Calendar of Reckoning, A

12 July 2018

A Calendar of Reckoning
by Dave Margoshes
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$17.95 ISBN 9-781550-509373

Readers can sometimes glean the foci of a book even before reading the first page. With A Calendar of Reckoning, the new poetry collection by multi-genre and widely-published writer Dave Margoshes, clues rise from the cover image – a dog facing a window (surely symbolic) and the opaqueness (clouds? Heaven?) beyond – and the title. Reckoning is a strong, old-fashioned word with Biblical overtones. It implies a measuring up ­­­- to God, perhaps, or to one’s self. I expect time will be addressed (“Calendar”); the seasons, and possibly aging. And the dog? If I know Dave – and I do – there’ll be at least one homage to a dog.

The Saskatoon-area writer’s organized this latest impressive collection into four sections, and indeed the poems in each section are distinct. In the first, Margoshes delivers a chronological retrospective of his life from birth to “The Heart in its Dotage”. Here we meet the thin, daydreaming boy: “Gradually, with the passage of time, the world I imagined/narrowed, and I put on weight, grew into myself”. He includes several poems about family members and their ghosts; and other ghosts, like poets Gwendolyn MacEwen and Milton Acorn “strolling on the beach, hands clasped”.

Aging and illness are addressed, but more than specific infirmaries it is the unknown that preoccupies this attentive poet. In “The Terrible Hour,” he addresses it thus: “This is the hour of the uncertainties,/the vague distance. You are standing/on a corner in cold rain waiting for a streetcar,/a cigarette in your lips, the match too wet/to strike”. So effective. And this is why Margoshes wins awards. Check out “Still Life”.

The “Topsy-Turvy” section features poems that stretch logic and demonstrate a strong sense of play, including post-modern knocks at the act of writing, ie: “The poem mutters/under its breath, whines, sits on its haunches;” humour: “An egg/can’t be too careful;” prayers: “This is a prayer made of dry leaves;” inspiration drawn from other writers; and square-dancing trees. Favourite: “Thirty-Nine Kinds of Light”. Brilliant.

In the third section the story-telling Margoshes really kicks in, with different personas (including Adam) and narratives – one concerns a grammatically-challenged plant worker who sets out to write a book, and instead contemplates “what I done, what I didn’t do”. Reckoning, I reckon, as so many of the narrators here do, and often at windows: seven poems mention windows. (And yes, dogs appear throughout, most movingly in “After the Death of the Dog”.)

Aside from “Three Songs of Dementia” (even Dracula succumbs) and a four-part personification piece (“The River”), section four’s populated with philosophical one-stanza poems, which brings me round to this earlier gem: “There comes a time, finally,/when you see the world/for what it is: a memory”. A thought to meditate on – perhaps by a window – and a sound reason to make our ride here worthwhile.

I’m grateful for the many books – including this latest – that Margoshes has ingeniously brought into this world, and made us all the richer for reading.


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