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Robert Bringhurst.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1982.
(The Modern Canadian Poets).
159pp, paper, $12.95.
ISBN 0-7710-1660-3.

Reviewed by Sister Anne Leonard.

Volume 11 Number 5.
1983 September.

McClelland and Stewart is starting a series entitled The Modern Canadian Poets under the general editorship of Dennis Lee. "Each volume is drawn from the work of a single writer, either at mid-career or after a life-time's achievement." The Beauty of the Weapons: Selected Poems 1972-82 is one of the three first titles in the series.

Writing about the composition of his poems, Bringhurst says that they "are more of oral composition than of writing, and have survived into this selection only with repeated performance as a test. . . . It seems to me they exist in the voice, to which the page, though we enshrine it, is in the right order of things a subservient medium."

Robert Bringhurst has published earlier volumes of poetry, Cadastre (1973), The Shipwright's Log (1972), Bergschrund (1975), and Tzuhalem's Mountain (1982), and his poems, essays, and articles have appeared in both Canadian and American magazines. He also translated from Arabic, Greek, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese, and that ability, no doubt, accounts for the rich and varied intensity of his vocabulary. The first section opens with the title poem, "The Beauty of the Weapons," and the place is El-Arish. In the glossary at the back, details are given about El-Arish in the North Coast of the Sinai as being the training place for soldier-students. A quotation from Tso-ch'iu Ming's Tso Chuan, which precedes the poem, gives the key to this one and the other poems in the first section entitled "Hunters and Pilgrims": "When spiritual beings have a place to return to, they need not become malicious. I have allowed them a place to return to." It seems that the human race has become pre-occupied with the beauty of weapons—the intricate mathematical formula, the singing mechanism, and the cool steel sheen; and in its fascination for the pure deadly composition, it does not concern itself with the extended hand of a long-armed man. These poems compel us to touch the concrete in the abstract, to find thought in the brain's bone and to seek the uncluttered light of the human heart. Because of this preoccupation with weapons, man has indeed created something from nothing-he has invented terror:

         the blood in its jacket
         the breath in its jacket
         the absence
         opening its arms ("Some Ciphers")

In another section entitled "The Old in Their Knowing," Bringhurst tries to forge the link between the Ancients and ourselves, those Ancients who were .a combination of physicist, philosopher, biologist, and poet, who argued with themselves about the physical world. These are intellectually challenging poems, questioning the mysterious union of matter and form, wondering about who man is and what he does, and probing the whole meaning of creation and the problem of evil. Parmenides, for example, finds himself up against "the endless, full/indivisible stillness: the lock/on the safe of creation," while, for Xenophanes "the earth has one end. It is under/our feet."

Bringhurst's poems are not easy reading; they demand a willingness to allow the images and metaphysical conceits to collide. Both the visual and auditory imagination are at work. In the concluding poem "Parable of the Sun" there is a splendid image of the sun, or rather "the man in the sun" who "drags his cloak through the waters/and limps up the mountain/his footprints in tatters."

Sister Anne Leonard, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Halifax, NS.
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