James Reaney’s Southwesto Home

While reading James Reaney’s Southwesto Home, I ask myself if poets should use highly coded language oriented to other poets and academics or if the language of poetry should be open and accessible to anyone who might read it. Is a book of poetry helpful if it is largely un-intelligible?

My copy of Southwesto Homes is from Brick Books in London, Ontario.  When I picked it up, I wanted this book to be more important to me than it ultimately achieves.  I want Southwesto Home to provide me with a deepened connection to Southwestern Ontario.  It doesn’t.

When I read compositions like Domus, Scripsit or Brush Strokes Decorating a Fan, I am struck by the sense that poetry is sometimes nothing other than an unfinished rumination. An incomplete thought.  A scattered, hopscotch intellectual to-do list.   Sometimes poems are only the ideas of poems.  book cover of Souwesto Home

It is not that I reject a minimalist approach to poetry.  Indeed, I thoroughly enjoy spare and fragile poetry.  The stuff in Southwesto Home does not seem to have been produced for broad consumption – which prevents it from being broadly consumable.

I was most impressed by The Duck, Department Store Jesus and Outside=Inside?  While there are flashes of engagement,  several great lines, overall these are buried within mounds of incoherent muttering.

Finally, I recall that Reaney was also the author of Colours in the Dark,  a play which I studied early in my University days and which struck me as largely incoherent and self-indulgent. Some thirty years have passed since I read Reaney that first time and I seem still to question the value in language which is so highly coded, and imagery so incoherently assembled that it seems not to point in a particular direction.

I am disappointed by Sothewesto Home; I don’t think it really represents Southwestern Ontario and there is very little to recommend a return visit.


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