Five CanPo Titles: Patrick Lane’s Go Leaving Strange

Go Leaving Strange by Patrick Lane
Year: 2004
Publisher: Harbour Publishing
Province: British Columbia

Tried to lift a baby from a hole. Under the burning apples.
Raised it dead as I knew it would be….
– from “Dead Baby”

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Go Leaving Strange (Harbour Publishing, 2004)

In a list of favourite Canadian poets, Patrick Lane should not be a surprise entry. He’s been around for quite a while, having published 24 books when Go Leaving Strange was released in 2004. He’s won an incredible number of awards, among them the Governor General’s Award, the Canadian Authors’ Association Award, and the Dorothy Livesay Prize. But enough about Lane’s other accomplishments and more about this one in particular.

 

The poems throughout this collection are packed full of intensity, in both subject and delivery. The range of topics treated is wide, but with a focus on the gritty, darker truths of human experience: with such titles as “Howl”, “The War”, “Nails”, “Infidelity”, “Cut-Throat”, “Sink Blood”, and the hard-hitting “Dead Baby” I could tell I would be in for a hell of a ride. These are truths we don’t want to hear, don’t want to see, but what kind of poet would Lane be if he didn’t present them to us in his unique, concerned way?

Lane’s focus and often clear, direct imagery is not something I was used to when first reading this book a few years ago. The long lines and running rhythms throughout this collection are brilliantly refreshing, almost an invitation to complete poetic abandon. Up to this point in my own writing, I was concerned with each individual word in poetry, the importance of ensuring every line had a tightly woven sonic structure. Minimalist sensibilities crept into my writing, which is not to say such things are bad, but it’s easy to go too far in that direction. Lane’s loose structures in this book depends more on strides through powerful images and well-chosen verbs rather than a strict compression of the line. This style of writing forces the poet to concentrate even more carefully on word choice and presentation of specific images in order to make them stand out, yet these poems read just as naturally as speech is spoken.

When writing sections of my recently published book, some as far back as four years ago, I began to experiment with this approach, leading me ultimately to the haibun as a combination of prose poetry and traditional haiku. The tension between this type of juxtaposition appears in Go Leaving Strange, particularly in the poem “My Father’s Watch”, where Lane uses longish prose sections intermixed with shorter two and three line stanzas. The effect is genius: a lack of self-consciousness in the writing (prose) offset by moments of meditative exploration (poetry). The changing of form within the poem keeps the reader on their toes, changes how the poem is read and alternates approaches towards subject.

Besides the form of poems in the collection making this a worthwhile read, there are images and poems in Lane’s work that are instantly memorable. It’s hard to forget reading a poem with a line like the one quoted at the beginning of this entry. The poet kicks you in the stomach then turns your head in the direction you should be looking. In “Wolf” the animal “…turned and leaped and turned again / like any animal in love with the dawn, his belly / full of a deer he brought down in the ferns by the creek / beyond the stand of firs and cedars”. Each line and image playful in its cadence, crisp and clear in its beauty.

That’s it for entry #1 in this favourites list. Tune in next time to see what shows up in this literary grab bag. While you’re at it, pop over to Vox Populism and look at Jake Mooney’s list of favourite poetry collections. Well worth the time.

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