The population of the affluent world is nourished on a steady diet of brutal mythology and hallucination, kept at a constant pitch of high tension by a life that is intrinsically violent in that it forces a large part of the population to an existence which is humanly intolerable . . . the problem of violence then is . . . the problem of a whole structure which is outwardly ordered and respectable, and inwardly ridden by psychopathic obsessions and delusions . . . Violence today is white-collar violence, the systematically organized bureaucratic and technological destruction of man . . . a murder machine which threatens the world . . .
- Thomas Merton, "Toward a Theology of Resistance," 1968
Critically acclaimed award-winning Toronto poet ( Country You Can't Walk In), novelist ( I Do Remember the Fall; A Dream Like Mine), dramatist ( The Green Dolphin) and journalist M. T. Kelly (b. 1946) reclaims his rightful place in the literary limelight with Downriver, a hybrid collection dominated by his unique verse, which, in turn, provides a springboard for both an autumnal memoir of his turbulent yet triumphant youth as well as a highly polished short story deftly culminating in the complementary capstone of a trilogy of formal sequences predominantly dedicated to keenly felt observations and exquisitely shaped contemplations examining what Kelly nails as "all that wild wounding," all that quietly accumulating reverential despair experienced by David, the wistfully world-weary protagonist of this percipient class-reunion narrative:
"Inside the convention centre there was no hint of weather . . . Yet somehow, in the hush and noise of growing talk, in spite of carpet and ventilation systems, escalator motors and voices, David was aware of dirt and storm," most likely because the inevitable dust, detritus and desolation of several life (or death) times immediately swathes the universally maudlin assemblage of walking-wounded participants. The actual events, perfectly rendered in their pragmatic predictability, take the proverbial backseat to recollections of a kinder sweeter time, an age of innocence dominated by high hopes, high heels and low-glow dashboard dipsy-doodling searingly offset with musical scores kept at what Merton considers a constant pitch of high tension inexorably settling upon near-sentient congregations.
Prior to All That Wild Wounding, then, the poetry itself seamlessly functions as a slyly extended flashback made all the more heartbreaking by the volume's kick-in-the head closer. From Mountain Struck (echoing Earle Birney's Bushed) to After the God to Arctic Blue, these stylized lyrical diegeses roam the harshness of the Canadian hinterlands while simultaneously haunting the clean well-lighted long-gone fifties cityscapes of Ontario's once great capital juxtaposed with its contemporary inhuman condition.
Here, of course, brutal mythologies, psychopathic obsessions and technological devastations all but obliterate what can only be termed civilization's current devolution, best epitomized by the imaginatively Yeatsian heights and nearly inexpressible depths of such as the paradoxically life-affirming lamentorious December:
Now the uneasy hour, The wastes of night sail by; High windows glower, Red from a winter sky. Hedges touched in snow. No shiver wakes the spine, Just cold, and what we know: This is the month of solstice, Rose in that raw glow.
Contributing reviewer and In Other Words blogger Judith Fitzgerald lives in Northern Ontario's Almaguin Highlands. She completes her 30th work, a poetry collection slated for release when same proves itself shaped to perfection.