Persons Real and Supposed

Reaching for Clear: The Poetry of Rhys Savarin

By Bert Almon

A review of Reaching For Clear: The Poetry Of Rhys Savarin by David Solway

Published on March 1, 2007

Reaching For Clear: The Poetry Of Rhys Savarin
David Solway

Vehicule Press
$16.95
paper
100pp
978-1555065-217-8

When Emily Dickinson sent her work to Thomas Higginson for comment, she cautioned him that the person in the poems was “a supposed person.” Now, with the growing influence of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, we have to consider whether the author of a collection of poems is a supposed person too. In Little Theatres, Erin Mouré created a “heteronym,” Elisa Sampedrín, as a supposed writer of some of the poems. In his last book, The Pallikari of Nesmine Rifat, David Solway created a Turkish poet to be the mistress of his first imaginary writer, Andreas Karavis. Reviewing Rifat in this magazine, I suggested that Solway might soon discover the poems of a love child of his supposed writers. But in Reaching for Clear he has created another heteronym, Rhys Savarin, a native of Dominica. Savarin, supposedly christened in honour of the Dominican-born novelist Jean Rhys, writes in a style that is mostly standard literary English, spiced with words from the French and English pidgin dialects of the island. Most of the details appear to be authentic: Solway has learned a great deal about Caribbean music and customs, and he has boned up on the history of the island from its best known historian, the real but improbably named Lennox Honeychurch. “Rhys Savarin” scorns the colonialist attitudes of the tourist guidebooks in a poem called “Frommer’s Caribbean,” but much of his work is local colour. The local colour is good enough to make the reader think of putting Dominica on a holiday list for the next Canadian winter, to be sure. The book comes with playful apparatus: a glossary of pidgin terms, extensive notes, and a bibliography that cites a number of unwritten and published articles about itself. We await a book by a heteronym posing as David Solway. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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