NOW THAT YOU REVIVE
By A. F. Moritz
Frog Hollow, 73 pages, $35
THE RUSH TO HERE
By George Murray
Nightwood, 77 pages, $16.95
CROWN AND RIBS
By Blaise Moritz
Fitzhenry & Whiteside,
86 pages, $16
Now That You Revive, by A. F. Moritz, is a collection of 34 poems on the eternal themes of love and longing. The author of 17 books of verse, Moritz is a multiple award-winner and by far the best known of these three poets. He is the father of Blaise Moritz, whose first book is also reviewed here.
The latest book by the elder Moritz is quite different in style and tone from his previous volume, Night Street Repairs, described by one reviewer as "evasive" and
"sibylline." Now That You Revive serves as an apparent response to such criticism. Moritz's new work is lyric, lighter in tone and accessible even to those who do not read much poetry.
With exquisite wood engravings by Wesley W. Bates, this book covers the most popular of all literary themes. Moritz refers to the Latin poet Horace, who advised poets to keep their work out of the public eye for at least nine years. Moritz started working on this book in 1998, meeting Horace's recommended period. His language is polished and precise. As heretic troubadour, Moritz writes in his Poem of Courtly Love:
I want to hate what is believed: that darkness
is first and silence best, that the good part
of the word is wind, and the adequate part
an image, that the chance part is the beginning
and the necessary part the end. I want
to sit with you, unable to understand
the book that holds all human story to be
an allegory of dying
proposals of rebirth. I want this book
we were reading to slip from your lap
as you tremble, seeking courage to surrender,
so the interpretations woven insidiously into the plot lines
lie face down in the dust, and the story
that starts with your breast
opens in our air - nipples, eyes, tongues
and the words to come
happy in the pause
that is their natural home.
These poems about mature love express a Gnostic sensibility. Love in human terms is dictated by the deepest part of one's humanity, which for many Gnostics, and perhaps for Moritz, is also love of God.
Another of these small love songs, The Two Illusions, conveys a sense of the poet co-existing in both the distant past and our own time. To accomplish this feat without sounding archaic is not at all common in Canadian poetry: "And we're content. Without opening,/ the night discloses and restores./ Never have I heard till now/ what the poems say, though I've lain/ joined with you as a shadow/ touches both on night and brow."
Moritz exhibits an effortless control of language, as well as a heightened joy in the music of words. His book succeeds in reviving love poetry for an audience that may have grown tired even of the thought of love poetry.
In contrast, George Murray explores a variety of subjects: ex-girlfriends, bloody operations, social decay, children skateboarding on war monuments in sight of a soldier selling poppies, and other atypical sonnet themes. The Rush to Here is a rush to everywhere. Form, not theme, is what defines Murray's fourth book of poetry, which consists entirely of modified sonnets, where every poem is recognizably a variation of this traditional poetic form.
Murray, an Ontarian who now lives in St. John's, has constrained himself to 14 lines in each poem, with usually 10 to 12 beats per line. However, they do not follow standard sonnet rhyming schemes. Instead, Murray employs something he calls "thought-rhymes," which appear to be parallels or conceptual variations that take the place of conventional rhyming. Indeed, many of his line endings are inventive, hinting at notions that can never be realized, while also mirroring the everyday wanderings of our daydreams.
In his sonnet Plain Jane, we find three strange bedfellows, God and Death and the French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard:
Who knows what we'll endure
next in this find-a-dollar daydream
always under the falling anvil's allure.
Yes, I see you there, hiding, lost in thought.
Baudrillard says all this is how we seduce
ourselves into forgetting about the grave.
God is fear's ghost, I say, but remain unconvinced.
Reading Murray engenders thoughts subtly mystical, feelings revolving around the wonder of imperfection. In the opening quatrains in one of his most innovative poems, A Moment's Autograph, we discover there is:
Still enough sky-glow left to distinguish
colour, even as the trees descend
through the registers of green and the stoop
becomes shrouded and difficult to discern.
From a crack in the dark wall hang loose wires:
give a tug and watch society start
to unravel. There's no real need to begin
worry, just be aware where the pulling leads.
At times, the language of these poems is aggressive, even hostile, meant to engage the reader in debate and discourse. Traditional sonnets these are not, nor do they have a narrative or thematic sweep as a collection, but individually, many poems in The Rush to Here are striking, inspired and sturdy.
Much of the poetry in Crown and Ribs goes far beyond sonnet length. Blaise Moritz writes longer poems without wavering or losing track of his path, an explorer always knowing where he is going. His style is deeply grounded in literary tradition while also sounding contemporary.
For a first book of poetry, Crown and Ribs contains many exceptional poems. With considerable skill and a distinct awareness of the universal essence hiding in everyday things, Moritz writes in To Heap Up and Counterbalance Dead Things:
Spent timber underfoot in homes built between the wars, now
splintering along the ruts,
fabricated in hardwood, the image of the earth's surface, beneath
which all vanishes
except the sainted nails, poking their heads aboveground here and
at the socks of us who live in hope that ours is the generation of
the millions who will never die.
Blaise Moritz handles the universality of classical themes and their relevance to our time superbly. In Eurykleia, for instance, he bridges the gap between past and present, so we cannot tell from which time and place the words may have sprung, even as they speak directly to us:
What are you saving yourself for? Why do you stop,
even for a moment, putting down your work to wonder
in your mind, to check yourself, to see if you are not perhaps
about to cry, about to fail in some absolute way, to suffer
a breakdown in the fabric that is your personality, which is not
permanent or tough; it's brittle and may shatter, leaving
you only the self you were born with and none
of that overlay of experience which makes expression possible
through face and gesture.
Note: A companion book, Editing Moritz (Frog Hollow, $35), by Shane Neilson and A. F. Moritz, is a revealing look at the creative process between editor and poet, and allows us to observe some of Moritz's poems as they arrive at their final crafted state.
Ewan Whyte is translating the poetry of Horace. His translation of the poetry of Catullus was published in 2004.