Thursday, January 26, 2006

Reader's Diary #20- Percy Janes: Light and Dark (end of Part I)

My first exposure to Percy Janes was through a university course- sociology of families, I believe. In this course we had to read Percy Janes' House of Hate. I don't remember a great deal about the book except that I really enjoyed it and that there was some suggestion that Percy Janes was not happy with the title. I can't remember why exactly, maybe it was too trite, maybe it was a poor summary of the book, who knows? But when I chose to read one of his poetry collections, Light and Dark, I wondered of his opinions on this title. At first glance the title again seems a little cliched, and I thought maybe Harold Cuff Publications slapped the title on it without his say. But after getting this far in, I think the title is more than appropriate.
Conjure up all the connotations about the title as you can.
While you're doing that I'll go on to talk about choosing a book that's no longer in print. I haven't exactly been bombarded with feedback or hits to my site, and picking a book that's not in print isn't exactly going to increase my readers in a hurry. I considered that, but in the end decided that I don't care. It would be nice to have a large following but I'm going to read the books I want to read regardless (the "Mine" in the blog title isn't a typo), and maybe someday if someone finds the book at a secondhand bookstore, or if it's rereleased, someone might wander into to this posting and like (or dislike) what I've said.
Now, thought of all those connotations yet? Good. These poems encompass all of what you've come up with (probably). Think of opposites? Some of these poems are about opposites (ex. "A Walk on the Old Burma Road" explores differences between arts oriented people and labourers). Some of these poems are about the passage of time (ex. "A Bus Ride In St. John's" explores the seasons). Some of these poems are about differences within a single entity; a day (ex. "A Summer Day in St. Thomas"), a city (ex. "Utopia"), or a person (ex. "Poet: 1"). And some of these poems illustrate good and bad. Notice I didn't say "good" and "evil". That's because I haven't yet come across these. Nor did I say the poems were "about" good and bad. What I'm getting at (in a terribly awkward way) is that some of these poems were good and some were bad- in my not-so-humble opinion.
At first, I wasn't sure if any of these poems were good. The last poetry collection I had read was Al Purdy's Rooms For Rent In The Outer Planets and I was a big fan. I loved the story-telling in his mostly narrative poems and Purdy's acerbic wit. Janes' collection by comparison, had hardly any narrative poems (with some exceptions such as "Salvage"), and most replaced bitter humour with overly pretentious word spewing, ex. "South Side Dance" begins with the line "Artesian birth in prediluvian mystery". Now I can almost hear Bob Dylan telling me to not criticize what I don't understand, but these lines hardly seem like hippy thought to me. They seem like someone trying to show off their intellect. And that attitude, which I have to believe was Percy's, is best illustrated in "A Walk on the Old Burma Road". That particular poem is such an egotistical, self-appraising piece that I didn't even want to like the other poems. But some were good. Undeniably.
"Crystal" was one of the good ones. In it Janes employs a form of poetry I haven't seen before. It consists of two stanzas. Each begins with a short line and is followed by increasingly longer lines. It doesn't seem based on syllables or a consistent word number pattern. Does anyone know if this form has a name, or was it Janes' own creation? Whatever it is called, it works in this particular poem. It has a double effect of increasing tension and creating the impression of a revelation, both of which seem to fit with the theme of the poem. Janes uses the form again (but adding a third stanza) in the "A Newfoundland Garden" poem. In this poem, the form doesn't seem to work and for the life of me, I can't figure out why he used it. If anyone's familiar with this poem and has a theory, I'd like to hear it. Still, I enjoyed that latter poem as well, despite the questionable form. However, one poem; "Sunset Over Bell Island" was ruined by the choice of form. In it, Janes seems to take on the role of the learn'd astronomer instead of Walt Whitman. Janes for some bizarre reason described the sunset in a bulky, run-on sentence which just looks too clunky on the page. Shouldn't it be crime for a poet to make a sunset boring? Especially when he is capable of so much more. "Reconciliation", the final poem in Part I, is anything but boring (basically, it's about make-up sex- Right on!)


Anonymous said...

Great entry. I have also read his "Light and Dark" poetry collection and I thought it was fantastic. Percy Janes and I are/were third cousins but I am a little ashamed to say that I am just beginning to read "House of Hate". I just needed to wait for the right time to pick it up.

Anyways, this was an interesting read!

John Mutford said...

It took over two years, but I finally got a response from this post! Thanks, Colette!

Let me know your thoughts on House of Hate.