful and encouraging, finding anchorage in what was once called Creation, the natural world and its unstinting promise of renewal.”—Thomas McGuane

“A tough, lovely book.”—Margaret Atwood

So do look for his work, and enjoy a great Canadian poet. Patrick Lane. Take note that there is even a book where 55 poets celebrate his work: https://www.amazon.com/Because-You-Loved-Being-Stranger/dp/1550171011

© Dean J. Baker

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Poets & Poetry

Part One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would help to know what poetry isn’t before any declaration is made regarding exactly what poetry is, has been, and may become.

Poetry is not attitude, nor advertisement. It is not the approximation of a recognizably magical moment captured in one frieze of a combination of attitude, a mythical fancy, nor an established attitude limning on the page what is apparently or realistically poetical.
The first is a pose, dangerous in that it represents itself as poetry whereas the real poetry is of a whole, not an imitation, derived from abused elements that have established themselves as tools of the trade of the art of poetry.
That of course is where the attitude has greatly substituted for the art.

Real poetry will result from the poet gorging on the classics; assume the essence of such as its own, and through a passionate breath of love for the rhythm and the intellect in such art allow for the true voice of the poet to be discoverable. The resultant poetry may arise as much as a surprise to the poet as to the reader, otherwise there’d always be the possibility of intellect overwhelming the creation of art.

Poetry is of course an art. Something often dismissed by the fact that at this time and for a long while now it has been assumed as a cloaked attitude by the same ‘writers’ who once stuck to the creation of what were referred to as ‘nurse novels.’
The problem with stating that poetry is an art is that you will confront the stuck-up moralizing fragments of dusty academics who are as far from the reality of poetry as a coroner is from life. They will confront you with lies about poets who lived ordinary lives, were accountants, etc., without also noting that these people were the exceptions.

There will even be ‘poets’ who have somehow – through connections of those wanting to build a sense of personal power – been granted status academically, or in a literary life, unassociated with a realistic assessment of their work.
These will be the neighborhood articulates about whom you will hear other ordinaries commenting that likely they’re merely educated idiots.

This alone can result in a ‘beat poet’ moment where you want to tear off the suit and tie and run away to who knows what, catching the rhythmic notion of Mexico City Blues like Kerouac. And many have done so.
However that place of the Mexico City Blues, celebrated by such music poets as Bob Dylan, and Allen Ginsberg, is not a destination (see ‘Ithaca’ by C.P. Cavafy), but a resultant melding of place and metaphor, from and to which the artist later known as Kerouac to the public arrived without a notion of such. His journey was honest.

The only way an attitude of taking the same journey – almost – can be honest is if the poet or writer is well aware of doing such a thing to contrive a similar sense of discovery, combined with the fact that if they will lose themselves in it what they will discover about it will be themselves, with far different results of the same ‘blues’ since time and its changes will have made it so.
Central to such a journey would be such a poet’s own passion and talent. Some will arise out of genuine being, some out of a mixture of authenticity, and artificiality or attitude.
Only the resultant work will prove what is true poetry, or not.

This is where the mythos of the poet, which can serve as a necessary impulse for the real poet, must be separated from the contemporary poetic attitude.

However, let’s not forget that poetry is ultimately about poetry, in a sense. First, it is about the life of the poet. It may be a rich life as Shelley briefly enjoyed, or a poor life as many minor and major poets have had since. Rich and poor financially, anyway. Poetry is untouched by such things, though the ease or impediment of producing poetry is heavily influenced.

Poetry is not what a contemporary and well known poet has said about producing poetry as a result of poetry. That may be the case for him in his portraitures, and stance as a poet. But his stating it to be so without making the effort of distinguishing how and why he says so is simply a lazy cynicism. And a self-justification for an awareness of a lack of greatness, and thus a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He writes as though poetry entered into existence and went out with both the beginning and end of his own work.

Poetry is an informed and learned enjoyment, an enlightenment, and a passion as discoverably brought into being by observation as it is a celebration of the most ordinary, the most different, and the forever unique where all boundaries of discipline and knowledge result in that art of poetry. I might label all of Jackson Pollock’s works as a statement of Poetry, to illustrate this.

