In “The gate in his head,” Michael Ondaatje sees reality as chaotic and amorphous. Art, however, imposes the artist. The problem is capturing this chaos without imposing order upon it—a contradictory task. Ondaatje looks towards Victor Coleman for an answer. Coleman is able to direct the reader towards this indescribable reality through a sense of movement and convergence. This motion is crucial to “The gate in his head,” as Ondaatje analyzes and mimics Coleman’s technique, ever sliding closer to that ineffable chaos.
Michael Ondaatje’s “White Dwarfs” explores silence as the negation against the greater context of order, language and society. Because silence is absence, it cannot truly be articulated without undermining its very purpose and nature. Instead, Ondaatje conveys silence through physical and metaphysical spaces. These spaces are impossible, contradictory and often violent—allowing Ondaatje to voice silence, and ultimately giving the reader an understanding of the presence of absence.
Mavis Gallant’s “The Ice-Wagon Going Down the Street” is a story about Peter’s repeated memory as he tries to validate his passive lifestyle. But this is threatened by Agnes, who serves as a reflection of Peter. Repetition is used to define Peter as unchanging and passive, but reflection is used to define activity and hint at change. The image of the ice wagon allows Gallant to reconcile repetition and reflection, to create an emergent space which captures the difference between Peter and Agnes: Agnes ultimately accepts the ice wagon, embracing independence at the risk of alienation; Peter rejects the ice wagon, choosing to remain in his cycle. It is this that gives the story its final poignancy: Peter is changed, but unchanged.
Phyllis Webb’s “Poetics Against the Angel of Death” is a poem about poetry. Webb’s persona reacts against the institutional and patriarchal iambic pentameter, seeing it as oppressive. She equivocates iambs with the ego, which can be aptly expressed through their homophonic relationship: “iambs” and “I am’s.” Fittingly for a poem about syllables, Webb uses syllabic structure to reflect her increasing disdain for egocentric poetry, and her development towards more liberating forms and meters.
In Robert Kroetsch’s “Stone Hammer Poem,” the persona traces the origin of a stone and a stone hammer against the backdrop of family and national history and the Canadian landscape. Greater physical and metaphysical ramifications are at stake: Kroestsch wants to know the purpose of a stone beyond a human tool as a hammer—he is seeking intrinsic meaning unrelated to human-imposed extrinsic meaning. The very title of the poem suggests this dynamic: Stone, Hammer, Poem. Like the Trinity, the three are distinct yet one. Poetry ultimately allows Kroetsch to connect with his forefathers, reconciling the unknowable stone and the imposed hammer and deriving meaning from the struggle of finding meaning.