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Modern poets have a responsibility to their readers and should strive to write poems that are accessible even at first reading, without sacrificing metaphorical complexity and a richness of associations. Such poems are written by Polish Nobel Laureates Szymborska and Milosz. Exemplary Canadian poems include Elisabeth Harvor's "Death of a Nurse", Al Purdy's "My Grandfather's Country" and Sophia Kaszuba's memorial poem "The Chorus".

I have favourite poems rather than favourite poets, and several are by American poets who wrote with searing intensity and great clarity, such as Robert Lowell ("Skunk Hour") and Elizabeth Bishop ("The Man-Moth"), Richard Wilbur ("Love Calls Us to the Things of this World") and James Merrill. In the same vein, I admire the best work of Canadian poets such as George Amabile ("Inventing Nogales"), Irving Layton ("The Bull-Calf"), Elisabeth Harvor ("At the Horse Pavilion") and Al Purdy ("The Country North of Belleville"), as well as the work of British poet Philip Larkin ("High Windows"), despite his sometimes regrettable political and personal sentiments. Poems by Irish poets such as Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley ("The Linen Industry") and Irish-American poets such as Eamonn Grennan ("Men Roofing") are also personal favourites.

Since my day job involves listening to people speak, I incorporate dialogue and the colloquial in my poetry. I write more about human nature than capital-N nature, more about the landscape of the human face than about natural landscapes; the nature poems I have written centre on the imaginative perspective of the human beings beholding the scene.

Jews know how to feed people (witness the 'simple abundance' in delicatessens) and make the world laugh (note the number of Jewish comedians and humorous writers, such as Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, Fran Leibowitz, Mordecai Richler). We are also a people open about our physical complaints and anxieties. (There are many responses in Yiddish to the question, "How are you?" that are more qualified than, "I'm fine -- and you?") In keeping with my Jewish roots I have written a great deal about food ("Eating Houses", "Missing Food, Missing Persons", "The Morning Food"), much about anxieties surrounding infirmity and mortality, and almost everything I write is laced with an element of humour. Few poets incorporate humour into their work to the same extent, though writers like Ashbery, Simic, and in this country, Don McKay, Lorna Crozier and Linda Rogers come to mind.

The surreal edge to my work is also found in modern poets such as Mark Strand and Charles Simic, and in European poets like Tomas Transtomer.

Too much poetry is overly imagistic; even when the images are good, what results from hearing them is an ethereal, at times almost aphasic bewilderment about reality, from which one can draw very little application to the concrete world.When treating a subject I like to think that I am doing more than entertaining a reader, that there is a usefulness to the exercise beyond the beauty of the words and the poem's rhythm. Some poets are so hooked on beautiful words and rhythm that their performances become a mellifluous droning, or a drowning in a sea of images and endless implications. I enjoy the neat little proscenium arch poetry offers, in which a corner of the universe can be captured, savoured and ultimately illuminated.

(See the essay "Down in the Dark: Poetry and Psychiatry", Poetry Canada Review, Summer 1990 for more on the poetry/pscyhiatry connection.)


Ron Charach's works copyright © to the author.


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