The Poet In Journals – St. Denys Garneau

One of my favorite books from ages ago, The Journal Of St. Denys Garneau which I discovered in a bargain bin at the Coles where Neil Young worked.
I had been frequenting the Champlain bookstore in Toronto, when I first saw a mention of him, picking up books in the European style or French style, uncut pages you had to razor open to read Marie Claire Blais, Anne Hébert(Garneau’s cousin), and others, etc. Which of course led to other readings of Hubert Aquin, Michel Tremblay, etc etc.

All their works were distinguishable from  but inseparable from others such as Marian Engel’s Bear, Miriam Waddington’s poems, Frank Scott’s certainly, or Monique Bosco’s Lot’s Wife.

Favorite because it fit right in with circumstances of thought, countryside and origin (I’d go to read it in solitude in a place near Ottawa, having visited my mother’s birthplace in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec), and the poetic disclosures. The discovery attached to slicing open pages, and translating – since the poems were in French – always felt fresh and new, and I could see what was missed in other translations though John Glassco’s comes closest.

Reminded me that favorites are often due to a time and place, as are poets whose popularity mysteriously decline upon their deaths; similar to the most popular novelists of decades or centuries past whom not many can even recall.

The book lasts for many reasons then, one of which would be the essential self, made bare without being mired in the spectacles which pass for a self these days, through literate and real details as is the case in many of his poems at whatever level they may be taken.

He was as much a denizen of my ‘neighborhood’ of spirits and souls as Shelley, Shakespeare, or reaching back, Archilochus, and Marcus Aurelius.

©Dean Baker

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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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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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