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Yates, J. Michael.

Oakville (Ont.), Mosaic Press, c1984. 128pp, paper, ISBN 0-88962-270-1 (paperbound boards) $17.95, 0-88962-269-8 (paper) $8.95. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Pamela Black

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

In the preamble to J. Michael Yates' most recent poetry collection, The Completely Collapsible Portable Man, the moon is evoked as a symbol for the poet's task. Whatever the phase of the moon, "the cold, lightless hemisphere is everpresent and always in full phase." We refer to the form of the moon by identifying only the portion illuminated, but this frozen picture is always much less than the moon's truth. Thus, "The challenge the poet places before himself is refinement of fraud. How perfectly can he conceal the terrible differential between head and page?" I must confess that this is my favorite image in Yates's book, but that is not to say the rest is not interesting, it is just not as accessible.

J. Michael Yates is a Canadian author who has achieved success as a writer of poetry, fiction, drama, translations, philosophical essays, reviews, criticism, and commentary. He is also a photographer, and the six sections of his book are prefaced with this own provocative photographs. Most of this collection has been previously published elsewhere, and if there is a theme it is simply one of exploring landscapes, both internal and external.

Only ambitious high school English classes will want to tackle Yates' often personal and introverted imagery. Yates sometimes uses machinery, the camera lens, a needle on a phonograph record, or a radar screen, in his attempts to locate himself and his pain, his knowledge, his ignorance. The resulting metaphors are startlingly appropriate: "The machinery did not see itself, its presence too central, too invisible on the screen." But metaphor, we are told, "is centaur/Part one thing/Part everything." Hence, although much of Yates' work is pessimistic, the call for expansion rather than reduction is clearly present. Just because he has had to reduce the dynamism of Idea to the static state of Form does not mean that we need to succumb to reductivist interpretations. We do not know where or what many of Yates' landscapes are, and ultimately, we do not need to know. He is at his best when the metaphor is natural, as in "The Queen Charlotte Island Meditations" where the physical location only enhances the metaphysical wanderings that we are caught up in. Under Yates's haunting, everpresent moon, we must learn to walk with one foot in each world.

Pamela Black, Simon Fraser University, B.C.
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