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Gustafson, Ralph.

Lantzville (B.C.), Oolichan Books, c1984. 61 pp, paper, $7.95, ISBN 0-88982-066-X. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Tony Cosier

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

The title of this collection of verses by Ralph Gustafson suggests superficiality. Benjamin Backbite wrote impromptus. But the reflections of a pensive seventy-five year old with a lifetime of craft behind him are not necessarily thin.

This impromptu craftsman is naturally ironic. Humans are such stuff as dreams are made on, and they are clay. Thus, personally for Gustafson, it is "Micturation and dawns, not one without the other, current for life." Poetically, it is the assistant in the lab who drops Walt Whitman's brains on the floor. Historically, it is Socrates between bouncing cocks and hemlock.

The craftsman leans naturally toward his private interests. He likes music, likes art, myth, history, science. His vocabulary reflects all these interests. So does his use of names. Brahms, Ahab, Jesus snuggle side by side in one ramble; Degas, Gluck, Athena in another.

The poet can stay at home conjuring a still life of his flowers and his books before his fireplace. He can build a poem on the paperweight holding down the pages of his book. He can feed his birds. Alternately, he can travel up the Nile, thinking; tour the site of the Parthenon, thinking; drift down the Chao Phya River, always thinking. "The globe is where I study," he writes in "Mothy Monologue." With "return to my study" in the same poem, he puns the peregrination back into his house.

Gustafson knows the evils in the world. He smells the burning child in Phnom-Penh. He knows well that there is good, even in a cabbage, or a broken pianola. He catches glimpses of heaven, but knows "Heaven Is Difficult." Close to the heart, intimately thinking on life and death, he writes the poem of a moment, knowing, as one title suggests, "The Moment Is Not Only Itself."

Tony Cosier, Confederation H.S., Nepean, Ont.
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