A review of Calling Home by Richard Sanger
Published on April 1, 2003
Richard Sanger’s second collection of poems, Calling Home
, like his first, is committed to traditional forms. He uses them skilfully, but in neo-formalistic poetry the effort of creating the form seems to have soaked up most of the creative energy. A number of the poems set forth predictable subjects in a meticulous style without fresh diction and figurative language. Often the poem advances in a dogged fashion, but it turns out to be a shaggy dog story – or perhaps a well-groomed poodle story – with nothing much happening. “The Law of the Local Rink” recalls flirting in youth with young women at a skating rink, and nothing more. “Winter Song” describes a couple sharing a quiet evening by the fire during a snowstorm, and “Words in the Woods” gives a precise but inconsequential narration of a day spent skiing (“swish-swish-swish”). One of his longest poems, “Mountain Muse,” is a circumstantial account of working on a play at the Banff Writing Centre. Unable to capture his vision, he thinks of the muse as a spaced-out waitress who will suddenly appear with the needed word on her tray. When he goes to a bar for a drink amoung artists and businessmen, he wearily decides that art has been reduced to chatter in the beige lounge which overlooks a “turquoise swimming pool.” Then the glass roof above him shows the reflection of a red-haired woman swimming in the pool, clearly a vision of the muse, and a better one than the spaced-out waitress. The epiphany is the modest product of many low-key quatrains.
Sanger does include two powerful family poems: “Dispatch,” which salutes the poet’s journalist father by giving a vivid description of his working methods, and “Pilgrim,” a tribute to a grandmother which ends with a touching (and carefully anticipated) echo of George Herbert’s great lyric, “Love(3).” Sanger adds mystery to the book by four poems in terza rima (rather haphazardly rhymed). They appear at the beginning, the end, and at two roughly equal intervals within. The poems seem to blur muse and wife and evoke unexplained situations of jealousy and conflict. The last poem ends with a pun, saying of the woman, “Richard sang her,” which unfortunately rhymes with langour. Still, a stormy relationship with the muse seems promising, giving some hope of lightning. As Shakespeare said, “O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/The brightest heaven of invention!” mRb
Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.