Night Work, the second book from Memorial University professor Randall Maggs, is a biography-in-poems of legendary NHL goaltender Terry Sawchuk. It’s a book that was clearly a long time in the writing, excerpts from it having been published as long ago as 2000. Maggs has done extensive research in the form of reading (his bibliography cites 34 sources) and interviews, some of which are incorporated into the book.
That legwork has made Maggs’ portraits of the brooding, difficult Sawchuk and other NHL characters of the day vivid and believable. But the book is bulked out with poems that seem included primarily to convey information, a task for which poetry is not well suited. Maggs’ long free-verse lines, while sometimes crackling with rhythm and internal rhymes, often read like flat prose studded with post-game-interview clichés: “Nonetheless, the team was into its golden age/ with Terry, as Adams predicted. Three years out of his five/ in Detroit he walked away with the Vezina, though/ the one he thought about most was one he lost/ by a single goal, a bouncing shot/ the last game of the year.”
Many of the best poems (such as “The Famous Crouch” and “What I Liked About Bars”) are monologues in Sawchuk’s voice. Others, such as the book’s clincher, “New York Hospital: I.C.U.,” speak for Sawchuk through free indirect discourse. Most of the other poems seem to be scaffolding for these core pieces. Poetry demands that the scaffolds be kicked away – as another Brick author, Steven Price, did beautifully in Anatomy of Keys, his 2006 book about the life of Harry Houdini. It’s understandable that Maggs wouldn’t want to write another standard biography, but unfortunate that he kept on board so many of that genre’s trappings.
Throughout the collection, there is a lack of compression. Individual poems are often too long and the prosody is too loose, making the book drag on like a triple-overtime game, with bursts of excitement amid a lot of sluggish skating. To be fair, there are highlights here in the form of priceless anecdotes and the odd spine-tingling line, but the narrative as a whole gets stuck in the poetic equivalent of a neutral zone trap.