This illustrates where poetry began, and how it continues.
With that open mouth of darkness closing in, that vision of beauty if nature, people, and a greater aspect of civilization.
And how it is learned – absorbed – through the passionate embrace of great poets’ works: more than willingly, since these are the real forbears and ancestors of the poet.

Poetry is freedom to create and recreate worlds, and the world.

It is the responsibility of the poet. Thus, the next question would be: what is the poet.

©Dean Baker

-excerpt from https://www.amazon.com/Poetry-How-Gets-That-Way/dp/1508737525

https://www.amazon.com/Dean-J.-Baker/e/B00IC6PGQM

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Poetry & How It Gets That Way – Poetry has been an essential art in history and is in danger of being trivialized into extinction.
Several seminal events in recent literary history are detailed in illustrating how poetry is not merely an adjunct to history and culture but can elucidate, influence and in changing perspective alter those same events and deeds.
Find out more in this treatise more sociologically descriptive than academically oriented.

http://www.amazon.com/Dean-J.-Baker/e/B00IC6PGQM

 

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How I Didn’t Meet Al Purdy, or Spiritually Canadian

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The great poet Al Purdy – being Canadian he is generally ignored, although not so specifically by anyone truly familiar with English literature – being a combination of poetical qualities seen in Leonard Cohen, Patrick Lane, Walt Whitman, Charles Bukowski, Irving Layton, William Carlos Williams, etc., etc., has always had qualities in his work that I’ve admired; not merely due to the work itself, but as aforementioned also due to the associations that rang true in the work of other writers of equal and lesser lights that I either read and/or knew.

That he knew the writers and their works was due to a manoeuver of deciding to gather different anthologies together, along with accompanying readings at various times as well as frequenting various shitholes passing themselves off as taverns in and around Cabbagetown, Toronto – and other areas. A not totally unfamiliar habitat of many other artistic devotees as well.

What Al could do in his work seemed effortless, not artless – yet even with an artistic finger in a metaphorical eye there was a general sense of grace in his accomplishment – that may have been seen to be less of a literary punch than what his friend and mine, Irving Layton, was known to lean towards (an attitude that cost him readers who most would have benefitted from persevering past such a thing).
In this, to a degree, he could be likened to P.K.Page with associations through with Gwen MacEwen, John Newlove, and others.

What Al did accomplish in his work and still does, without being present here on earth physically, is the transformation of the weary ordinariness of everyday things into wonder, and by the act of creating into poems of a common sense transformation: he took the observable without the tripe of scholarly interference designed to embroider an academic or intellectual pretense onto the work and made it in such a manner that the work stood as truly classic, great and unique.
Work that is a wonder, that is spiritually and uniquely Canadian: without the designation as such being hijacked by so-called scholars, academics and jealous Midianites.

Al had the calm center of a true poet, born to his creations – and in the process becoming and thus creating something greater.

There wasn’t a false sense of needing to achieve an aim with a perspective on reception by the USA, British traditions, nor Israeli-diasporic involvements. Though well aware of such things and writers and poets in the midst of those interests, he absorbed and transformed these as well.

(He knew his Classics as well, as I found out at another time we spoke when I mentioned at 17 I had buzzed off high school to go to the University of Toronto library to investigate, through my passion for my high school Latin and poets, and Greek writers, a comparison of early Greek and Modern Greek side-by-side as I did some likely passable translations of the two, and ran into John Robert Columbo, though we did not speak).

Why I’m writing this is due to the fact that something someone said recently – could have been myself out talking to the trees around here – reminded me of how I came to know other poets than Irving Layton, whose work I read in high school, along with John Newlove’s (and of which we talked), and whom I decided one day I’d meet, but after the fact of finally seeing there’d be a poetry reading at York University where John would be reading, along with Joe Rosenblatt, and Francis Sparshott.

Woo! and wow. Got up to the northern wilds of Toronto, walked all-round the halls looking for the location, came around a corner suddenly, and there were those three in lock-step coming towards me.
Internally I was shocked, but outside, cool.
Maybe more than so, as I recognized them but still said, “I can’t find the room where the poetry reading is. Maybe you guys could direct me?”
John Newlove spoke up: ”Well, we are going there.”
Then Joe Rosenblatt, “Yeh, come with us.”
And the procession proceeded with Francis Sparshott looking a bit taken-aback, John saying a few things, and Joe and I mostly going back and forth until we got to the room and it was left at the fact we’d talk after the reading.

