Field Notes for the Self

25 March 2020

Field Notes for the Self
by Randy Lundy
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776913

It’s official: Saskatchewan’s Randy Lundy is one of my favourite Canadian poets. His last collection, Blackbird Song, fueled my fandom for this erudite writer, but the recently-released Field Notes for the Self has secured it. This is a poet at the top of his game: one doesn’t so much read this new collection of mostly prose poems as she experiences it. This is Lundy’s magic: although the title indicates that these are works “for the Self” – and the second person “You” (the narrator) is addressed throughout – I felt these contemplative works so viscerally it was as if they were articulating my own intimate thoughts and practices. Move over, Mary Oliver.  

In Blackbird Song, many poems spun on the word thinking, and in this handsome new volume, knowing is central. Lundy writes: “you know you know the song, but nothing is clear to you anymore,” “Your heart knows and holds the key – meditate, live purely, do your work, be quiet,” and “You know that you almost know, and you know that is as close as you will get.” 

There’s a tremulous acceptance in these quiet yet powerful poems. “You see so little and know so little, perhaps that is a kind of wisdom. But you don’t think so.” There’s also much consideration of death: “Today, the memory of all your dead drove you to your knees. It is the best place from which to see the beetles in the dirt, each a black, hard-shelled casket that will bear your flesh into the next world, and the next. Study that. Practise that kind of knowing.”

The poet’s dressing down of Self – “What you know is that everything you thought you knew, up until today, amounts to nothing. You know nothing” – contradicts the wisdom and beauty he imparts. The existentialist belief that the universe is unfathomable is a through-thread, but exquisite beauty exists and is frequently honoured: “meteorites like a necklace of fire,” a woman’s hands in dishwater are “moving like pale, lazy carp,” a doe’s “curved hooves leave quotation marks in the soft, clay-banked hillside,” and an “iris shoves its fist skyward, unfolds like a hand”. 

I appreciated the journal-like openings, and the poems’ transformations: several begin with the time of day, season, place, and/or weather, ie, “Knowing What You Do Not Know” begins “Rain for hours this January afternoon and northwest wind at fifty-three kilometres an hour.” Lundy transports readers from that opening to this conclusion: “Here comes that something that’s always been consuming you—the way your yellow, whiskey-stink piss eats the white, white snow”. 

The doors in are deceptively simple, ie: the seven-paged “Book of Medicine” begins “End of July, two days of rain/after two months of drought” but the poem also philosophically considers that “Maybe there is no way/to pass through this life, without/being lost over and again”.     

These are poems adrift between light and dark, between life and death, and “between metaphor and common sense”. These are poems for now, and always.   


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