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Edited by Fred Cogswell. Charlottetown, Ragweed Press, c1985. 238pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-920304-30-3. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Tony Cosier

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

In the introduction to his representative sampling from the works of Atlantic poets, Fred Cogswell spends half his time alluding to what he has left out. He lists sixty names of writers he did not include in his final selection. He identifies whole schools that he has not represented; the pre-Confederation colonial poets, the Acadians, the folk poets. Of the writers Cogswell has included, each is presented in a format consistent with this emphasis. Poets are arranged chronologically by date of birth in a way that highlights the notion that what we have are simply samples from a much larger lifetime's body of work. Cogswell clearly wants from his readers more than respect for the poems in this book. He intends the reader to have respect for the rich body of poetry that has been produced and is still being produced in great quantities in the Atlantic provinces.

Though the contributors date back as far as John Frederic Herbin and Charles G.D. Roberts, both born in 1860, most of the poets in the volume are still alive and writing poems. With the lone exception of Bliss Carman, the early writers all use the spareness, realistic imagery, and personalized voice characteristic of the majority of the later writers. Unrhymed and shortlined verse begins appearing in the first few pages. The entire book thus has a contemporary flavour.

The images in this collection are crisply outlined and forcefully realized. The dominant focus for these images is a landscape that is either rural or maritime. A quick cross-section of titles bears out the pattern: "Driftwood," "Westcock Marsh in November," "Tantramar Revisited," "The Ice-Floes," "Orchard in the Woods," "Charlottetown Harbour." Cogswell's selections stress the poets' emphasis on their individual views and values. Harry Thurston's "Blue Hands" is a profound suite of poems on the birth of his daughter. Lesley Choyce gives us a slice of his thoughts over a short time span in a laundromat. The selections by Alden Nowlan are notable for the variety of tone he can achieve from the standpoint of personal expression. His "The Broadcaster's Poem" captures the loneliness of the disc jockey at night. In private emotional pain, he finds his house "emptier than a stranger ever could." "On Being Detested by a Friend" toys wittily with the title concept. Most touching of all is the image of the poet hugging a retarded woman in "He sits down on the floor of a school for the retarded."

Some of the most effective poems in the book link the poet's private vision to the landscape. John Thompson's "Down Below" presents a meditative trance in which he becomes in turn a trout, a black fly, and a deer's eye. Allan Cooper in "Bending the Branch" absorbs so much power from the natural force that he compares himself to an apple ripening and reddening, becoming sensually fuller and heavier. In the same vein, Dorothy Roberts urges stars and torn leaves into her mind. Elizabeth Jones projects the feeling onto an old woman, imagining the Fundy tide rising through her veins.

Cogswell has kept the standard of verse high. The poems are all exceptional in three significant ways. They say important things. They proceed from clearly defined and consistently maintained stances. They are lyrically strong, though the nature of the lyricism may vary from physical muscularity, to wit, to bitter domestic hyperbole, to haiku, to song. This well, edited, pleasantly designed anthology is more than a regional collection. It is an excellent book that should be in every school library.

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