Thursday, March 23, 2006

Reader's Diary #58- Greg Cook: Love From Backfields (FINISHED)

After finishing Greg Cook's Love From Backfields I feel somewhat refreshed. It wasn't memorable poetry per se (with the exception of two poems), but I hope his style will rub off a little. I had to reread the bio of Greg Cook on the back cover to remind myself he was an older writer. I'm not saying his writing is juvenile, but he seemed to take chances with his poetry unlike many other established poets who seem set in their ways. While I liked Mary Dalton's Merrybegot for instance, most of her poems were similar to one another in feel. It wouldn't be hard to sense Dalton, or at least a common thread, in every poem. However, Cook's style seems more erratic. At first I found it a little jarring and it seemed at times like he was just trying on hats so to speak. But towards the end, I came to appreciate the unpredictability.

In some poems he tried a narrative approach, in others he went for short epigrams, he changed the perspectives from poem to poem, played with repetition, alliteration and all of those fun devices that poets know but instead settle on using just a few to suit their self-imposed, restrictive styles. Cook's writing is more like your grandma's soup when she adds all of the things in her pantry and one batch is always different than the last.

But on that note, I do want to make clear that despite my praise, there weren't many poems in this collection that will stick with me- in other words I think Cook was on to something, but didn't quite live up to it with Love From Backfields. The two that appealed the most to me were "Love Moving Through Backfields" (as I had mentioned in an earlier posting) and "The Builder and the Trees". The latter is one of the best "happy" poems I have come across in a long time (at least, that's my interpretation of it). It seemed to be an homage to a great step-father and when the definition of family has changed so dramatically over the last 50 years or so, it's nice to see an optimistic look. Heck, it's nice to see an optimistic look at anything in contemporary poetry! Can anyone suggest another example?


Robert Hiscock said...

I can't immediately answer your question, I'm afraid... as few happy contemporary poems flood to mind. I suppose it's a case of it being easier to sit, dwell and write on a sombre issue than a joyous one. I suspect few poets get in a rip-roaring good mood and decide to sit down and explore it. I figure they'd rather go blow up balloons and enjoy the mood... but what do I know?

In any case, the real purpose of this post is to commend you on thrusting some lesser known local poetry into the light. As readers of my writing know, I have more than a soft-spot for Newfoundland art and your NL choices have expanded my knowledge of regional literature. Thanks for that, I've really appreciated the 'head's up' you give about local literature.

You're consistently expanding my 'to read list'.


John Mutford said...

I appreciate the complement, but in this particular case Greg Cook in a Nova Scotian. But Atlantic Canadian literature counts as regional too, I guess.

Robert Hiscock said...

Well, my comment is still generally true, if you ignore the fact that it's mis-placed on this post.

With regards to Cook, obviously he didn't have the good sense to be a Newfoundlander but at least he was wise enough to be published by a local company!