Erin Mouré’s “The Beauty of Furs” and “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary” are complementary poems, with the latter explaining and expanding upon the former. In “The Beauty of Furs,” Mouré’s presumably female persona discusses fur with younger girls. The persona and the younger girls have markedly different understandings of the beauty of furs: the persona associates fur with a host of images and memories; while the younger girls only see fur for its superficial appearance. “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary” decrypts the metaphor in “The Beauty of Furs”: “Later you realize it is a poem about being born” (Mouré 595). But there is a reason that Mouré made “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary” a separate poem—to understand “The Beauty of Furs” in a non-metaphoric sense is to connect with Mouré on a much more personal and literal level.
It is the title that boldly proclaims the object and subject in Margaret Atwood’s poem: “This is a Photograph of Me.” But while the poem speaks in a simple and straightforward language, Atwood is nonetheless able to obscure almost all meaning. Atwood’s talent lies in creating an image in the reader’s mind, which begins to unravel and multiply. The reader is given the photograph, which is revealed to be polysemic in form and content, and must then confront his own singular understanding of existence and reality.
In “Dark Pines under Water,” Gwendolyn MacEwen describes the internal journey of the reader as triggered by the reflected landscape. This internality is deliberately shrouded: the trigger, the journey and the destination is never defined. Indeed, naming the internality would rob it of its potency. Instead, MacEwen only approaches through indirect means. By using the strong imagery and connotations inherent in the landscape, MacEwen is able to subvert these associations when describing introspection to create an alien, yet familiar internality. MacEwen’s talent lies in her ability to lead the reader to a subjective conclusion without objectively overstating it. The result is an actual journey that compels the reader to engage with the text.
Given the first half of Michael Ondaatje’s “The Cinnamon Peeler,” the poem can be reach as a patriarchal or colonial text, where the titular cinnamon peeler has clear authority and dominance over the cinnamon peeler’s wife. Ondaatje uses the actual past of the second half to subvert this dominance in the hypothetical present, re-examining the power dynamic between the persona and his wife. By exploring the nature of power in love, their actual relationship is revealed to be much more nuanced, with the persona’s wife paradoxically empowered and powerless in relation to the persona at the same time.
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.
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.
In “The Cariboo Horses,” Al Purdy explores the district of Cariboo and the tradition of equinity against human civilization. “The Cariboo Horses” is definitely set in a space, specifically 100 Mile House in Cariboo, but this space is endlessly nuanced and layered. Purdy uses micro and macro techniques to capture every vantage point, including metaphysical ones. Its time is likewise complex, bordering anachronistic: the cowboys of the frontier exist with the technology of modernity and the ancient civilizations of millennia past. Space and time are manipulated to create a new space where humanity’s growth can be examined. This allows the reader to better understand the continuity and discontinuity of humanity through a constant: namely, the titular horses.
P.K. Page’s “Arras” is set in a strange dimension, filled with screaming peacocks and shadowy figures, where the persona seeks answers and meaning. However, Page had designed “Arras” to be an unknowable mystery. It is deliberately beyond human comprehension, without answers. Page uses the persona to show humanity’s desire to impose human meaning in everything. In imposing meaning where none exists, the persona only further alienates herself.