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Skelton, Robin.

Victoria, Sono Nis Press, c1985. 182pp. cloth. $16.95, ISBN 0-919203-72-8. CIP


Skelton, Robin.

Erin(Ont.), The Porcupine's Quill, c1985. 79pp, paper, $7.95, ISBN 0-88984-077-6. CIP

Reviewed by Vivienne Denton

Volume 14 Number 5
1986 September

Shorter Canadian poetry is well anthologized. In texts designed for college use, or in collections of regional or thematic interest, it is usually the shorter poems that are chosen for reasons of space, and the longer poems of Canadian writers often do not see light of day again after their first publication. Robin Skelton has undertaken to remedy this, at least with his own poetry, in his Collected Longer Poems 1947-1977. This volume is a companion to Skelton's Collected Shorter Poems 1947-1977, published in 1981, also by Sono Nis. Skelton's longer poems are in fact sequences of shorter lyrics, for the most part meditations in free, highly allusive, rather erudite, but none the less lyrical verse. These works span Skellon's output from his Patmos (published by Routledge & Paul in 1955) to Callsigns (Sono Nis. 1976), although the texts of these earlier poems have often been revised and sometimes titles changed. Skelton's reason for publishing this collection of his longer poems seems to be to set the record straight for posterity. In his introduction he writes: "Zuk (Porcupine's Quill, 1982), Wordsong (Sono Nis. 1983), Landmarks (Oolichan, 1979), Limits (Porcupine's Quill, 1981), Distances, Collected Shorter Poems and this present volume together make up what I would like lo be regarded as the canon of my poetry up to this lime, and I am happy to slate that, at the time of writing, they are all in print."

While there may be less interest in the Longer Poems, in his latest collection, Distances, Skelton shows he is deeply concerned with the art of poetry, and still honing his craft. There are several gems in this collection of elegantly simple lyrics. At sixty, Skelton is self-consciously the elderly poet; the themes of many of the poems are autumnal, reflective. Many look back to childhood and youth. The charm of the poems is in their easy lyricism; it seems as if the poet were speaking in casual conversation, albeit in a very urbane and controlled voice. This is in fact the tone he adopts in his opening poem, entitled "Come in Anyway," in which he welcomes the reader to the collection. Distances is published by the Porcupine's Quill, and typical of works from this press, the book is beautifully designed with fine paper, print, and cover design. The casual elegance of the poetry is complemented in the design of the book itself.

Vivienne Denton, Toronto, Ont.
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