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Friday, April 04, 2008

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #341- Douglas LePan: Far Voyages


In a piece published by Arc Poetry Magazine, Douglas LePan was one of 13 "Lost and Found Poets." Contemporary poets and critics set out to help us remember some of Canada's forgotten greats.

Lepan won Governor General Awards for poetry in 1953 (The Net and The Sword) and also for fiction in 1964 (The Deserter) but was still making waves in 1990 when he published Far Voyages, a book of love poems addressed to a man, a much younger man at that.

While the book is often thought of as a gay book, it is a book about love and from a heterosexual standpoint, I found it easy to forget that any particular orientation was implied. From "Falcons Fly Heavenward":

Going into action, a soldier may take out his life and set it to one
side (as you might take off a watch and lay it on a table) in
the hope of picking it up again, if all goes well, when the
battle is over

[...]

So we shed one after another aspects of our selfhood, knowing
they are safe in each other's keeping, knowing that
afterwards we can pick them all up again, the regalia of an
immaculate restoration.

I like this idea of love; not one of dependence but of trust. You know you can survive without another, but would rather not. Of course, in some of the more erotic pieces, the orientation is a little more obvious. In "Second Growth," images of transmission towers, sunflowers, trees, and limbs are suggestive, though there's never anything raunchier or more blatant than that.

At best LePan is reminiscent of Pablo Neruda, especially the way he uses geography to discuss love: at times it's a backdrop, at times it's a metaphor, at times it's both. In "A Map With New Provinces" LePan writes,

"Your sides sloping away beneath my hands
are another world with provinces of delight
sweet with the suave washes of a coloured map"

At worst, I found some of the poems rambling and dull. Occasionally he'd utter such phrases as "It's a little the same, but not quite" and while the non-commitment might make it seem somewhat conversational in tone, to me it just made those particular poems drag.

I also found them a little elitist at times, filled with the usual classical references to Greek mythology, European landmarks and such that anyone with a quality education would surely understand. Blah. And likewise with the stock words that only poets seem to use: gossamer, ephemeral, and I believe there may have been an ethereal stuck in there somewhere.

Perhaps an offensive thought, but I think Far Voyages was best when LePan didn't act his age.

2 comments:

TadMack said...

Some really interesting imagery - thanks for the introduction to yet another poet!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a good idea to showcase poets that we should know but most of us have not heard of. Not me, anyway.

I too like the idea of love as an expression of trust, of enhancing one's existence. As long as the poet doesn't go getting all ethereal on us.