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as if

by E.D. Blodgett

To reimagine the lyric form, one must possess a deep knowledge of its history. E.D. Blodgett, professor emeritus of comparative literature, author of more than 20 books of poetry, criticism, and translation, and recipient of a 1996 Governor General’s Literary Award (for his poetry collection Apostrophes: Woman at a Piano), offers a challenging and transformative journey through space and time, song and breath.

Described as an ars poetica of his Apostrophes series, as if employs subtle shifts of perspective to reinterpret and take measure of the human experience. Syntactically clear and spare in detail, yet philosophically complex, the collection challenges expectations at every turn. The first poem begins in the midst of a thought: “as if by chance a book / had opened on your lap.” Given no sense of the beginning, the reader is cast into an ongoing line of inquiry. Free of pronouncement, the poems speak to the rhythmical flow of the ongoing conversation, “the larger psalm of the earth.”

Trimeter gives the book a timeless, songlike quality, and unrhymed couplets lend it constancy, but Blodgett eschews punctuation and handles line breaks in surprising ways. This has an unsettling and animating effect, heightening the tension throughout. Evocative questions – “is there a memory / beyond what we possess // a memory that speaks / inaudibly to ours” – are considered from various angles, the surrounding allusions subtle and seamless. A wondrous description of “how birds come slowly home” leads the reader into a consideration of grace. Variations on the idea of the harvest serve as a refrain and hark back to Genesis. The image of “the fall of one leaf” alludes to falling leaves in Dante’s Inferno, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Homer’s Iliad.

These poems invite subsequent readings and contemplation. The book’s dedication – TIBI (Latin for “to you”) – perhaps addresses those poets who came before. It suggests, too, that the book is meant for anyone curious enough to seek life’s deeper meaning. Graceful and unified, as if is a profoundly stirring, richly rewarding experience.