canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Rotten poetry fish 
by Hume Cronyn
Mosaic Press, 2000

Reviewed by T. Anders Carson

The first poem that made me really wake up was one called "Rolled", a poem about the religious zealots who seem to have their fingers in absolutely everything. It captured the essence of oppression and ended with the lines 

when you tear out your heart with nail clippers, 
you know you've been rolled by one of God's messengers.

Mr. Cronyn's readers will sense that his work isn't dominated by some group or structure of poetry; and they will be able to sense the urgency with which the poems needed to be written. I have always been fond of this kind of writing. Obscure writing loses the reader, which is something Cronyn doesn't do. One of his poems - "Don't Call me a Poet" - goes on about the different feelings and anxieties equated with writing poetry. His muscular literary engine culminates in the lines 


Call me a street, a child, a piece of rubbish, an apple core, even an angel, but don't call me a poet. 

Cronyn spent 20 years living in Britain before returning to Canada, which must have been a bit of turmoil. After such changes, one tends to see things more clearly. The mundane and ordinary are all of a sudden vibrant and flashy. How he has survived the onslaught of an ex-pat returning home is reflected in the poem "A Day at the Cottage," which reflects the tug between two distinctive worlds: 

and although I can hear
the wind in the leaves,
inside here, it's still sweaty,
and I feel pulverized
like the skin of the blueberry
caught in my teeth. 

The poem "Doug Revisited" comments on a friendship. One friend, Doug, is a bit out there but enough in this realm not to be hospitalized. Doug lives in a boarding house, the kind of place where screams are as present as light bulbs; food is as eventful as rain falling; and he spends much of his time sleeping to get away from the bizarreness that surrounds such living environs. 

The poet notes that both Doug and himself were born in the same hospital. He says that Doug

showed me a number '6'
brass & polished 
no larger than a thumbnail 
these are six off-duty angels he said 
who come to the rescue of the seventh 
when the demons of sleep 

The differences between the two men are acute. They have been together for so long that they are accustomed to the daily eccentricities of each other's characters. Though one lives in this roominghouse and the other in a rented house with a wife and 3 children, he realizes what a strange but necessary friendship.

I found Mr. Cronyn's writing quite human. He has found his own voice and has courage to dispell the words that come within. I think there are snippets of Cronyn's own character in the last poem of the collection, entitled "Stephen's House." It might be all of him, it might only be some, but I felt it seethe in the lines. It is about a hermit poet living in London. He attends the necessary functions (the latest Turkish poetry reading) and is surrounded by books, grime, dust, the passport photo of his child and the daily scribbling that he writes on the stairs. It is a long poem, but stick with it: 

he once described that taxi ride as the longest journey in her brief life; some people travel to Bombay, Timbuktu, Rio de Janeiro, Anchorage, some several times around the world, her heart gave out before she finished her three minute journey.

T. Anders Carson's poetry has appeared in The Danforth Review.







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