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Beyond This Dark House

by Guy Gavriel Kay

Canny readers can be forgiven for being suspicious of a slim collection of poetry from a successful mainstream novelist in mid-career. Such books are usually either vanity projects, efforts of a publisher to please (and retain) an author with a wandering eye, or some combination of the two. Any reader assuming this of Beyond This Dark House, the debut poetry collection from noted Toronto fabulist Guy Gavriel Kay, risk depriving themselves of a pleasurable reading experience.

The poems in Beyond This Dark House, selected from decades of work, are varied and far-reaching but unified in their skilled presentation and close attention to detail. Ranging from the elegiac to the humorous, from the mythic to the wistful, Kay’s poems are polished gems, the product of an artisan rather than the dabblings of a dilettante.

The opening poem, “Night Drive: Elegy,” which follows an autumn drive through Winnipeg neighbourhoods and into the narrator’s past, sets the mood of the collection – twilit, solitary, and infused with longing. Throughout the book, lovers meet or part or yearn for one another across continents and time. Friends, family, and lovers die. Beyond This Dark House is a valediction, a mapping of the terrain of a life marked in fleeting joy, heartbreak, and change.

Many of the poems mirror subject matter familiar from Kay’s fiction: the underlying humanity and visceral reality of myth and legend. The volume includes reflections of Arthurian myth, the Orphic cycle, elements of numerous mythologies, humane and unaffected in their treatment. “Guinevere at Almesbury” is an encapsulation of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle and the loss of Camelot from the solitary perspective of Guinevere, ensconced in a convent. It is a moving approach to a familiar story, similar to Kay’s revisionist treatment of the same triangle in The Fionavar Tapestry.

Kay is also keenly aware of his reader, and many of the poems play with the relationship between reader and text. Like any good poet, Kay loves language, and his word choices are always appropriate in sound, sense, and feeling.