In "The Trouble with Annie: David Solway Unmakes Anne Carson"(Books in Canada, July 2001), David Solway finds himself thinking that "...Carson doesn't exist but is rather the creation of a couple of heavyweight critics and a swarm of quailing lightweights straggling alone in their wake." I hope to be counted among the former, but fear I may be one of the latter. Solway notes that he has "no tolerance for the slub and quackery of this poetry and the easy rides the critics have accorded its purveyor." One illustration he gives is the review I did of Carson's The Beauty of the Husband in The Globe and Mail on February 10, 2001. The reviewer, Solway says, "after a few initial and half-hearted disclaimers, veritably sinks to his knees in adoration." Unfortunately, Solway appears not to have read "Addressing the Empress", my survey of Carson's previous work, which appeared in the Literary Review of Canada (November 2000), and which one letter-writer to The Globe and Mail characterized as "sneering." I really must try to strike a balance.
At any rate, David Solway is plainly a poet who leads by precept and example. I therefore offer a few samples from his verse, taken from his first book, In My Own Image, published in 1962 in Montreal as part of the McGill Poetry Series, edited by Louis Dudek. Your readers may wish to compare and contrast Solway's lines with those of Carson.
Solway on getting wet:
....the kiss of your lips
will make a flood covering the rich, ripe land
of our bodies, for the hand of the sea is upon us.
Solway speaking for all of us men:
A river is the shifting wonder of a woman
flowing softly, swiftly in remarkable realms,
the vague and varied regions of her soul;
and every man is a corpse in the wealth and the wet of her.
Solway on having a hoofprint on his heart:
You quickened my heart
like horse's hoofs...
Solway as a solar eclipse:
Sing light as laughter, love,
for I shall soon eclipse the sun
with my dark sorrow.
("Sing, My Love")
Solway giving crickets their marching orders:
Cricket, play your makeshift violin
and sing of love
growing like silent, sleeping trees...
Solway on being well-hung:
The years that you have given
to warmly clothe my fragile youth
hang forever in the closet of my memories.
("To Sylvia, My Mother: My Thanks")
Early work, but already Solway's characteristic gifts are evident. Let's see whether the Muse still smiles on him 25 years later in the untitled sonnets of Modern Marriage (Montreal: VThicule Press, 1987).
Solway on physical fitness:
Today, while walking on the beach, I met
the Tanzanian [sic] Greek who runs the school
for windsurfers, as lean as a war vet.
Solway on mushrooms talking back to you:
They look so helpless, "Oh please, don't eat us,"
they seem to entreat the mushroom hunter
who's on the trail of the mild boletus....
Solway on the beauty of the wife:
It's you I need to cure my old distress,
to talk and to make love to, beat at chess.
Well, that's enough poetry.
Sutherland is quite unintentionally wonderful. I mean it. And I love it.
The poems he quotes from my first book, which are embarrassingly bad, were written between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. The book should never have seen the light of print even though the poems were praised by ee cummingsłmy hero at the timełand (prematurely) published by Louis Dudek when I was eighteen. What did I know then? I long ago withdrew the book from circulation.
The presumed "Tanzanian" misspelling is indeed correct, so far as the Collins is concerned.
The subtlety in Sutherland's commentary resides in the fact that he beagled down the ostensibly weakest lines from my 1987 collection of sonnets, Modern Marriagełalthough the "chess" couplet is OK, I think, and the "boletus" passage is meant to be a sort of fairy-tale joke, a piece of child's whimsy, which Sutherland just doesn't pick up, being a rather earnest sort--thereby implying that I did the same with Carson. The reality is that I searched diligently in Carson for a couple of good lines to cite in order to balance my critique but could find only one, which I reproduced in the longer, original version of the essay slated to appear in Director's Cut.
As for the Globe letter to which Sutherland refers (and which I read with great amusement), this only shows how gaga many of us have become over Carson if praise can be so readily interpreted as contempt. No doubt I deserve my comeuppance but still I find it all great fun. Sutherland should lighten up a tad.
Dear Editor, .
I LOVED reading the July issue by the wayłI am particularly interested in this Anne Carson craze (so to speak) and wondered why the poetry hadn't moved mełor "grabbed" me. I think David Solway was very courageous to take aim at some aspects of the poetry the way he didłanyway it makes for a very readable and provocative articlełI devoured it and would like to reread it. She did write a good poem about Emily Dickinson in Men in the Off Hours (my poet of 12 years research) but I must say most of the other stuff seemed to me to be a bit pretentious without producing any desire on the reader's part to figure it out. But whatever we think of her, it's curious when a poet attracts attention from powers such as Bloom, etc.
Cindy MacKe nzie
Dear Editor, .
Apropos David Solway's diatribe at Anne Carson (BiC, July 2001), guess whose nose is out of joint at seeing kudos (in his opinion rightfully his) going to her.
L. M. Eldredge
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