21 May 2009

by Gary Hyland
Published by Hagios Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$17.95 ISBN 978-0-9783440-6-1

In the introduction to his latest book, You, celebrated Moose Jaw poet Gary Hyland declares that the relationship between poet and reader “fascinates” him. In the poems that follow he explores the various modes in which that seemingly simple pronoun, “you,” is deployed, and the diverse relationships – and “variations on relationships” – which spin upon it.

If readers are at all familiar with Saskatchewan literature, they are familiar with Gary Hyland. His list of awards – literary, teaching, community-based – is long and impressive, including, recently, the Book of the Year and the Poetry Award (2008 Saskatchewan Book Awards) for Love of Mirrors: Poems New and Selected. With You, however, Hyland fans can expect a somewhat different voice than in earlier publications. It is at once more immediate, more introspective, and perplexed. In these meditations on life – its meaning and beauty, its quiescence and transience – Hyland does not offer answers, but like any truly clever human being, he does ask the right questions. You is his finest book, and his most important.

The term “postmodern” could be applied to this work. It often draws attention to its own existence, or to the reader. “Salvation,” for example, begins: “This poem’s as boring as leaves wet with rot.” (Not true, by the way). In “I Knew It Would Be You,” we read ” … this poem accepts complete responsibility,” and even titles demonstrate self-awareness, ie: “The Book That Knows It’s A Book” and “Is This About You?”. The latter poem is a two-page litany rife with Hyland-esque humour, ie: “If your right foot is in a cast\because you kicked your neighbour’s cat\in winter and lo and behold\it was already dead and frozen,\this poem is not about you.”

Two stanzas later: “If you have attempted or\thought seriously about\repairing a defective condom,\this poem is not about you.”

More interesting, though, are the wisdoms Hyland shares gained from a lifetime of watching, listening, and contemplating. In “Here,” the poet writes: “We are not Atlantic or Pacific\but both and all the stops between.” “Solarity” is an ode to the sun: “Always you have been at the centre\too brilliant to be seen” and “Even praise misses you.” From another ode, “Meadowlark”: “On your lichened boulder\you all but burst with the bliss of seeing.”

One could spend a long time within the layers of this book. Firstly, it should be enjoyed for its own sake, but it also deserves study. Consider these lines: “All day the day has spoken to me.” “Of course death is an equation,\an igloo of water in a sea of ferns”. “Everyone is wrong about everyone else,\all those secrets wasting in secret places.” “I hold you in the way\a forest holds wolves on a winter night.” “Silence always wins.” Poems like the brilliant and touching “You Are Here” and “Turning to Brick” I wish I could quote in their entirety.

You has been published by Hagios Press. It is a small book. It is a red book. It is a heart.


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