Field Notes for the Self
Published by University of Regina Press
by Randy Lundy
Review by gillian harding-russell
$19.95 ISBN 978089776913
In Field Notes for the Self, Randy Lundy – a Barren Lands Cree originally from northern Manitoba but currently residing in Saskatchewan – writes meditations that embrace the landscape, memory and the ever-changing self. Most often in prose-poem style, the long, sinuous verses carry though along a difficult passage where bright and often homely or humorous images catch the light of truth and recognition in the reader’s mind. As the speaker lives with his dogs on an acreage in Pense SK, a rhythm to the seasons and a feeling of expectation (or its counterpart, disillusion) carry the poems towards discovery in the presence of nature. These meditations reflect not only what it is to be First Nation with a heightened burden of memory but also emphasize how difficult it is simply to be human.
Characteristically, an ease and conversational flow lightens these verses, with recurring bursts of clarity and insight, such as come through with simplicity and force in the poem, “In Autumn, Blackbirds”:
Yes, the blackbirds are doing it again.
Somewhere beyond the horizon’s what
they have dreamed for an entire season. (3)
Countering this poetic simplicity, Lundy alternates with a more tangled verse that incorporates process into the writing. When the speaker cannot think of a word in “A Minor Apocalypse,” and then remembers it later, he incorporates this sense of process into his writing: “Light streams/ like water streams from fins, and gleam, that’s/ the word you’re looking for” (1). By withholding the word “gleam,” he artfully makes it shine more brightly in our minds.
Another feature of Lundy’s poetry is his panache for homely metaphor and humour. In “Sometimes We Are Only a Spring Garden Some Deity Has Left His Boots In,” Lundy finds an analogy for human restlessness in his dogs: “every day the world is a restless dog, always wanting, always coming in or going out” (46). Or in “Truth Is” he with tongue-in-cheek recounts the skeptical reaction of some ranchers in his audience, and amends his more romantic comparison of icy branches on the roof to the comedic: Maybe it was “angels dragging their scaled tails” in association with T-Rex bones (100).
In a poignant piece dedicated to his late father, “On Requirements For Reaching The Goal: To Begin And To Continue,” Lundy embraces both his personal and ancestral memory through powerful imagery that allows us to glimpse an emotional response to his experience as a First Nation man when the dead cannot speak:
A dark like that crow in the alleyway behind your apartment twenty years ago, clutching another crow’s head, just the eyeless head, in his beak” (24)
Lundy’s portrayal of this particular angst, however, extends beyond sociology and history to something even more deep-rooted, to what it may be to be human. “It is hard to know where your body stops and everything-that-is-not-you begins” (24):
Field Notes for the Self is an immensely engaging and delightful read while the images speak so boldly between unravellings of thought, and we are persuaded to look inwards at what it is to be human, from Lundy’s experience as a First Nation man whose people have suffered wrongs and who has, himself, also made mistakes.
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