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.