Of Place and Time (1)

The Internet is a reminder that poems need not be restricted to our own place and time. In what Marshall McLuhan deemed our tactile age, instant communications rub us against each other within a global village.

Of course, we write of our own landscape and people, but why in isolation? When we look out from our Canadian surroundings, why don’t we see more than ourselves? I think of Don Coles’s long poem “Ah! Qu’ils sont pittoresques, les grands jardins manqués”. It begins:  
          Laforgue can have his trains—
          What brings the yearning arrow
          On its long arc into me anytime
          Is nothing so down the platform dwindling
          But is the naming of
          The great public gardens of centralEurope—
          Mirabelle, Prater, Englischer, Kravloka.
          These names control entire decades of drifting
          Shade and sun, while beyond them
          Cars with absurd and tiny accelerations
          Fired the historic perimeters:
          Salzburg, Vienna, Munich, Prague.
          What are they, the great gardens, except
          Unhurried and beech-avenued and bronze-Dignitary-supervised…

The poem is not a worm’s-eye-view of a tulip in Stanley Park, but rises on tiptoe to scan many gardens and many countries. Out of the particularities of each locale, it continues further to distil a unified image: an archetypal woman whose “beauty speaks to him / Too unmanageable for any words of his.”

When do we write about a street in Edmonton, confident that in some human way it is not unlike one in Bern or Marrakesh? Do we even think in such cosmopolitan terms? We have yet to step out of our beaver pelts, stand back, and see ourselves as part of the world, or so Geoff Hancock urged: 

“Canadian writers have to find out what they have in common with the rest of the world. To discover where their own humanity intersects. This search goes beyond the commonwealths of regionalism and nationalism. Goes beyond the history, politics, traditions, and movements of art within nations. Before writers can discover the emotional landscape of human geography, they have to put some distance between the real geographies, and the values emphasized by that landscape.”1


1. Geoff Hancock, “Cartographical Passion”, Cross-Canada Writers’ Quarterly, Vol. 4, Nos. 2 & 3 (Spring-Summer 1982), p. 53.