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McFadden, David
Toronto, McClelland & Stewart 1992. 136pp, paper, $12.99
ISBN 07710-5426-2. CIP

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up

Reviewed by Bob Lincoln

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

David McFadden's Great Canadian Sonnet was an underground classic even before its publication by Coach House Press in 1970, and since that time ten new books of poems have appeared, riding on the crest of that early work. Frank Davey summarized this style as ingenuousness rooted in the ordinary episodes of mainstream Canadian life. That characterization is still true, although McFadden's voice has mellowed, and his tone is softer.

In McFadden's latest work, Anonymity Suite, the focus is still on ordinary people and pastimes, but the style has changed. These poems are not as compressed, nor is the language as surprising as in his early work. In Anonymity, McFadden still is the innocent traveller who casually spins out his stories, unhurried, relaxed, and just a bit tedious.

These poems are succinct and they move evenly along toward their inevitable endings, rhyming here and there, graceful and just a little empty. They are well spoken, and the subjects well debated, but the disappointment is not that they are poorly structured or noted, but that the ideas and emotions are thinly dispensed.

There is a mechanical quality to these poems, as in the closing stanza of "Advice to a Morning in June":

It's summer, warm but looks like rain Poets are greedier then [sic] stockbrokers. No matter how neglected your work may be There are truer poets even more unknown. Brief resumés are the greatest distinction And excessive thinking engenders shame. Above the tip of the tallest erection A killer whale races across the blue plain Like this, the worst poem in my new collection.

It is also a mistake for McClelland & Stewart to print books of poetry where the gutter margin interferes with reading. The binding is so tight that the spine must be cracked flat. A better typeface and layout would have helped. In spite of these misfortunes, Anonymity Suite would be any easy choice for classroom discussion: the language is direct and open, the subjects contemporary, and the poet has no false pretences.

Bob Lincoln is a librarian at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg,
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