Last fall, British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro shocked the chatterati when he candidly confessed he failed to "get" poetry, an admission inducing gasps of hushed near-horror or suppressed nervous giggles.
Huh? Whether right or left out in the poetic cold, the universally lauded fictionalist justified his admission by declining to identify whose or what poetry he didn't get. A nimble glide 'n' side-step afforded the Brit the opportunity to dance his way around questions concerning his provocative lack of clue when it came to the "getting" of the works of his colleagues, contemporaries or practitioners of the loveliest art.
Fair or foolhardy, Ishiguro's divulgence addresses issues far greater than the sum of its relevant poetic parts. What does "get" mean, really? Do viewers "get" the meaning of a painting, a blender or a door, say? Not fully, not definitively. Likewise, readers participate in the ongoing appreciation of a poem word-by-space-by-instant in the act of rereading, recreating or reconstructing a work along the lines of Victor Coleman's apposite quip that "it takes two takes to tango."
Get it? Why not take it, especially when "it" is the electrically charged work of Swift Current, Saskatchewan's gift to the world of arts and letters, the man George Bowering calls "the most poetical" of writers to emerge from the 1960s TISH movement - none other than poet and prose stylist Fred Wah, author of Breathin' My Name with a Sigh, Waiting for Saskatchewan and Diamond Grill. Now living in Vancouver, Wah recently completed Is a Door, which, without a doubt, is a dazzler, a thoughtful, playful and stunningly skillful four-part foray into the nature of "suddenness" and its inherent ability "to subvert closure" on the brink of unexpected entrances and exits:
"… [T]e sudden question, the sudden turn, the sudden opening - writing that is generated from linguistic mindfulness, improvisation, compositional problem-solving, collaborative events, travel, investigation, documentary."
Living in the momentous now and Zen of "it"? Exactly. Some may recall Wah delivered a lecture exploring the nature of consensual reality and the writer's role in its progressive projective, wherein he opened with the premise "a word is a door" and closed with the conceptual ways in which one becomes un/hinged during that now-concluded decade best designated the Doughty Noughties.
Consider the gathering's measured and musical Prologue, "to the dogs," an over-arching swing-time mainline rhyme blending the thematic blues of each of the work's four movements. In it, skimming the surface but staying firmly in control of the reach and resonance of near-doggerel, Wah paws his writerly way into readers' consciousness long before they manage to get their mental foot in the frame: "Dear Bear,/ Be aware,/ this door/ should make you/ stop and stare."
Including incidental fragments, various linguistic experiments, occasional poems and a previously published limited-edition chapbook, Is a Door's first part, Isadora Blue, revisits the hurricane-ravaged waterfront along the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula before veering into Ethnology Journal, a splendid series penned during the author's 1999 trip to Thailand and Laos. Here, weaving a rich tapestry with strands of hybridity, "betweenness," biracial otherness, touristic transgressions and intrinsic artistry (or extrinsic beauty), Wah intermeshes notions of "citizen" in local, national and universal terms, as much an allusive as an illustrious achievement.
With "some kind of inner magnet" guiding "these democratic souls," the primary speaker stands on the threshold of "the arbitrary factory of public opinion" in the third segment, Discount Me In, just prior to the final sequence, Hinges, which shifts on the fly to unlock the mysteriousness "of the social subject mired in a diasporic mix," perhaps to get a handle on the key meta-narrative trope dominating Wah's oeuvre from the moment he determined he owned poetry as much as she owns him.
Get "it," Mr. Ishiguro? With Wah, "it" resonates with the kind of pellucid confabulations that invite communion (sacral or secular), in its marks on the page as well as both their worth and value beyond it, fiercely enacted in that place where the divine and diurnal intertwine, from a distinguished national treasure at full throttle on the space-time continuum where grateful readers move as much with this graceful work as it moves (with) them.
Contributing reviewer and In Other Words blogger Judith Fitzgerald lives in Northern Ontario's Almaguin Highlands. She is completing her 30th work, a poetry collection provisionally titled Rogue Lightning, slated for release later this year.