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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reader's Diary #124- Stuart Godfrey: Night, Light and Half-Light (FINISHED)


Yes, another book no one will read. It's a shame too. Everyone knows the commercial success of poetry books is usually minimal (unless you're Christian Bok), and thus, the shelf-life on those that actually do get published is shorter than that of bologna under fluorescent lights (you might want to trust me on that one). That means that a lot of great poems get overlooked. Thank goodness for libraries and rare book stores.

Stuart Godfrey's Night, Light and Half-Light is one of those books that I'm glad I've had the chance to discover, and that I hope others will dig for as well.

Godfrey has spent large chunks of his life in both India and then Newfoundland. It's the contrasting of these two places that give the book so much appeal. The first section of this book is entitled "Recollections from Early Childhood". It opens with a beautiful poem called "Life Beyond The Irrigation Ditch" in which Godfrey describes a scenes of dung fires burning, old men with hookahs, and dirty children playing. He ends by saying how envious he is because he is not allowed in the servants' compound. With gorgeous word choice, he manages at once to make the servants' world seedy yet somehow desirable. It is implied that by being both off limits and not overly sanitized, it is more authentic to life, probably partly accomplished by mentioning three generations (i.e., women, old men, and grandchildren.)

Skipping forward to the second section, entitled "Newfoundland Revisited" it's almost as if Godfrey was finally allowed to enter the compound. Certainly, he manages to capture that ever common theme of Newfoundland life (the one that mirrors the Indian servants having fun despite it all); and that is having a zest for life amidst poverty and break-breaking labour. The best example of this is in "Cycle of Life" which again mentions the different generations. Here he shows us men building a boat, others gutting fish, an elderly lady kneading bread, and a pregnant woman rocking and knitting. There's a lot of action here that captures the joie de vivre of Newfoundland culture. And of course, the image of the pregnant woman brings hope.

Fortunately, in Godfrey's "crossing over" as it were, he does seem to learn that the hardships are very real and life isn't always hookahs and rocking chairs. "Little White Houses" with its contrast of the title (which suggests the "white picket fence" ideal) against the theme of the poem, i.e., death at sea, its almost a warning to himself to realize the entire truth about peasant living.

But not to sit back on his haunches, the third section is entitled "Protest" and here Godfrey takes up the cause of the downtrodden. Almost as a man maturing. He's idolized the servants, he's realized their hardships, and now he's trying to help them out and alleviate some of the injustices done towards them. Again, these poems are well done. I was skeptical at first. I usually find such poems (such as Milton Acorn's) too direct, overly sentimental and even at times condescending. For the most part, Godfrey steers clear of such pitfalls.

A great collection. If you should happen upon it anywhere, I strongly suggest reading it.

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