Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reader's Diary #270- Malcolm Ross (editor): Poets of the Confederation (FINISHED)

I'm beginning to think that I'm a much tougher sell on old poetry than on new poetry. I'm sure there are plenty traditionalist out there who scoff at a lot of new stuff, but I have to say that I for one, am glad a lot of the stuffiness has been removed. Maybe it's just a matter of poetry keeping pace with the language (though I've yet to see a poem with LOL in it).

Of the four poets in this particular collection, I liked two of them. Charles G. D. Roberts had his charm, but my favourite of the lot was Duncan Campbell Scott. He seemed the most adventuresome, trying out a variety of forms and themes rather than strictly adhering to the sonnet and finding one's soul in the stars (yawn). I really enjoyed his more narrative poems usually about first nations characters. I also found he experimented a little more. One poem entitled "Powassan's Drum" for instance, begins with the line "throb-throb-throb-throb-" and repeats these four words throughout. Risk taking should always be a part of poetry and I doubt any of the other poets in the collection would have tried it.

Archibald Lampman was one of those poets who seemed a little more hung up on conventions. On of these is the overuse of the Petrarchan or Italian Sonnet. I don't know why the rhyme scheme (ABBA ABBA CDC CDC) doesn't work for me. Take the first four lines of "Death",

I like to stretch full-length upon my bed,
Sometimes, when I am weary body and mind,
And think that I shall some day lie thus, blind
And cold, and motionless, my last word said.

For some reason, though I can clearly make out the rhyme scheme on the page, my brain doesn't connect the two A's, in this case, "bed" with "said". I don't know if I'm just not reading it right, I can't get the rhythm or what, but there seems to be too many words in between to allow for any flashback, any jumping the synapse.

I also noticed how often these poets personified nature; "the pensive woods", "the lilies asleep in the the forest", and so on. Is it just me or was this more common back then? One of the things I appreciated recently about Karl Sturmanis's poetry was that he more often applied nature's characteristics to us rather than the other way around. Something about the other way seems a little egocentric, like the world revolves around us. I'd rather think we were animals than vice versa.


Allison said...

I'm very much the other way around, its harder for me to fall for recent poetry, I expect more from it, and could be that I'm not reading the right stuff, but I find it few and far between.

John Mutford said...

Must have been the mood I was in Allison. I don't stick by that statement at all today. Of the poems I don't like from long ago, it's just for different reasons than the contemporary ones that I dislike. In retrospect I probably like an equal number (if not more) poems written pre-1950 than those written since. When does contemporary begin?