Articles & Reviews

Review of Victor Coleman's Corrections

Victor Coleman
Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1985

Review by Stephen Morrissey
Poetry Canada Review, Volume 8, No. 1, autumn 1986

Victor Coleman's new book, Corrections, contains the author's "rewriting (of) six of my first nine books." Coleman is a lyrical and innovative poet whose work is like an open diary of his perceptions of his world, his relationships, and also his feelings about himself. It is a curious world he presents; his spiritual and psychological locus is the counterculture of the late sixties and early seventies. The title of Coleman's first book, "One/Eye/Love", suggests something of that innocent time, predating the "Me Generation" and the ego-centric Yuppies of the eighties. Coleman's aesthetic reflects many literary influences; these include: Jack Spicer, the Black Mountain poets, the Beats, W.C. Williams, and others. Here is a poet who has read widely and deeply outside the academic world; the way he has continued and developed these influences makes for intelligent, demanding poetry.

Coleman's work is in some ways a map of the consciousness of a young person growing up in the 1960s in North America. The innocence of the sixties disappears, and what replaces it is indulgence in the freedoms the counterculture explored. Sexual experiences, which are so obviously a vital part of Coleman's poetry, cease to be a manifestation of a loving relationship, and become an experience to be had for its own sake. Coleman is a sensualist, however old fashioned that word may appear; his explorations are not intellectual but experiential, not abstract but concrete, not thinking but feeling. This is perhaps essential for a poet, but Coleman seems to have become trapped in a hedonistic and sensualist world; he is certainly the most sexually descriptive poet in Canada. He writes:

These last nine years I've filled in
one too many hairy holes & now you've gone

* * * *

NO m m m m m
Judy arrives in my arms
turned away by the onrush of semen
hot beside an open window
where trains go by at a regular clip

Another aspect of the time warp the reader passes through in reading Coleman's poetry are his references to the use of drugs; drugs used, perhaps, as a way to "widen the area of consciousness" as Alien Ginsberg once wrote. Today's drugs are "recreational" and self-destructive, not consciousness widening and Utopian as yesterday's drugs were purported to be. "Mescaline/ Summer/ 1968", "Back East, for Alien Ginsberg", and several other poems, show how Coleman has taken various experiences and then transformed them into poetry. But these experiences are from another age, one that seems very distant from our own. Coleman evokes nostalgia for an innocent past that may never have existed. In one poem he writes of "The cold discoloured rooms of our dreams"; it is in this lyricism that we find the best of Coleman's work; unfortunately, by the last book in Corrections this lyricism has disappeared, and one feels that Coleman has accepted a poetry that is sometimes trite and unimaginative. There is an exhaustion evident in Coleman's later poems; the insights have ended and he has become an aging hippie. Coleman writes in the last poem in the book:

Fucking morning noon & night
less at night, too tired

In an earlier book in Corrections Coleman writes:

Gathering pieces of paper together to burn by the sea, my life is a cry, as of uncertain weather

These lines summarize something of Coleman's poetic pilgrimage. His achievement lies in his total honesty and integrity as a poet and this is evident in this major book. In Corrections Victor Coleman gives us his total being; and whether or not one likes what one reads, his writing is an act of courage and creativity.

Copyright © 2007 The author