White Light Primitive

13 May 2010

White Light Primitive
by Andrew Stubbs
Published by Hagios Press
Review by Andréa Ledding
$17.95 ISBN 978-0-9783440-8-5

Breathtaking and profound, White Light Primitive is the first poetry collection of Regina writer and University of Regina English professor Andrew Stubbs, and reads like a collection from a seasoned and well established poet in his prime. Stubbs fills the beautifully written pages with wisdom, diversity, and detail.

An author of three other books, a teacher of composition and rhetoric, and a student of Eli Mandel, Stubbs demonstrates his belief in Mandel’s claim that “memory is sacred” throughout the collection. A brief but moving essay opens the book, explaining the inspiration of the first section, “War” – poetry inspired by a shoebox of photographs from his father’s experiences during World War II.

In exploring and speculating upon his father’s generational memories – which included the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – Stubbs carefully crafts language to hand over to the reader delicately rendered snapshots of life based largely around war, memory, and loss.

“As I went through my father’s pictures I learned a lesson. You can look straight at a thing and not see it, despite the cool, apparently natural co-operation of picture and reality.” Later in the opening essay he explains on his maternal side, due to the blindness of a grandparent, there was a necessity to capture images and memories for two – another circumstance that doubtless influenced his own gift with language, for his mother grew up using her words as a replacement of actual physical sight for a family member.

The title poem is taut and descriptive – “White Light Primitive” begins with images of “calligraphy / of fence posts” and “a beach ball / pumped tight” and ends with “a thing I hold in my womb….I say mother and / mean somebody else”.

Stubbs deftly blends moods, moments, and memories: the landscape of war, peace, life, love, and personal observation are broken into seven themed sections, each with their own unique appeals. The book travels foreign countries, familiar soils, and interior plains with ‘free gift of weightlessness / memory to travel with”.

Stubbs writes mainly in lower case and punctuation is minimal, unless it is required for comprehension or clarity. This approach allows the reader to focus on the words and imagery without unnecessary distraction. His line breaks and spacing are subtle and delicately manage to give the work a tentative feeling – he does not insist, only suggests. But the raw emotion, tender understanding, and hard-won experience are masterfully arranged, and readily available to the reader. He draws attention to both careful specific detail and general universal observation, using tight and even masterfully cryptic writing which engages the reader, inviting them to consider the vision presented to them before drawing their own conclusions or evoking their own memories.

White Light Primitive was one of four books nominated for Poetry in the 2009 Saskatchewan Book Awards.


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