The Spring of 2004, SONNETTO POESIA features the
sonnets and quatrains of five contemporary Canadian poets, Eric Linden, Audrey Manning, Helga Ross, a newcomer to our journal,
Larry Tilander, and Richard Vallance. We have also included two poems by American writers, Esther Cameron's deeply moving
and disturbing, TA'ANIT ESTER (THE FAST OF ESTHER), and Jim Dunlap's rather more tongue-in-cheek, "Several Yellow Bricks Short
of a Road", which is a definitely light-hearted, yet sardonic dig at a good deal of the ivory tower "academic" nihilistic
free-verse of the Twentieth Century.
MAINTAINING A TRADITION: The Canadian Sonnet
Reading at least certain of the sonnets by our Canadian
contributors, you might be well excused for feeling a sense of thematic and tonal familiarity in these contemporary poems.
In particular, all of the sonnets of Eric Linden (with the possible exception of "Benji") seem to distinctly echo the long
historical tradition of ruggedness, isolation and the marked presence of the wilderness, which has long since pervaded the
annals of Canadian poetry. Names like Archibald Lampman, Frederick George Scott, Bliss Carmen and Charles Sangster soon come
There are clear stylistic and thematic parallels,
where the moods of Eric Linden's sonnets often echo those of Archibald Lampman's and Frederick George Scott's better known
For instance, we have, in Eric Linden's. "Snowfall
January 2004", the quintessentially Lampmanian phrase,
In silent rhythm, snowflakes are amassed
upon each leafless branch and twig. In white
tranquility, this wonderment - surpassed
by little else, is Nature's own delight.
Hearkening back to the Vallance Review in Poetry
Life & Times, February 2002, on Lampman's "Winter Uplands", there we find Lampman invoking a strikingly similar sentiment,
where he says,
And then the golden moon to light me home--
The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air,
And silence, frost and beauty everywhere.
Archibald Lampman (1861-1899)
If these two poems, over a Century apart, seem like
twin literary icons, it is no wonder. They are both highly evocative of that spirit which is Canada's alone, typified by that
one stark word, "wilderness". There is an amazing likeness between these two sonnets, right down to their overall rhythmic
If this were not enough, Eric Linden once again faithfully mirrors the Canadian tradition in his remarkably
visceral sonnet, "The Burnt Field", which he vividly describes as,
A field down by the creek below the road
Was ebon black from flames that had run through
And burnt the grass, to leave a gaping scar.
That you could see quite clearly from afar.
Once again, the parallels between this stunningly
impressionistic sonnet and Archibald Lampman's "The Sunset at Les Eboulements" are too evident to ignore. Take Lampman's description
Broad shadows fall.
On all the mountain side
fields are silent. Slowly home
The long beach
the high-piled hay-carts come....
Although the subject matter and
the geographic milieux (British Columbia and Québec) of these two sonnets is dissimilar, the season is the same, Summer, and in both instances, the heavy
feeling left with the reader is characteristic of the vast panorama of any Canadian landscape.
Were you to read
several sonnets by Lampman, Frederick George Scott or Bliss Carmen from the Nineteenth Century, and place these side by side
with Eric Linden's over a Century later, you could not help but be struck by the similarities.
weaves a mysterious web which only a Newfoundlander could, though here again, our poet begins her lyric poem on an all too
familiar Canadian spiritual note,
Voices crying aloud
were heard about,
The hearts of creatures
wailing at the door, ...
- an invocation
which would immediately remind most Canadians of voices in the wilderness, of wolves and loons and the like. Of course, her
poem is a seafarer's ballad, hardly surprising, considering that Newfoundland is Canada's largest Maritime Province.
Two of the sonnets
of Helga Ross, on the other hand, ("So Says Sophocles and "Words Matter") are much more "European" in their flavour, and this
should not come as a surprise, as Helga is of European extraction. On the other hand, her poem, "Night Vision", is yet another
example of "the Canadian sonnet". It is hard to ignore the strong sense of natural loneliness and of "wilderness", which pervades
this lovely piece, so reminiscent in many ways of Robert Frost's "I am Acquainted with the Night", and yet different from
it, essentially for being Canadian.
At the edge of
the lake where shadows lay,
of slate, restive, alone, he waits,
tempered by gloom; reflects the gray...
If these verses
are not typical of Canadian poetry, one can scarcely imagine what else could be.
Larry Tilander, whom we introduce for the first time in this
issue of SONNETTO POESIA, weaves for us in his poetic autobiography a tale of country living under harsh conditions which
sounds more like the lifestyle of Canada's early pioneers than the life of someone raised in the late Twentieth Century. His
sonnets, on the other hand, strike out in a fresh new direction, as they do not appear to fall squarely into the tradition
of Canadian poetry as I have illustrated above. However, this is only the first sampling of Larry's poetry to grace our pages.
And who is to say if he has not indeed composed other sonnets I have not yet encountered, reminiscent of the Canadian ethos?
His sonnet about his Mother and Father in particular has struck me emotionally where it counted, to the heart. My own parents
too are deceased.
We sincerely hope
you enjoy the cross-section of Canadian sonnets we have brought you in this special Spring 2004 issue of SONNETTO POESIA.
© by Richard Vallance March
To read The Vallance
Review, Poetry Life & Times (UK), February 2002, "Archibald Lampman. Winter Uplands", please click here: