Thursday, May 10, 2012

Phil Hall, 'Killdeer'

Last month I was in New Brunswick for a week and instead of taking a novel, as I've always done while travelling, I took Phil Hall's book of poems, 'Killdeer.' Very good company, it turned out to be one of the most pleasurable poetry books I've ever read. And my need for narrative didn't go unsatisfied either. The pleasure comes in part from its autobiographical content, for this is a sort of portrait of the poet as a young (hapless, hopeless) man. For example, there's an extended poem about Hall hitchhiking to the town where Margaret Lawrence lived in order to meet her. His portrait is of a giving and rather lonely woman. * Sometimes Hall seems a little too easy on this version of his younger self (although he clearly didn't always have an easy time of it), and his self-mockery (such as for his first small book, printed in Mexico) is extremely gentle. Yet the warmth he feels for those days is part of the book's appeal. But what I really want to mention is the way Hall writes about Canadian authors, and especially poets, with such genuine reverence. Poetry isn't just important to him, it's crucial and life-giving. And because it matters so much to Hall and we are, after all, reading his book, he assumes that it is just as crucial for us. That we are camrades-in-arms. There's another extended poem, this one about his neighbour the late Bronwen Wallace, who one day knocked on his door with a new, typewritten poem, "the one we all know now." That poem is engraved on his heart and he expects it is engraved on ours. I can only blush that I don't know which poem he means. And when he writes, "We know Bron when we hear her," he expects that we all feel as familiar and as affectionate, whether or now we ever knew Bronwen Wallace personally
. What a lovely and notion, I only wish it were more true--for me, at least. * There is much more in this book than I am describing, but having finished it three or four weeks ago, it is these poems about other writers that have stayed with me. Such as a touching poem about the late Libby Scheier, with whom Hall took a car trip back to the house in Brooklyn where she had been abused as a child--sad but not without its slapstick moments. And now I must go and re-read Bron. So I can find the poem we all know, and know it too. * (Phil Hall, 'Killdeer. Bookthug, 2011)

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