Articles & Reviews

Review of three poetry books

Poems Released on a Nuclear Wind
Allan Cooper
Pottersfield Lake: Pottersfield Press, 1987
79 pages, $7.95

Open Fires
Blaine Marchand
Perth: Anthos Books, 1987
59 pages, n.p.

Evolution in Every Direction
Brian Brett
Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 1987
72 pages, $8.95

Review By Stephen Morrissey
Poetry Canada CHRONICLES
Volume 10, No. 3
fall 1989

The title of Allan Cooper's book, Poems Released on a Nuclear Wind, is unfortunate as it does not accurately describe the poems contained in the book. These are not the poems of an activist who opposes nuclear arms (although Cooper would probably subscribe to that philosophy). Instead, they are poems that deal primarily with solitude and a sense of oneness with nature.

Cooper's response to nature is essentially mystical; in his solitude he is "watching for the light that shines from the center of all things." These poems are the expression of a solitary person's relationship with nature; unfortunately, there is also a disquieting absence of human relationships, except for several poems about Cooper's daughter.

Because these poems do not deal much with relationship, what is left are descriptive poems that tend to become tedious. What personal insights can we attain in solitude that might help us live as better people in society? The answer, in Cooper's work, is rejection of the outside world. For Cooper,

There is the longing
to give everything away,
until all that I have left
is what is essential.

This is the mystic's vision: the desire to face ultimate reality. But Cooper is being too limited when he writes that "Everything / is inward / and divine." "Inner" and "outer," "divine" and "secular," these are all distinctions created by the mind; someone like Mother Teresa sees the divine in all people and works to help them realize their divinity. I am not suggesting that Cooper leave his solitude and move to Calcutta; but I am suggesting that solitude can easily become escape from the world and may be at the expense of one's spirituality.

While Allan Cooper seeks solitude, Blaine Marchand, in Open Fires, writes about the world of relationships and society. "Morning Glories" is written in the first person and describes the feelings and perceptions of an old person as her possessions are auctioned, she leaves her home of many years, and finally, only weeks later, lies in a hospital bed:

Liquid drips into my veins. Sharp twist
of pain scan my side. The morning sun
squints on the casing of the tube
that runs from my arm to the bottle.
On a tiny screen a pale green thread.
I am parched as the earth after weeks without rain.

Death is also the subject in "The Place of God"; in this poem it is an old man who is dying in a hospital:

"Praise the Lord,"
his voice rising from the sepulchre of his body.
"Praise the Lord,"
his grip on the railings
as sure as the angels on the rungs of the ladder
in Jacob's dream.

Marchand's concern as a poet is with "The human heart, / distant from its source, / verging toward demise." His poetry attempts to sensitize the reader to the things of the heart. In a series of poems about Africa, his sympathies are with the oppressed. This is one of the admirable qualities of Marchand's poetry and because of it Open Fires is a book worth reading.

Evolution in Every Direction, by Brian Brett, is a collection of short prose poems. The title prose poem is by far the best in the book; it describes a fishing expedition that culminates in an epiphanous moment:

The moon poured its silver on us; we were
unearthly figures by the fire, throwbacks, savages
from another time devouring the flesh of the sea.
And I was wilder than any... My hand, evolved from a
finny protuberance by centuries of mutation, seemed
strange; and I knew my green eyes glowed in the dark.
Yes, I was wilder than any, I was the sorcerer, the
land-walking belly-slitting father of the sharks.

Brett's work is surrealistic, dream-like, and evokes a feeling of the extraordinary in everyday life. There is also a melodious song-like quality to some of his writing. Throughout the work commonplace things assume mythic proportions and the reader must look anew at reality.

There is a danger of becoming trite in this type of writing. "Since you left, I can only grow a garden full of tumours" fails to move the reader; it is a parody of the best writing in Brett's book. There are fortunately only a few lines like this but even a few are enough to mar the high quality of the rest of me book.

With vivid imagery Brett is able to make the most mundane things in life seem interesting and beautiful, although it is not beauty itself he is usually describing but the world of shadows, darkness, and deeply felt emotions.

Copyright © 2007 The author