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Souwesto Home

by James Reaney

The thematic keystone to Souwesto Home, the latest collection of poetry from Ontario writer James Reaney, comes late in the volume, in the closing lines of “Ice Cream,” a poem that begins with “the local poet” stopping for ice cream en route to the post office to mail his latest poem:

Two little girls say scornfully: He’s
acting
Just like a little kid!”
But he thinks – “Isn’t this what life
is all about?

Souwesto Home embodies the wisdom of play – both thematically and linguistically – and the return to a childlike innocence with the experience of age. The book shares much with Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. The final poem in the volume, “Home Again,” is a celebration of the poet’s “kitchen gods,” from “the china brown sugar shaker/Shaped like a corn cob” to a “tiny three minute sand glass,” each with their own stories. If Blake found the world in a grain of sand, Reaney finds the universe in his southwestern Ontario (the souwesto of the title) home. That universe is also present, in “Outside=Inside?,” within a single cell, where science abuts the divine in the night sky, “Strange prism prison/Jailed in the prisoner.”

Looking back over his almost 90 years, Reaney divides the collection between “Littles” (childlike poems of wonder and punning linguistic explorations) and “Biggers & Biggies,” poems of larger, fundamental questions, resolved in – or absolved by – visions of simplicity and harmony. While thematically rich, the tone of the collection is light, punctuated with a plethora of exclamation points and punchlines masquerading as epiphanies. The seeming disconnect between tone and theme is initially disconcerting, but crucial. The only wisdom, Reaney seems to suggest, is in wonder and innocence, in the experience of life lived close to the earth, but looking toward the stars. Souwesto Home is a fundamentally wise, winning, book from one of Canada’s best poets.