Another entry in the ever-expanding literature of complaint.
This critique of contemporary poetry is another installment in a growing subgenre of Canadian publishing: the literature of complaint. Other books in this realm have come recently from John Metcalf and others. The persistent theme, voiced again here, is that Canadian writing (poetry, in this instance) is not what it could be (when was it ever?) and the wrong people are getting all the recognition. Solway’s screed is delivered in a state of high dudgeon – complete with the overuse of italics for emphasis. Solway, a Montreal poet, obviously has a tremendous background in classical literature, reads voraciously and displays a superabundant vocabulary. The energy of his persistent choler can actually be engaging, at times, in the ‘highway accident’ sense of wanting to see who will be run over next. His clarion call for a return to technical form in poetry (rhyme and meter, essentially) means a host of poets (and novelists) belong on the dung heap: Al Purdy, John Ashbery, Anne Michaels, Lorna Crozier, Don McKay, Yann Martel, George Elliott Clarke, etc. Atwood, Ondaatje and Anne Carson are “a drone, an entrepeneur and a cipher respectively.”
He reserves his highest praise for a small number of past and present poets, almost all from Montreal: Louis Dudek, Milton Acorn, Irving Layton, Peter Van Toorn, Eric Ormsby, etc. Typical of any harangue, Solway mistakes his mere opinions for truths. While he has a few interesting points to discuss, the book is more diatribe than dialogue. In the end, this special plea for more recognition for the poets of Solway’s coterie is an instance of the squeaky wheel just wanting to get greased.