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Wanting the Day

by Brian Bartlett

Wanting the Day, the seventh collection of poetry from East Coast poet, lecturer, and essayist Brian Bartlett, gleans some of the best poems from Bartlett’s six earlier collections to create an intense volume of selected poems. Here you will find the poems that have defined Bartlett’s place in Canadian poetry over the past three decades, including those that won him two Malahat Review Long Poem Prizes.

Beginning with a single poem from his first book of poetry, Brother’s Insomnia, and concluding with poems from his 2002 collection The Afterlife of Trees, this collection traces the development of a poetic voice that, apart from acquiring confidence and polish, has remained remarkably consistent over 30 years. The consistency in his work stems largely from Bartlett’s unwavering interest in, and inspiration from, nature. So “A Distant Stream on Madonna Mountain,” where “Mist is wisping or scudding or slipping over black-streaked slopes,” is not thematically distant from its neighbour in this collection, “Below Freezing on Montagne Coupée,” where “trees fine as eyelashes/fleck the horizon,” though the two poems were published a dozen years apart.

The sense of wonder and nostalgia with which he imbues natural subjects gives his poems an almost Wordsworthian quality, particularly in the long poems that break up the short lyric pieces. This is perhaps best illustrated by “The Woods on the Way to School”: “How narrow and bounded it all/must’ve been, how slight a break/from marigolds and carports, but for a boy of ten/Those trees opened into a wilderness/rampant with secrets.”

Perhaps the only disappointment in Wanting the Day is the absence of any new poems. Though many of the older poems have undergone revision since their original publication, anyone familiar with Bartlett’s work, particularly his recent books, will find few surprises. But for those unfamiliar with his work, Wanting the Day offers a lovely glimpse into a poetic world infused with wonder and lingering mystery, one that will likely leave readers wanting more.