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.
I just got my first ever e-mail for my blog address!
It’s nice to know that at least one human/sentient robot read my blog, and that you’re not all web spiders.
Also, it took me like 10 minutes to figure out to pixellate text in Photoshop.
You can send me an email at email@example.com. Or send me a problem to be in my (not yet existing) advice column.
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.
A black dragon burned and buried under coal mines,
Imprisoned in pure granite grey while men wine and celebrate.
Gladly, I will fight,
No calm cosmos tonight.
Birds dive towards the vaulted sky.
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.
In The Permanent Tourists, P.K. Page explores the contradictory identity of those without identity. The very title, “The Permanent Tourists”, suggests the irony of their situation. As permanent tourists, they are in constant juxtaposition against the “foreign cities”, continually being relegated to the Other. Hence, their permanence stems from their transient and alien status as “tourists”. Their identity is non-identity. Such a quandary is at the crux of the poem, and Page seeks to explain the motivations and actions of the tourists.
Mad dog? God dam!
Am I reviled? Deliver! I’m a
Devil. I lived a Devil. I lived!
Am I reviled? Deliver I’m a
Mad dog. Goddam!