LIFE IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE
Reviewed by Ian Dempsey
Reviewed by Ian Dempsey
Volume 20 Number 5
The author calls these "prose poems." She has avoided the pretence of setting up lines to look like "poetry." Someone else, though, could do just that and call these poems. Formed as they are on the page, as blocks of print, they might be more accessible, draw more readers in. Will they hold our student readers in there? Some students may be repelled by the coldness and aloofness of the style.
Our poet is standing on the east coast of Canada, facing east to Europe with these poems. The figures rising on the horizon are French poets, especially Rimbaud, whose Illuminations perhaps gave Welch the prose poem format. Towering up beyond are the poet's favourite mountains, the Alps, where she climbs out of books and libraries each summer. At the foot of the mountains are cities and towns in Italy and France where she observes and ponders; and there are friends, too, some dead in mountain falls or by suicide.
Her contempt for Canada is obvious in the "The Best Exile." Halifax is a cold hell reserved for tourists who have dared to violate Venice on a summer tour. Why does the poet exile herself here after the heights of adventure and depths of culture across the Atlantic? Her mind and heart and soul are in Europe even while her feet are planted here. This unexplained tension wearies the reader.
The other tension is between the discipline of teaching, learning, books, and writing on the one hand and the open, unrestricted mountain heights on the other. Even while her feet are on the mountains, her mind is toting a pack of writers, books and the compulsion to write about the experience. Unlike Rimbaud, who "pulverized the self and replaced it by feet" — left literature for a life of action — Welch continues to climb and rappel between the two domains of literature and life. She cannot say with Proust, "The only life really lived — is literature."
She appears to agonize between the two extremes represented by Rimbaud and Proust. Her poems are hard-edged and sardonic. In place of the symbolism one would expect from someone following the French poets, there are straightforward, no-nonsense descriptions: "They avoid carefully the dog droppings." Perhaps this explains her need for Canada, a place where life is hard and realism reigns.
Welch is an established Canadian poet with eleven published works.
Recommended for the poetry collection.
lan Dempsey is a teacher-librarian at Gait Collegiate Institute in Cambridge, Ontario
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