In an essay I can’t seem to locate, Alberto Manguel talks about unpacking his massive library in their new home in France, unpacking years of books alphabetically by genre in the converted barn. It’s an enviable task, able to articulate the entirety of one’s personal library in a single, organized space. Lately, my own library has made a shift as well, from a decade’s worth of a bachelor apartment into a newly-shared two bedroom, and marking the shift between the books that remain, and the books slipped into boxes, ten thousand volumes carved up between home and storage unit. How does one conceive of a library as a whole, carved up into parcels? Still, a writer’s space is as much library as working-space, and, for the first time in over a decade, certain books exist side-by-side, some for the first time, including my incomplete runs of The Capilano Review, West Coast Line, The New Quarterly, Arc magazine, Matrix, filling Station, Fence, sentence: a journal of the prose poem, Writing, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion, The New Quarterly, Queen Street Quarterly and Xantippe. For every book or journal on a shelf, still, there are four or five more squirreled away, hidden in cardboard boxes.
One of the benefits of such a newly-organized, and even culled, system, is the opportunities for rereading material I have long lost track of. One rediscovery is The Capilano Review’s festschrift for Vancouver poet/scholar Robin Blaser, “A celebration of the life and work of Robin Blaser” (Series 2, 17/18; Winter/Spring 1996). For me, at least, one of the highlights of the issue are the two new poems by Robert Hogg, a west coast poet who moved to Ottawa in the late 1960s to teach at Carleton University.
A FALLEN WALL
Is this a little like the end of the world?
Is this a small blip on the screen called life?
Listen to the small pounding of the rain.
It makes of your forehead
a fallen wall
beyond which there is no longer
a boundary to cross
only a damp ground
oozes like a wet wound
aching to be closed.
When I was nineteen years old and still attending high school in Glengarry County, I was fortunate enough to attend a week-long poetry mini-course at Carleton University in Ottawa. For a week in May, 1989, I commuted daily from my maternal grandmother’s apartment on Walkley Road to Carleton University to take poetry from Professor Robert Hogg, who, at the time, didn’t give a single indication that he wrote anything at all. It was years before I realized that he and I shared certain sensibilities, ones that weren’t obvious to me during a week that included watching Earle Birney on video reading from “David,” and go through my newly-purchased copy of Gary Geddes’ anthology 15 Canadian Poets x 2 (1988), a book I’ve since considered skewered for the sensibilities it ignores, leaving out more experimental poets such as Victor Coleman, bpNichol or Steve McCaffery. It was years before I knew Hogg as a poet, and realize just how important he was as a catalyst, friend and supporter to the early work of Christian Bök, Louis Cabri and Rob Manery, during the period they each studied at Carleton, and his engagement with each of them since. It was years later, too, before I realized that it was Manery himself who came into talk to us about small publishing, bringing in copies of a journal I would later end up editing, The Carleton Arts Review.
For whatever reason, I’ve always been interested in poets who are incredibly active that fall off the map. There was Montreal poet Peter Van Toorn, who had a stroke six months before the publication of the first edition of his accumulated Mountain Tea (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1983; Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2004), or Artie Gold’s years of silence, due to breathing and allergy problems, with only a single chapbook and a selected over his final twenty-odd years. Andrew Suknaski, on the other hand, is living in a group home in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where he hasn’t been able to produce any kind of work since the mid-1980s. Once Chaudiere Books can afford it, we will even release the selected poems I spent nearly a decade working on. Still, where does everyone go? Since I met him at a Kootenay School of Writing launch for Barry McKinnon’s The Centre: Poems 1970-2000 (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2004), I’ve been attempting to get a chapbook manuscript out of David Phillips, who, to my knowledge, hasn’t published a word since his selected poems, The Kiss (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1977), yet claimed that he never stopped writing. Often, one uncovers a very good reason for such, including children and a change of employment as factors. Other long silences exist in the publishing of John Newlove, Ken Belford, Mari-Lou Rowley, Maxine Gadd, Monty Reid, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Hans Jewinski and Michael Holmes. What about Vancouver poet Kathryn MacLeod, Kate Van Dusen or Susan Clark? Is Dan Farrell writing? There are plenty of examples. What makes someone so active become so silent?
No poet spoke
from the balcony of the foreign mind
all voice fell away
and the shattering
knew no sheets
nor tore from music
But for all that
fans kept turning
electric and heat
rushed back into
the made thing.
Originally considered part of the third TISH editorial period, Robert Hogg published five poetry collections in all, including a selected, culminating in there is no falling (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 1993). Since then, he’s turned a hobby into a full-time organic farming enterprise south of the city, becoming even larger since his retirement from teaching. He also edited a collection of critical essays, An English Canadian Poetics, Volume 1 (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2010), with the inference that more are forthcoming, but still, I wonder. After years of poems, are there really no more? The two poems Hogg has in the issue—“THE CREATIVE” and “A FALLEN WALL”—are perhaps two of only a dozen or so since his last book, and exist as quick notes, lines sketched as perhaps something larger that hasn’t yet been collected. Jay Macpherson had a magnificent career as a poet, and she did so with two poetry collections that appeared twenty years apart. Has Robert Hogg still something held back, waiting to surprise us?