& A Serial Poem

“&” A Serial Poem by Daryl Hine (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2010)

I may as well say it is a difficult book to which I have heard large objections, especially from people who are not qualified to judge. It takes too little note, perhaps, of popular culture; speaks insufficiently of Bryan Adams or Lady Gaga who is not as pretty; speaks too much of mortality – the poet’s own, in point of fact. And well, he is seventy-eight and looking right at it, and perhaps he is entitled to now and then allude to the thing. Then again, what sort of life is it that is condemned to get its own way? And what of this? The dark night of the soul become the dawn of reason—? What of a poet who writes as if sentience has counted for something? Perhaps CanLit apologists expect poetry to be forever young and written only by the young; and if not by the young, then by the tediously clever. Perhaps it is meant to keep us in a permanent state of giggles, and if something weightier is wanted, so long as it is not death or God or thoughts of Antioch, why there is always the swoon that the cry of the loon imparts to cottagers taking a break from Ottawa. The poet, Canadian-born, seems to have few readers in his motherland. Was it that stint as editor of Poetry (Chicago) that rendered him suspect; that made him out in certain circles an ingrate, insufficiently a motherland’s proper son? He had on his editor’s hat but neglected to promote? Is that it? Yes, we know how to deal with the likes of such: the old freeze-out. In any case, the book consists of 303 ten-line stanzas of a ‘serial poem’, the rhyme scheme as follows: abbaabcabc, and there is much rhyming within the lines. It works somehow, all this rhyming, and rhyme for the sake of it tends to irritate me. It is the play of the mind in all its registers – the amatory, the religious, the political, the purely intellectual, the downright vulgar, as well. One might liken the poem’s stanzas to so many tesserae of a mosaic. One might liken the poem’s overall effect to the coursing of water over creek stones. But then, one might risk getting literary. One is present at the spectacle of a poet looking back over his life in some bemusement at the twists and turns of it, and not all that far from a condition of dread at what is yet to come; and yet there is nothing stuffy in the learning and no self-indulgence and no sentimentalism in the poet’s attitude toward the ‘life’. Myself, I read the poem as a cautionary tale, but you might well see another poem and a whole other set of reasons

Norm Sibum