Margaret Avison’s Concrete and Wild Carrot is a pleasure to read. While I don’t agree with every sentiment or idea that Avison advances, I enjoy her linguistic judgement and aesthetic approach to the poetry in this book.
How can you not appreciate a book which starts with these lines:
A sudden season
has changed our world.
Everybody is out
to see, or bask, or
with their kind to exuberate.
Everything is new.
Truly. How can such an in media res introduction not be applauded? I don’t even know if exuberate is a word and I still I love it. In particular, I love that these kinds of lines are brusque, concise and creative while each containing their own drive forward into the book. The lines build on each other in an architectural way – like the laying of connected meanings like so many bricks.
As a contrast, later in Avison’s career, I found the collection, Listening: Last Poems, where Avison often finished meanings in a mid-line position. Those later poems often left me uncomfortable and dissatisfied. Rather than interconnected meanings laid together in coherent patterns, I often felt I was facing mere syllable counting.
But I’d like to return to the more superior Concrete and Wild Carrot collection. Another terrific poem is The Crux:
Ever see somebody hit bedrock
too messed up to
say so too
hopeless a mess to get his chin
far enough off the ground to
even give in?
Know what that’s like yourself?
In this poem, I like the use of centred lines; here again is that sense of an architectural approch to the lines…and, admittedly, perhaps a beginning of a break-down of contained lines and meanings. Still, the form of the poem continues to feel connected.
For fear of simply spending an entire post quoting poems, I’ll instead provide a list where some terrific punch may be found: Pacing the Turn of the Season, The Crux, Ambivalence, Other Oceans, Two.
In the spirit of two lists for the price of one Avison is also to be admired in Listening: Last Poems in: Releases, Still Life, Slow Start, Misconstruing, Safe But Shaky, Occasional Poem and Slow Breathing. Listening is a collection from the end of Avison’s life and deals primarily with themes and perspectives of old age. It is not a book for young people and even in my middle years, I may still have to face some seasoning before I can appreciate it all.
In Concrete and Wild Carrot, Avison was still exploring ideas about the political and social world. In Our “Little Nests” is a slightly mocking bit on the issue of free speech. Certainly in 2017, ideas about free speech are much-discussed and considered in light of current events and passions. Avison says,
To freely write or say
what may give offence
is finding one’s not free
or – was, at great expense.
The lines have the ringing lightness of a nursery rhyme. It is terrific to see that light dance of words on a subject normally approached in sombre and heavily moralistic ways. The poem is concluded with a few tossed-off lines that are almost jarring. A bit of a slap perhaps.
Meaning no harm is nice since
it’s seeing no harm really.
Who cares? It provides licence
to speak out freely
Compared to some of the poetry I’ve read this summer, Margaret Avison’s 2002 collection is a delight (the 2009 collection is valuable, but not what I’d call a delight). I find that, even when I disagreed with some of the poets notions, I want to read the poems again. And there is yet another lesson in poetics for me to consider.
Concrete and Wild Carrot is available from Brick Books and appears to be in its fifth printing. From the perspective of a novice Canadian poet, it is a memorable lesson in writing.