Glengarry by rob mclennan


I can tell you how I think rob mclennan's new book Glengarry means, and the interest I feel it contains. You can't know if my lunacy is accurate unless you purchase the book.


how away is away, circling claims

            as opening; prolonging

opening field; (22)


The impossible attempt to record the present for the future, rendered impossible by the processional nature of the poem as construct. This is a significant part of Barry McKinnon's poetics as well, which mclennan acknowledges as an influence here, particularly on the title poem, riffing in part on McKinnon's Pulp/Log (his “Sex at 31”, both its concept and realization, also offers an accessible investigation of the issue).


The lyric echo, the haunting that is a part of the poetic experience of Experience; the present voice which is already past, clutching at the past moment; the desire to close the circuit between self and world, a close that the open field of the poem and its process renders in its cool, frustrating, wonderful impossibility. Always intrinsic to the poem of place, whether articulated by Wordsworth or Kroetsch. Arguably the most remarkable aspect of mclennan's poetic, what I am most intrigued by and interested in examining in my own work, is his use of space, derived in large part, I think, from a close engagement with the work of Kroetsch. White space, the gap, the pause, becomes in particular the answer to the problem of measure, of meter, of what to do without the iambic pentameter of blank verse. It modulates the flow of eye and voice, allows for subtle gradations of effect, but also more generally opens the space of the poem outward, unfixing interiority and the record of sensory perception. Put simply, the persona has the capacity to get bigger, more unhinged, less proscriptive. The self in effect replaces the metaphysical, or at least metaphysical categories, or renders them moot. The regarding self becomes the field of the poem, the self in the process of regarding and the not-self in the process of being regarded. 


The open field that formalizes, to varying degrees, the persona's intervention in Experience. What qualities might the constituent parts of Experience contain when they are being  examined, how do the parts bleed into one another even as they are considered, and what happens to them when the persona's eye has passed on to other things? Nostalgia, the imagination of being in the world, and the relationship between the two in the field of thought, the four dimensional analogy for the two dimensional poem manifested in the compulsion to write.


if death speaks; pluralism


                                   John Deere, Ford

, a texture, close to world tents

                       , quilt; homemade applesauce (20)


           if you were to touch me, where

would we land; a swift flicker straight

                                                  across the mouth

& every splinter of thought (70)




                                     a light that sharpens light


suspended body plops down into pool (70)



             how much of the problem

                                    is simply to live; Glengarry

grown older, we remain; the history

& the public combined

                                                 drowned, guffaws

of nineteenth-century flame; do you remember?



The instinctive ambiguous figure of the drowned poet, the move that both closes and opens up a poem, suggests transformation and resurrection within a pause. It's a move that haunts the work in this book, particularly “Glengarry”. The glub-glub suspension of the lyric voice. A surrender to a claim that may, tantalizingly, be available to the project of reclamation. The formal submission that is anything but. As the poet casts his memory back so to does the poem become an object of memory, or a site of memory. It calls the past to mind, ruptures it by its very existence, by the process that brings it about, and then settles into it, inviting the reader to adopt the wistful and seemingly elegiac and defeated questioning of the poet. Scrutiny of the inscrutable? The willingness to assume at least the possibility and worth of this scrutiny, even as the failure is acknowledged and identified as intrinsic to the poetic process itself. Is the poem “a light that sharpens light”? Must the poem become what the poet sets out to recall? Is writing a poem about Glengarry synonymous with “writing Glengarry”? The poem offers this questioning up and calls on the memory of the reader to enter the orbit of the memory of the persona: poetry as a vehicle for figuring and generating memory. A thrilling invitation to defeat, to harsh human misalliance that is nonetheless gorgeous and rich; by turns slowly and softly elegiac, and urgent, electric.


     None of this is new, or groundbreaking, I suppose, it's really just a restatement of so many of the poetics that shape contemporary poetry. What matters is that mclennan's process is deft and the clear product of both significant critical thought and practice and a reliable but engaged instinct. I hesitate to use the word, at least to a degree, but I think what mclennan offers us at the moment is a glimpse at a mature style, the reconciliation of the difficult questions that the novice poet inevitably must engage with, however unconsciously, and the sense that new questions, directions, can be met on the grounds of this reconciliation. His process is eying questions further out, half-formed, and is beginning to articulate them, to find means of representing them in his product. It's a poetry that belies its fixed nature on the page, its materials, which is, I think, what art is supposed to do. This work does it very well. He's in the thick of it, and working through it, quicksilver. Any of us involved in the process of writing, of our own and of others, of trying to present something alive and coming into being, rather than the finished, packaged, New Critical poem, that is, I suppose, anyone caught up in contemporary poetry and poetics, can gain something from mclennan's new work.


Jamie Bradley’s poetry appears most recently in Rattle #35: A Tribute to Canadian Poets, and Poetry is Dead Magazine and is forthcoming in Contemporary Verse 2. His chapbooks include Compositions (Angel House Press, 2008) and the collaborative anthology Dalhousie Blues (Ex-hubris, 2009), with Christine McNair, Sean Moreland and Caleb JW Brassett. He is an instructor in English at the University of Ottawa.