Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Problem of "Unquestioned Fandom"

The existence of Richard Outram: Essays on His Work is an exciting sign, one that proves there can indeed be second acts in Canadian poetry. But Jacob McArthur Mooney's review in NPR astutely points to one of the few (and perhaps unavoidable) weaknesses of the book:
The collection as edited by Ingrid Ruthig is therefore written for lovers of Outram's work. It assumes that nobody much else is going to pick it up. Probably, this was the correct editorial path, but once Outram himself gets out of the way after Michael Carbet's interview, a real mantra of exceptionalism sets in. Robert Denham's historical account of the Outram-Northrope Frye relationship is plenty interesting, as is Amanda Jernigan's piece of the macroeconomics of sequencing and Jeffrey Donaldson's extended-metaphor-on-the-subject-of-metaphors, but they all start from such a place of unquestioned fandom that they don't necessarily open a lot of doors to those of us who (and here I announce my own biases) loved Hiram and Jenny but found the dour fairy tale stuff in Dove Legend and the clippity-clop rhyme schemes that come and go in every Outram book to be only about half as perfectly crafted and subtle as their creator likely did. This is the problem, really, of claiming a canonical space for a writer who never captured enough critical attention in life to have it guaranteed to him in death, however warranted that attention might have been. His acolytes have to spend so much time repeating judgements of quality that the rest of us are left with little concrete reference points to compare him to.

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