Articles & Reviews

Broadsheets: review of three poetry books

Maxine Tynes, Borrowed Beauty, Potterfield Press, $7.95.
Kenneth Radu, Letter to a Distant Father, Brick Books/Coldstream, $8.75.
A.R. Kazuk, Microphones, Brick Books/Coldstream, $9.50.

Review by Stephen Morrissey
Canadian Literature, no. 119
winter, 1988

It's too bad that the poetry broadsheet isn't more a part of our publishing tradition in Canada. How much better it would be if poets would publish only their best work, even if just a single poem, than the forty-nine to fifty pages that qualify as "books" according to the Canada Council. For the last fifteen years too many books of poetry have been published every year. Until broadsheets become more popular, or qualify poets for some kind of recognition by the Canada Council, every year we will have to wade through dozens of new poetry books in our search for what will make a lasting contribution to our literature.

A case for a broadsheet instead of a book is Borrowed Beauty by Maxine Tynes. Tynes is a politicized writer but she is not a poet yet; her writing deals overwhelmingly with the consciousness of what it means to be black in a predominantly white society. Unfortunately, she does not present the black experience in emotionally charged situations that might engage the reader's sympathy; her anecdotes tend to be superficially described; at other times her poems are full of rhetoric and, at times, clichéd left-wing propaganda with which she assumes the reader agrees. Some of her work sounds as if it is written to be read before a group of politically like-minded people, but not in front of an audience who know anything about poetry. Her poem "Avec Mes Soeurs, Con Mis Hermanas, With My Sisters" is little more than the propaganda poetry one would expect to hear being read in Cuba or Nicaragua at an Independence Day Rally. Its political generalizations fail to challenge the reader:

your words of blood and struggle
rise and root like trees
in our collective auditorium
hearts and minds
this peace conference night
plush and comfortable
as your words fall like knives
we, too, are Nicaraguan

Tynes's work has an oral quality that emphasizes rhythm over concision, imagery, and emotions; this voice will be missed by those who do not read the poetry aloud. Tynes is a writer with something important to say however, she needs to be more lucid in the articulation of her message.

The title poem in Kenneth Radu's Letter to a Distant Father would also make an excellent broadsheet. It is, a well-crafted poem that meditates on Rudu's discovery that his father, whom he believed dead after the author's childhood escape from an eastern European country at ten years of age, is still alive in a Black Sea hospital. Radu contrasts his present life in a high-tech society with his father's rural existence that seems, not only thousands of miles away, but perhaps centuries distant from today:

Father, remember blue mist seeping
down the moumain range.
explosions of hot sun
against our swarthy cheeks
when we stepped out of the church
of incense and shadows?
I don't go now.
The official who writes
begs respectfully to inform
that you tilt through silentnlenl
corridors as if waiting
for a secret door to open,
that your left arm shakes from palsy.

Radu's poem avoids sentimentality in favour of authentic feeling; the father's ghostlike return is a time for reflection on Radu's own existence, which he shares with the reader as though they were two friends sluing listening to this news together.

The other poems in Radu's book arc also well crafted but some are more artifice than art. "Royal Women" is such a poem; it presents portraits of various women who were either executed or exiled, some along with their fallen royal husbands, but it is more an exercise in writing than an articulation of insight.

It would be more difficult to excerpt a page or two to publish as a broadsheet, from A, R. Kazuk's Microphones, but it could be done. This is a book-length poem that could just as easily, and perhaps to its benefit, be written in prose; indeed, one wonders why this story of an imaginary character, Samson Tull, was written in poetic form at all. The story is about Tull's meeting various other characters, having erotic encounters, joining the police force, killing someone, and finally ending up as Head of Internal Security for the United Nations Building. In addition to all of this, the book is also a video text.

There are two simultaneous narratives in this volume: one, italicized, is a commentary on Tull's activities: the other alternates between a ponderous "poetic" language and the more accessible language of some of the characters. Here is Jésus Niero, Tull's partner, talking:

Man, when I was born my father took me into the hills and cut my warts. Killed a chicken for each one. Like that's why my hands and face look like dried peaches, man, where these scars come from, like why I look so old. I lake after him my father. He smash up a lot of sluts, man, when he alive!

Such "fiction" in poetry failed to hold my interest; I found the language ponderous and tedious when it should have been consistently quick-moving and exciting.

Copyright © 2007 The author