Friday, 18 September 2015

Genuine Primitive

Jeffery Donaldson admits his early ambivalence about John Thompson's poetry:
I’ve been slow, lazy even, in coming to Thompson’s work. I felt I understood his place in the big picture. He was gathering up the energies of the Poundian Imagist and Vorticist movements from the teens and twenties, shaping a hybrid sixties expression of them in familiar nature poems that were complicated by cryptic psychological interventions. The quintessential Canadian themes were there: bone, wood, axe, hammer, chopping, digging, the underground root, the buried specimen. It is the work of a genuine primitive looking to build simple sustaining structures out of the materials of nature. I felt I understood the experiment: the poems were an exploration of the spare style (“laconic, controlled, percussive,” is Sanger’s excellent formula) leaning in the direction of the private, enigmatic, and recondite. I was stuck between feeling that his poems were either too hard or too easy, that I didn’t have the patience for either, and didn’t in any case know how to decide.
He seems to have come around—a little:
It may be that Thompson left us the best key to his poems in the title of his first book, At the Edge of the Chopping There are No Secrets. Thompson tried to work at the edge of the chopping, to find a way of getting words to say something that they weren’t already going to say. To chop away at their own underbrush, make new clearings. Poems that cut and split and pile: breakings-off, severances; out of it, a whole assembling. What is rightness but that feeling of astonishment when the axe falls keenly, just so?
(Photograph by Thaddeus Holownia of the Jolicure woods, site of John Thompson's former home)

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