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Book Reviews

In the Vicinity of Riches

by Chris Hutchinson

As Far As You Know

by A.F. Moritz

Field Notes for the Self

by Randy Lundy

Toronto poet laureate A.F. Moritz’s latest collection, As Far As You Know, is a symposium on mortality and meaning, and yet another opportunity to showcase the poet as master craftsman. Moritz’s poetry acts as transcendence delivered. That transcendence arrives via the engine of the poetic line, metaphor, language, and imagery. Objects shift as the poet sculpts space and time; these meanings and images flick the reader awake with moments of surprise. Examples can be seen frequently, including this, from “A Book Travels”:

A book travels through the world,
a closed coffer: a box of jewels,
or a tiny casket in which someone carries in
her lap
the body, the ash, of the best beloved.
If it opens, the sun rises,
a paper star springing from the pages

Broken into six sections, As Far As You Know contemplates the tensions between closeness and distance, isolation and communion, and the body at war with itself. If, as Jan Zwicky says, “metaphor is an ontological method” – a way of knowing the world differently – Moritz’s poetry exemplifies this maxim by shapeshifting through birds, skies, eros, myth, beauty, spiritualism, sacrifice, and – poetry’s eternal love – the contemplation of time’s passing. Moritz is a poet of big ideas and big thinking who is incapable of being static or merely tricky with his language. Each named thing transforms itself and becomes more meaningful through motion and alteration.

In the opening poem, “Terrorism,” Moritz writes as if he were a filmmaker panning across a vast landscape, alternating his focus between a wide angle vista and a series of extreme closeups zooming in on the tiniest details:

one grackle
wet from the bath
stops and stays
to scratch behind its ear
sudden feathered cat
before fluttering back
to the other bird-children at the basin
pausing playing
going coming
from the shadowy rests
to the light water

Moritz displays abundant facility with imagistic layering, allegory, sound, and meaning in this imperative collection.

Chris Hutchinson’s latest, In the Vicinity of Riches, offers up some of the poet’s usual themes: an examination of the strange and the odd, combined with ways in which politics affects personal perception. In a 2009 interview with rob mclennan, Hutchinson described language as “a delivery system for political ideology.” It is clear from this new work that Hutchinson’s concerns are securely rooted in those of a decade ago.

Hutchinson’s language plays with perceptive elements by perpetrating linguistic contortions that are typical of post-Bök CanLit experimentalists. This approach results in some truly delightful lines: “It was as if I were about to snort Pop Rocks mixed with powdered roe / as a cartoonish experiment in class conscious selfloathing.” Or, elsewhere, “This is to argue that – // at the dead centre of the unicycle’s / unconscious mind, an enormous green // chamber has withstood
decades of / human sleep.”

Lines such as these electrify the poetic journey. However, some poems become tangled through overuse of general pronouns creating a lack of intimacy (“When we were young we pushed poetry up against ourselves and (into) each / other”), while others clearly resonate in both subject and form. Included among the latter are sonnets from the first section and portrait poems from the third section.

Overall, In the Vicinity of Riches squabbles with capitalism’s destructive nature and the existential angst of living in the here and now.

Field Notes for the Self, Randy Lundy’s fifth full-length collection, reaches toward what exists just beyond reach. The collection strikes an otherworldly tone saturated with Indigenous and Eastern spiritual sensibilities; poetic insight comes frequently, cast in attentive language rich with musical alliteration and conscientious of both embodied and disembodied detail.

Lundy grapples with landscape, memory, dream, and the paradox of individuality and wholeness, where the body is a translator of the landscape itself: “A man should not dream of what is dead, or he might never wake; he might walk that path like a vein of silent, silver ore, winding its way among the dark roots of trees.”

Lundy is a master of the sentence as a poetic device. The best poetic craft includes sentences with tension and movement; Lundy’s language is enviable for this kind of torque and cadence:

Ice pellets clicking like a bird’s clawed toes
on the snow, hard-crusted from last week’s
melt, this week’s freeze, and two white dogs
asleep on a brown leather couch after being
watered and fed, having gamboled about
the backyard, barking at a neighbour dog
and a squirrel perched at the top of the
telephone pole just behind the back fence,
apple trees and maples deep in thought,
contemplation of no-thought, meditating
on no-mind, and you, your being-in-the-
world, circumscribed, once again, by
memory, that old curse.

Lundy resides in the vicinity of the unnamed – a veil-walker between the living and the dead, pulling layers of time and space through wormholes of meaning. His philosophical heft and poetic prowess are on display in a collection that bears multiple readings.