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David Helwig.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1982.
204pp, paper, $17.95 (cloth), $8.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-88750-444-2 (cloth), 0-88750-445-0 (paper).

Reviewed by Tony Cosier.

Volume 11 Number 1.
1983 January.

This book of poems is not likely to impress dabblers quick to judge. Taken superficially and in small bits, Helwig's work may appear pretentious and obscure. But those who reserve judgement and take the time to weigh these new poems alongside this substantial selection from five previously published works will find Helwig to be more than an academic poseur.

Helwig is not self-centred. He probes constantly outward. Even in his early personal poems, he presents himself less as an individual than as an observer or as an everyman, one of many fathers. In his nature poems, he draws far back from the frame, establishing his own presence loosely if at all and narrows in on a natural creature, a vixen "rich as the sun," or a surrealistic turtle metamorphosing, taking wing toward the moon. He views himself once as a sentimental absurdity drunken in a child's Indian head-dress with a ballpoint pen and "nothing to claim but a willingness to lose." He rarefies his own thought until it is so simplistic it is almost banal: "The rain falls like rain." The central figure in these selections is nearly always someone other than Helwig, the value system someone else's.

Helwig is always observing. He stresses the process, drawing his reader into it in poems such as "Seeing" and "Still Life." He constantly refers to photographs, to paintings and motion pictures. He depicts a dying hockey player who, falling before a crowd, falls as "2000 images."

Helwig is more than the poet as poet who can fashion a formal sonnet such as "Primitive" or the poet as artist describing the bellies of women as "white brown gold tomatoes." He assumes the role of poet as musician—and boldly—trying a variation that does not resemble verse at all: "the the man it self is no thing but/ but is it the thing no self the me." He composes a lengthy radio play for varied voices. He scripts vision and sound track for a film: "Hushed tall tree leaf wind./Cowbell. Cowbell./Cricket, cricket, cricket."

Helwig never stays still. He no sooner establishes than juxtaposes. In "Portsmouth Harbour and Beyond," for example, he contrasts boys sailing ships to the convicts of a prison, then sets both against an astronaut adrift in outer space. In keeping with this style, Helwig specializes in the long poem composed of several interrelated sections. He gives us more than a dozen long poems of this type; collectively, they take up over half the volume. Sometimes a short poem is set off against another short poem, as with "Woman/Muse" and "Muse/Woman." Works within the published collections tend to cohere in turn, with the title line springing from a single line of a poem serving as a focal concept for the collection. And taken together along with the new poems the collections cluster into a unified whole.

Tony Cosier, Confederation HS, Nepean, ON.
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