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Monday, March 20, 2006

Reader's Diary #56- Greg Cook: Love From Backfields (up to "An Altar For Loneliness")


Again, I'm about to say the hell with my counter and pick a book most of my potential readers have probably never heard of. According to the fine print on the inside cover Love From Backfields was a limited edition of 1000 copies, by Breakwater in 1980. I hadn't even heard of Greg Cook before, let alone this book. However, the library at the school I teach in was giving away discarded books and I'm a sucker for poetry, especially Canadian poetry, especially Atlantic Canadian poetry.

So far I'm enjoying it a little. It's got a lot of themes that I can only describe as "innocent cruelty" which I find interesting. "Backyard History" is probably the best example of this, especially in its descriptions of kids torturing animals sometimes just for kicks. It's real- probably too real for some- and he doesn't seem to judge the kids as much as humanity itself.

At times, Cook relies heavily on stock responses. Occasionally this doesn't work and to me, the poems come off just chiched; for example, in "Bad Name" he sets up the poem as being about indian reservations and then at the end uses "reservation" to refer to a reluctance. I appreciate that "reservation" has different meanings but for me his exploration of it seems a little insulting to a reader- a condescending implication that had Cook not pointed out the alternate meanings, readers would not have gotten it.

However, sometimes his poems are cliched with good reason. For instance, in "Love Moving Through Backfields" he needs us to have some familiarity (and nostalgia for) such childhood experiences as holding a buttercup to someone's chin, or demanding that a grasshopper gives you molasses. Without stock responses to these "memories" we wouldn't really understand the motive behind the love-making that ensues later. The couple seems so happy to be recapturing their youth that their happiness spills over into each other.

It's poems like "Love Moving Though Backfields" that makes me wish I had a poetry discussion group, because I can't quite decide if I like the ending or not. After spending a day together making dandelion chains, plucking "she loves me/ she loves me not" petals from daisies and so forth, a couple makes loves to one another amongst the pine needles and the poem ends with the lines "The burdock dentist knows no distance/ greater than the purple sob." While I didn't get the "burdock dentist" I thought "purple sob" surely described ejaculation and with such word choice as "sob" and "distance", I thought it was Cook's way of pinpointing when the moment was effectively ruined. Suddenly, with the finality of their "adult" act, they are aware of their distance from their youth. Though, I still wasn't fussy on the lines. The whole "purple sob" to me seemed a little too much like frat-house humour- almost like a missing line from Monty Python's "The Penis Song". I don't know, maybe the word "purple" itself is just too silly sounding a word to be used in a serious poem. Looking up the word "burdock" it becomes clear that "purple" is used to describe the literal setting as well, but as for the "dentist" I'm at a complete loss. Any takers?

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