canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

The Science of Nothing
by Marty Gervais
Mosaic Press, 2000

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston 

Stories flow through Gervais' poetry like spring streams, alive and alight with sound and vision 'confessing the sweet narratives/ of our lives, joys,/ things that went wrong/ tracing our histories ...'. He tells the stories of when he was eleven, twelve or sixteen 'tracing out a future so full/ of uncertainty, so full/of chaos ...' ('I Stopped Writing About You') from the perspective 'of those summer days/ in the south/ when he was young ...' ('The Louisville Slugger¹). 

Gervais' stories sing through his words, bring 'The Hangman in Love' to our knowledge, make the two couples of 'Women at the Fence' into our own next-door neighbours, people whose pain and eccentricity we do more than observe. The poems are deeply evocative of the sunlit world of childhood with the underlying poignancy of things seen and not quite understood at the time - as in 'Message to the Town'. His on-going theme of himself as a child who was a bad hockey-player and how this fact touches other people's lives enriches our understanding of childhood, its triumphs and its despairs. 

His language is precise, specific and yet engages our total attention: '... helped/ families taste the mysteries/ of death, the subtleties/ of living in pain, and now/ this, his body lay on the/ cold cement that fall/ morning ...'. He allows our imagination to contain and expand the images, locate them in our own experience and to own them. His line-breaks, which are frequently awkward, force our attention to the words, make us hold them and live within the image. 

The title of the book, The Science of Nothing, is deceptive: the poems are about the art and science of living, with Gervais' emphasis being on life and the inherent promise of joy and pain in it all. He sees the joy that accompanies suffering, the pain that lies beneath the surface of everyday living, but never loses sight of the warmth at the heart of it all. He gives us hope that ordinary life will somehow move along with warmth to cushion the sorrow, with understanding to enhance the joy. 'As a boy skating/ in an old barn I'd stop/ at centre ice, and peer/ up at the banners/ imagining I was/ part of it all' - he is at the centre, in prime position, looking up to symbols of other people's old successes, and he is part of their success. His poetry is to be read, reread, treasured.

JOANNA M. WESTON: born in England; married to an accountant, Robert; 3 sons, one daughter-in-law, 3 grandchildren, two cats; has a green thumb and an enlarging garden. M.A. from the University of British Columbia; appears in several anthologies; published in Canada, U.S.A., U.K. etc. for the past 15 years in magazines such as CANADIAN WOMAN STUDIES, CHIRON REVIEW, DANDELION, ENDLESS MOUNTAIN REVIEW, SPIN, WRITER’S OWN MAGAZINE, GREEN’S MAGAZINE, etc.; reviews poetry. chapbooks: ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES, 1987; CUERNAVACA DIARY, 1990; SEASONS, 1993; ALL SEASONS, 1996 (2nd edition 1997).







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