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In the Clear: A Contemporary Canadian Poetry Anthology

by Allan Forrie, Patrick O’Rourke, Glen Sorestad, eds.

For decades, Saskatchewan-based Thistledown Press has been publishing poetry collections by well-known and lesser-known Canadian writers. The editors of In the Clear have exploited the press’s archival wealth to compile a large anthology whose purpose is to give some out-of-print poems a “second life.”

Many recognizable names are included here, from Governor General’s Award winners Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, and Robert Hilles to widely published poets like Bert Almon, Dennis Cooley, and Tom Wayman. But since the anthology contains selections from over 50 poets, its delights are certainly not restricted to the works of the most established writers.

In general, the poems are accessible free-verse lyrics and narratives, and focus on such subjects as family relations, nature, death, sport, and writing. Many pieces are informed by a strong sense of place and reflect a deeply felt social consciousness. The tones vary widely, from elegiac to angry to philosophical to humorous. Some of my favourite poems include Almon’s “The Warner Bros./Shakespeare Hour,” in which the poet, watching a poorly tuned television, sees the Coyote and Roadrunner emerge in a production of Hamlet; Gerald Hill’s homages to Jacques Plante and Guy Lafleur; Jay Ruzesky’s elegy for his grandfather; Leona Gom’s “Metamorphosis”; Glen Sorestad’s “Two Fish, One Morning”; Bruce Hunter’s narrative of adolescent tragedy; Kim Maltman’s prose-poems; and the large sampling of Andrew Wreggitt’s work. Contributions by John V. Hicks, Lewis Horne, George Whipple, and Brian Brett also stand out.

In the Clear contains three excellent prose meditations on poetry by Patrick Lane, an impassioned defence of poetry’s traditional role and power by Patrick Friesen, and a personal essay by Rhona McAdam on the difficulties of finding time to write. An entertaining bonus is the inclusion of epigraphs written by several of the poets on the subject of poetry; these little gems alone make the anthology worth reading.