The Essential Daryl Hine

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.

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