Friday, December 23, 2005

Souwesto Home, by James Reaney, 2005.

Brick Books, 80 pages. ISBN 1-894078-43-8 $17.00 CDN/ $13.00 US March, 2005.
Reviewed by Jesse P. Ferguson.

From the three-time Governor General’s Award winner comes Souwesto Home, Reaney’s first book of poetry published in over ten years. After so long an interval, this collection is highly anticipated. The book is surprisingly full of youthful exuberance and wonder, which reminds us why Reaney is a celebrated writer.

Souwesto Home is a pleasure to read because Reaney, even though twice a grandfather, has not lost his child-like sense of wonder at the world or his delight in the music of words. His poetry relies heavily upon unusual syntax, rhyme, neologisms and the compounding of words. Pieces like “The Ship” abound in playful lines like: “your sail-thoughts I was & your heart-rig, / your man-rudder.” Again, in “Brushstrokes Decorating a Fan,” the language is simple yet sparkling:
I know a book that opens people
and reads them,
spreads them out pleat by pleat,
till they see as far up as up,
till they see farther far than down.
It makes so sharp their eyes
that East or West
they can spot nobody coming up the road.
Reaney reminds us that the true essence of poetry is its heightened attention to the sounds of words. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his poetry is rarely abstruse; it entertains with its music as opposed to confusing its readers with non-sequiturs and other gimmickry.

Reaney is most at home, and most successful, when he writes of the domestic and the rural. The book’s opening piece, “Domus,” builds a catalogue of domestic items in two adjacent columns. The items from each list belong with, or complement the items in the other. The sense of concord thereby established is taken up and further developed across the collection.

Sometimes Reaney’s linguistic virtuosity fails him, as in the poem “Ice Cream,” which is far too prosy. This piece in particular lacks Reaney’s distinctive wordplay, which at its best allows his poems to transcend their often banal subject matter.

Overall, Souwesto Home delivers an enjoyable read. Many young writers would do well to take note of Reaney’s style and learn from him that poetry can be accessible and fun, while at the same time it can speak to us at deeper levels.

This review first appeared in the December issue of the Dusty Owl Quarterly, Ottawa.

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