Monthly Archives: August 2015

Daryl Hine is a special case for me. I never met him, never heard him read, only read his work very briefly (albeit intensely), but his influence on me was strong enough that I can hardly be unbiased about him even years after I was introduced to his poetry.

The story is this. I was early in my undergraduate and showing some professors my poetry – derivative and formalistic in every way. Most of them, understandably unimpressed, told me plainly to give up my rigid use of metre and rhyme in favour of more modern poetic forms. I resisted their advice, as is my tendency.

One professor, however, guided me to the work of Daryl Hine as an example of a contemporary poet who was using formal techniques in interesting ways. If I insisted on using metre and rhyme, he told me, than I should at least have a look at someone who was doing it well, exploring its possibilities and challenging its limits.

Hine was a revelation to me, not because his poetry engaged me so very deeply (in fact, I often found him too detached from his subject, even and especially when that subject was himself), but because of his seemingly limitless capacity to use formal structures – complex metres and rhyme schemes, classical tropes and allusions – without needing to adhere to them slavishly. I read him for perhaps a week, avidly, never even taking his books from the library, just reading them at my study carrel, and his example both affirmed and liberated me from my addiction to formal structure – a real gift to a young writer.

When I recently began reading The Essential Daryl Hine, the new edition of Hine’s poems from The Porcupine’s Quill, I felt again what I felt then, both Hine’s easy mastery of poetic form and also the distance between poet and subject that keeps me from entering fully into his work. The poems selected for the volume by James Pollock show clearly Hine’s breadth of learning and his facility with the forms of language, a facility in no way crystalline or brittle but always dextrous and supple, less an adherence to formalism than a capacity for formulation, which fails only in that it never seems to fail, never falters sufficiently to engage its subject with any intimacy.

This latest addition to The Porcupine Quill’s series of Essential Poets also reenforced for me the importance of Hine as an alternative voice in an era with too little appreciation for the history and the possibilities of formal poetry. It is here, I think, that the value of this volume and of Hine’s legacy as a whole truly lies, in its potential to provoke a new generation of Canadian writers to engage and renew the tradition of poetry.

Liz Worth’s No Work Finished Here (BookThug, 2015) is a poetic response to Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel, which is comprised of recorded conversations between Warhol and some of his friends over the course of several days. These recordings were transcribed as exactly as possible, including all the audio artefacts of laughter and ambient noise and conversational pauses and so forth. Four different typists were used for the transcription, each laying out the conversation differently, and the book makes no attempt to standardize their differences, even keeping typos as traces of the artistic process. The end product is what might be called a pop-art novel that presents a single day in Warhol’s Factory scene.

Worth’s book takes each page of Warhol’s novel and condenses it into a poem, using only words and phrases that appear on the original page, the number of which she includes as part of the poem’s title. As she distills Warhol’s transcriptions, Worth cuts away the conversational artefacts (the ums and uhs, the laughter, the background noises), and she mostly eliminates the sense of dialogue as well, though some poems do retain this element. Instead, Worth gathers key phrases from the page, intensifying their meaning in proximity, creating lyric passages from the fragmented text of the novel’s pages.

Now, I think that Warhol’s original novel is a failed experiment, that merely recording and transcribing everyday conversation yielded little of interest and almost nothing of art. It is an interesting idea, to be sure, but the result is only very occasionally interesting, slightly more often prurient, but mostly just tedious. Like the majority of Warlhol’s art, a: A Novel is art as idea, as intellectual provocation, as aesthetic exercise, but (as he intended) without depth. Its value is as a surface only, as reflection.

In light of this, Worth’s collection seems to me a strange project, working at odds with Warhol’s aims, reducing his exactly fragmented transcriptions into the distilled language of poetry, turning its disjointed and rambling text into a meaningful coherence. It is as if she is trying to rescue some significance from the novel, searching for something beneath behind its relentless superficiality.

In other words, depending on your understanding of Warhol’s artistic project, Worth does his novel a grave disservice, destroying its surface, pushing past the reflective quality that is its distinctive feature, returning it to the kind of earnest art that Warhol’s work sought to disrupt. It becomes a strangely paradoxical book, at once paying Warhol a sustained homage and at the same time pursuing radically different aesthetic purposes.

On the other hand, No Work Finished Here also made me read a: A Novel in its entirety for the first time, so perhaps Warhol wouldn’t object to her approach so very much after all.

For Willie, though it’s been many years now.


The peony bends
to its own weight,
the gravitas
of gravity.

Ants crawl the buds
still unfallen,
prepare each bloom
for becoming.

The broken stalks
of last year’s growth
stand yellow-gold
through bowed green.