Allan Briesmaster and Colin Morton read at Collected Works Bookstore, 1242 Wellington St. West, Ottawa
7:30 p.m. Friday, October 21
A few years ago I conducted a poll on a listserve of poets to see what the current best-sellers were in Canadian poetry. Topping the list by a wide margin was Allan Briesmaster’s book Unleaving (2001). Of course, in this unscientific poll, having just held a large book launch in Toronto, where for a decade he organized the popular Art Bar reading series, gave Briesmaster an unbeatable advantage. But on reading the book I understood why so many poets shelled out to have Unleaving.
In poems of wide reference and meticulous observation, Briesmaster combines elegant, sometimes elaborate syntax with an attention to line breaks that sets up a contrapuntal tension, releasing sparks of language that survive briefly in the mind as fragments of meaning before submerging again in the surge of language. Now, these are matters of sound, rhythm, tone and diction that concern poets a great deal and other readers hardly at all; so there is some reason to think of Briesmaster as a "poet’s poet."
He is a poet’s poet, also, in that a number of his poems, especially in the "Voice-After" section of Unleaving, take their impetus or inspiration from poems by Rilke, Pound, Neruda, Paz and others. Briesmaster domesticates the poems to Canadian landscapes, though, and follows Pound’s call to "make it new."
Nature is always new; the nature poet is never short of subjects to write about, and Briesmaster is above all a nature poet. The landscapes of suburban Toronto can be as stimulating to this poet of nuance and detail as are dramatic ocean or wilderness scenes. At the Collected Works reading, he will be reading from a new book (one of two for him this year), Galactic Music (2005), in which the nature he examines is truly out of this world.
Astronomy and astrophysics have given poets some mind-blowing new images, concepts and language to explore. It’s a challenge, of course, to reconcile the scientific with the poetic notion of "measure," and to bring along readers for whom the latest scientific discoveries aren’t yet part of the fund of common knowledge poets like to riff on. Ottawa audiences familiar with Stephen Brockwell’s Cometology, however, will have no difficulty following the interplanetary imagery of Briesmaster poems like "Terraformers" and "Methane Rain." As with all poetry, readers and listeners will learn more about themselves than about the facts and hypotheses of science.
In addition to his writing, Allan Briesmaster is a poetry editor; in fact, he edited my most recent book, Dance, Misery (2003) for Seraphim Editions. He is an attentive and respectful editor and, best of all for the author he is working with, he communicates. In my part of the Collected Works reading, I will read a brief excerpt or two from that book, as well as prose-poems from my forthcoming book, The Local Cluster.
- Colin Morton