Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Happiness of Influence

Chad Campbell writes about six books of poetry that helped shape his debut Laws & Locks. (Read his interview here.)

1. Circadian—Joanna Klink: Penguin, 2007

Joanna Klink is stellar. The poems in Circadian limn a borderland between sense and sense impression; a series of maps that trace loss and intimacy equally through the winter landscapes of this beautiful collection. Unabashed and sonorous lyrics, the book is pure tonic.

2. Civil Elegies—Dennis Lee: Anansi, 1972

If the angel of history lost its wings and went for a walk in the wreckage left behind it, you might get something like Lee’s Civil Elegies. Tonally brilliant, this book, to me, is Lee at his most furious and vulnerable. Think the Canadian Heritage commercial version of Prufrock, but better. Even if I hadn’t grown up on Alligator Pie, I’d find this work irresistible.

3. Crow—Ted Hughes: Faber & Faber, 1970

“Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it…turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic”, Hughes once advised. Here, in Crow, I think we see him perform his own best magic—a lucid re-envisioning of the crow into which Hughes pours his preoccupations with myth, sex, and violence in a fallen world. Not to mention the rich, rhythmic textures of the work. It’s like watching a pot of oil boil.

4. Elegy—Larry Levis: University of Pittsburg Press, 1997

Edited posthumously on Levis’ behalf by longtime friend and mentor Philip Levine, Elegy is a masterwork. Like Roethke’s Far Field, here you get the sense of a poet achieving the formal and thematic concerns they hunted for a lifetime—the result is stunning. A touchstone of a book.

5. Land to Light On—Dionne Brand: McClelland & Stewart, 1997

In terms of a poet with something to say, and a way to say it that matches, poem in and poem out, the vehemence of that something, Brand’s Land to Light On is a knockout. At once a scathing account of a continued history of racism in Canada and a refusal to settle for anything less than a fully chosen and lived identity, the book always reminds me that just as it uplifts, poetry can indict.

6. Four Quartets—T.S. Eliot: Faber & Faber, 1943

Take or leave the philosophy, Eliot’s Four Quartets is, to my mind, a tremendous performance. When you see one of those evolution of dance videos, that’s how I feel about this work—Eliot links so many of poetry’s roots in this sequence: lullaby, incantation, prayer, a dizzying combinations of meters. The shifts, formally speaking, are stunning. Not to mention the feel of relinquishment in the work, a coming to terms, as best a person can, with the prospect of death, and the terms and conditions of posterity.

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