canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

A Magical Clockwork: The Art of Writing the Poem
by Susan Ioannou
Wordwrights Canada, 2000

Reviewed by Richard Stevenson

This one will never replace Mary Kinzie’s A Poets Guide To Poetry (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing, University of Chicago Press, 1999) – the Cadillac in Prosody/Poetics Academic Tomes – or classics like similar works by Fussell, Turco, Skelton, Williams – but it is focused, clear, precise, concise, and user-friendly, like the stalwart pocket text of Strunk and White, and its approach is the same: give a few principles of composition -- examine the basics of prosody, image, rhythm, meter, rhyme, free verse phrasing, etc. – give a little hard-won advice on style and rhetoric – types of metaphor, rhetorical and cinematic strategies with image, trope, mode; it even has advice and interesting speculation by practitioners on sources of poetic inspiration and material; strategies for breaking writer’s block, developing deeper, more complex voice and style.

I like it a lot, and would heartily endorse it as a primer for almost any level of poetry workshop: it’s well thought-out and the reader gets lots of meat and potatoes, no inspirational fluff or flatus.

This book is lean and clean: it shows poet wannabes where to go and how to get there; it doesn’t promote any ism or champion any particular school or approach to literary criticism or the poem. It gives the readers the foundations of Modernism; shows us what the Imagists, Objectivists, Post-Modernists of various stripes have taught us about linguistics, voice, line, variable foot, open form, proprioceptive language calisthenics, etc. It illustrates with Modern and contemporary Canadian examples.

What better way to get the student writing than to focus on perception and language construction; to have the writer revel in the plasticity of sound and image while pushing the connotative and denotative meanings of words? This is a good book by a good poet and perfectly-priced for the financially-strapped student. It is written in a fresh, colloquial but precise prose style that demonstrates the verities and virtues of which it speaks. The clockwork pinwheels of metaphor glisten and spin throughout.

Richard Stevenson’s twelfth collection of poetry, Live Evil: A Homage To Miles Davis (Thistledown Press, 2000), has just been published. He teaches Creative Writing, Canadian Literature, and Business Communication at Lethbridge Community College in southern Alberta.







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ISSN 1494-6114. 


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