Friday, May 6, 2016

New & Selected Poems - W.H. New (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
New & Selected Poems.  W. H. New.  Oolichan Books.  Fergie, British Columbia.  2015.


New & Selected Poems by the distinguished W.H. (Bill) New is the book of poetry everyone in Canada should take to the cottage for the summer.  This is stuff you want to go back and browse like a catalogue full of goodies.

In it you will find highlights from these fine books:

Science Lessons - 1996
Raucous - 1999
Riverbrook and Ocean - 2002
Night Room - 2003
Underwood Log - 2004
Touching Ecuador - 2006
Along a Snake Fence Riding - 2007
The Rope-makers Tale - 2009
YVR - 2011

Our guy Bill has been nominated for the Governor Generals Award and that doesn't happen by accident.  Today's book of poetry enjoys New's easy calm with language regardless of the form he employs.  Stylistically New ranges far and wide but his rational eagle eye is always in focus and the result is poetry that is always sharp.

That and he can be so humanely tender without making us cringe.

Chemistry

One, Lorna, even to mention her name
causes him to change colour, fires him
into blurted declarations of like. She acts:
he reacts, red and blue as litmus paper
and just as wet. He grins a lot, gawkily,
picks berries with her if he can, flirts
at the edge of touch and gesture,
flushes if others overhear.
In his dream, words like care and kissing
come to him articulate and whole;
awake, he needs a catalyst to say them,
mixes them up, lingers awkwardly till she
places a ripe raspberry on her tongue
and shares with him her taste for bittersweet.

...

Today's book of poetry has told you before how much we love W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts" so when W.H. New takes a crack at Icarus in his poem "21.  Safety" we were all ears.  And New does not disappoint.  He has 'the Knowledge'.  New has an old cab driver's understanding of the ins and outs of things, the quickest way to get from one place to another with the smallest fuss.  

21.  Safety

Icarus as a boy played with army
trucks, not frisbees, played cops-&-
robbers, marbles in a ring, not hop-
scotch, kites, addy-addy-I-
over: he watched the ground, held fast
to things -- water, earth -- turning away
from dangerous fire & insubstantial air.

You'd have forecast for him an ordinary job --
something that kept his hands occupied,
farm irrigation, yard work in the maze,
something that gave him the lie of the land,  But he held
fast because of the gnawing away: it was always
there, & the first leap up he was vulnerable --
monster on one side, father on the other,

alternating tales of damnation &
derring-do -- inexorably, flame drew him,
& air appeared to hold him up: what
the old stories never tell is whether
he regretted choosing, or lived finally
only at the point of falling, knowing at last the difference
between fear and safety, tumbling into the sea.

...

Today's book of poetry is convinced of the deep and generous heart at the centre of W.H. New's New and Selected Poems.  Robert Kroetsch has called New "the flaneur" and he is right on.  These observational poems all point in one direction and we here at Today's book of poetry believe that direction is hope - we took an office survey at this morning's reading.

Darwin's Tulip

she talks of things she no longer sees,

fine print,
petitpoint,
thin lines--

listening,
you watch her lift fog from the river,

one hand brushing away the blur

                    *
presence: the scent of
roses in an empty room, the way

bedclothes fold against
bare skin

                   *
listening for what the ear cannot
tell you: the rumpled sea, the halfmoon

shoot of a Darwin's tulip, the first

                   *
drawing a line in air, water, sand:
this far and--
                     oh--

where did it go--
              the river, the wind--

...

"I Want To Talk About You" is blaring from one corner of our office to the other on this rather spectacular sunny spring morning here in the nation's capital.  We have deep, deep respect for Saint John of Coltrane.  One of the best things about running your own operation is having control of the music situation.  Of course I usually let the minions have their way -- but I do remind them from time to time of the classics.  

Books like W.H. New's New & Selected Poems makes our job a cinch.


W.H. (Bill) New

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
W. H. (Bill) New retired in 2003 as University Killam Professor at the University of British Columbia. A native of Vancouver, he earned an M.A. in Canadian Literature from UBC in 1963. In 1966 he was awarded his PhD from the University of Leeds, where he specialized in the English-language literatures of the Commonwealth. He then returned to the University of B.C. to set up a Commonwealth/ Postcolonial Literatures program.

Honoured by the Killam Research and Teaching Prizes (1988, 1996), the Gabrielle Roy Award (1988), the Jacob Biely Prize (1995), the Association of Canadian Studies Award of Merit (2000), and the CUFA Award for Career Achievement (2001), he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1986. In 2004 he was awarded the Governor General’s International Award for Canadian Studies and the Lorne Pierce Medal for his contributions to critical and creative writing. He has taught or lectured in Australia, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the UK, and the USA. In 2002, The University of Toronto Press published his Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. It has been praised in Canada and the UK for its innovative perspective and described in France as indispensable. In 2006 he was awarded the Order of Canada. Recently he received the 20th Annual George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.


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