Saturday, May 15, 2010

After Exile

Following the truism that it's never too late to give notice to a collection of poetry, I wanted to note that I've finally had a chance to sit down with the collected poetry of Raymond Knister, After Exile, edited by Gregory Betts in 2003.

Since Knister died in 1932 at the age of 33 (before he had a chance to publish a full collection of poetry) his early promise and experimentation has made him a minor legend in Canadian Modernism. Certainly, in pieces like "The Ploughman," "Sumach," or "The Hawk" one can admire how he adapted Imagist techniques for the Canadian setting, eschewing the pseudo-Hellenistic (or Orientalist) imagery of peers like H.D. and Pound:

The Hawk

Across the bristled and sallow fields,
The speckled stubble of cut clover,
Wades your shadow.

Or against a grimy and tattered
You plunge.

Or you shear a swath
From trembling tiny forests
With the steel of your wings--

Or make a row of waves
By the heat of your flight
Along the soundless horizon.

Still, a little of this goes a long way, so what's much more exciting is some of the more experimental writing that Betts has managed to dig up, such as the urban prose-poems "Sidewalks of Toronto" (the first example of flaneur writing in Canada?) or the proto-concrete poem "Dragonflies at Noon" (1921) which is contemporaneous to e. e. cummings:

Dragonflies at Noon

Dragon -- flies at noon.
Dragon -- f f f f flies at noon noon
Dragon f f f f f fl lies fl lies
l l l l lies lies

But I suppose what I appreciate most about this collection is its handiness. Not only does Betts collect all extant Knister poems and variations, but he includes short critical responses to individual poems, a selection Knister's poetics, photos, letters, and a fairly detailed scrapbook of newspaper notices and condolences following Knister's drowning. In short, it's a great primer on Knister (and Canadian Modernism of the 1920-30s), produced with concision and with an eye to being readable and utilitarian. Here's to hoping that others follow Betts's example for the other neglected Modernists of the period.

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