Sweet deal for me I thought. I’d published some poems in Canadian literary magazines, England, Australia, Italy, etc, and a bunch in the USA, but had no photo out, so to them I was I’d guess a very interested reader.

Upshot of this particular to what I’m writing here is that one day out of the blue my phone rang and a sort of gruff, but welcoming voice rang out: “Is this Dean Baker?”
“If this isn’t the cops, it is. Who’s this?”
“This is Al Purdy, I got your number from Joe.”

Thus went the time I didn’t meet Al Purdy, and many more besides.

Do yourself a favor, really get to know his work. You’ll thank him later.
(And hey, don’t neglect the others: John Newlove, Irving Layton, Patrick Lane, Milton Acorn, Ted Plantos, Joe Rosenblatt, P.K. Page, Gwen MacEwen, Bill Bissett, etc., etc.) Later on I got to meet and know Milton Acorn, Gwen MacEwen (picked up adverts for her memorial from Michael Ondaatje at his house down the street from hers; and met her and Judith Merrill, and Marian Engel – with whom we spoke about her book Bear, among other things)

©Dean J. Baker

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Sweetness – by Stephen Dun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ….

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
© 1989 by Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn, “Sweetness” from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. Copyright © 1989 by Stephen Dunn.

A truly great poet – with  any number of fine books to choose from.

©DeanJBaker

 

Fishnet by Robert Lowell

 

 

 

 

Any clear thing that blinds us with surprise,
your wandering silences and bright trouvailles,
dolphin let loose to catch the flashing fish. . . .
saying too little, then too much.
Poets die adolescents, their beat embalms them,
The archetypal voices sing offkey;
the old actor cannot read his friends,
and nevertheless he reads himself aloud,
genius hums the auditorium dead.
The line must terminate.
Yet my heart rises, I know I’ve gladdened a lifetime
knotting, undoing a fishnet of tarred rope;
the net will hang on the wall when the fish are eaten,
nailed like illegible bronze on the futureless future.

©Robert Lowell

-excerpt from The Dolphin

Just read the first two lines and know that is not only about poetry but also about how
poetry in the world is recognizable, and the contrary is true: what isn’t poetry is known as well.

The brilliant use of metaphor matched with the physical aligning into discovery: how important poetry is when with only a few lines
endless senses of intellect, art, and personal renewal can be seen and pursued in a manner that the world itself would never allow, and thus must be and remain an object of delight and study,
because in that moment of poetry where the lines resound the reader is forever altered.

For those interested in literary trivia, ‘Dolphin’ is the nickname by which Lowell would often refer to his wife.

Fitting then that I came across this volume and others I relate to it such as For Lizzie And Harriet,   Day By Day and History among others of Lowell’s great works.

©Dean J. Baker

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The Canadian Authors Meet by F. R. Scott

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Expansive puppets percolate self-unction
Beneath a portrait of the Prince of Wales.
Miss Crotchet’s muse has somehow failed to function,
Yet she’s a poetess. Beaming, she sails

From group to chattering group, with such a dear
Victorian saintliness, as is her fashion,
Greeting the other unknowns with a cheer—
Virgins of sixty who still write of passion.

The air is heavy with Canadian topics,
And Carman, Lampman, Roberts, Campbell, Scott,
Are measured for their faith and philanthropics,
Their zeal for God and King, their earnest thought.

The cakes are sweet, but sweeter is the feeling
That one is mixing with the literati;
It warms the old, and melts the most congealing.
Really, it is a most delightful party.

Shall we go round the mulberry bush, or shall
We gather at the river, or shall we
Appoint a Poet Laureate this fall,
Or shall we have another cup of tea?

O Canada, O Canada, O can
A day go by without new authors springing
To paint the native maple, and to plan
More ways to set the selfsame welkin ringing?

©F.R.Scott

Frank Scott has many fine poems, but this one I think applies not only to Canadian authors…

©Dean J. Baker

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