Thursday, December 07, 2006

Reader's Diary #200- Dorothy Livesay: Ice Age (up to "Winter Ascendant")

Dorothy Livesay was one of those pros. The ones that make it look easy. Unlike many of the other poets I've been reading lately, Livesay never seemed to forget her topic. Many of those in Sounds New, and Diana Brebner, always seemed to be preoccupied with the poem itself; Does it look right? Is it experimental enough? And while I'm not saying such things are irrelevant, it is obvious that many poets lose sight of what they were trying to say in the first place. Yet, Livesay was able to make the mechanics seem secondary; if the message required it, she'd use it, and if not, she didn't force it. And to Peter Van Toorn, editor of Sounds New, transcendence is not a new idea (or sound) of contemporary poetry, it's quickly becoming apparent that it is probably as old as poetry itself.

But I'm getting sidetracked. Ice Age was written late in the life and career of Dorothy Livesay. Maybe that's where her confidence or lack of self-consciousness as a poet came from. And while many of the poems do remind the reader that it is of an older woman looking back (some are written to her grandchildren, for instance) it does not feel old-fashioned or unhip. A favourite is "Widow" which tells of a woman masturbating while remembering her dead husband. She doesn't seem fulfilled at the end, as the loss remains her focus. I'm sure some would cringe at a grandmother writing such a poem, but it's this sort of honesty that makes Livesay's poetry so compelling. Another favourite is "Manifesto" which makes a large jump from murder to music. She talks of a human condition that makes us desire to commit irrational acts, such as murder, and theorizes that perhaps music gets us there without the guilt. It's a very profound piece and I'm still pondering it now, after reading it a dozen or so times.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oh my,I certainly have to check out Manifesto, as I've had those murderous urges myself once or twice. My sister-in-law adores Livesay, but I've never read her poems. Another wrong I must right.

John Mutford said...

I knew if I left this post up long enough I'd get a pity comment. Thanks Barbara! Just kidding. Things have just been insanely hectic with Christmas stuff that blogging has been slow.