Something magical ignited in Al Purdy country when Canadian poets James Deahl and Norma West Linder saw each other during a weekend launch of the Hidden Brook Press anthology And Left a Place To Stand On: Poems and Essays on Al Purdy. Their friendship grew stronger and this Saturday, May 10, they will be in Sarnia, Ontario to launch their first collaborative work Two Paths Through the Seasons.
This Bluewater Reading Series event will also feature readings by London Poet Andreas Gripp who will launch his latest book The Better Kiss (Harmonia Press) and Toronto’s short story writer, novelist, poet and children’s picture book author Carol Malyon will read a short story from her book Lovers & Other Strangers (The Porcupine Quill).
Below is a reprint of my review* on Linder and Deahl’s new book:
Two Paths Through The Seasons
Poems by Norma West Linder and James Deahl
Cyclamens and Swords Publishing (Israel), 2014, 44 pp
Review by Debbie Okun Hill
North wind howls during this mid-March blizzard and thoughts drift to a familiar poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” written in 1922 by Robert Frost. This American poet often described nature and the solitary traveler in his writing. In an earlier poem “The Road Less Taken” he penned the lines: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/And sorry I could not travel both.”
When Canadian poet James Deahl started his poetic journey, Norma West Linder was already five years ahead of him and strolling down a different path. Season after season passed until the fork in their travels lead them both to a literary event in Brighton, Ontario. Since then, they have travelled extensively side-by-side and hand-in-hand to poetry readings from Edmonton in the west to the Canadian east coast then south to Philadelphia in the United States.
Now thanks to Cyclamens and Swords Publishing in Israel, their first poetic collaboration has resulted in a 44-page book: Two Paths Through The Seasons. Not only does the collection showcase some of their best work written during the long and separate literary careers of these seasoned poets but it demonstrates the mystical charm that occurs when two writers weave their personal and poetic lives together.
As individual writers each could be considered a legend in his/her own field. Deahl who lives-breathes poetry is most prolific as the author of 22 literary titles. Linder who is better known as a novelist, started writing poetry in her forties. Her poetic career now spans over 40 years with fourteen poetry books to her credit.
To review their work is a daunting task.
All of Deahl’s poems in this collection have been previously published in various books, magazines and anthologies during the past 35 years.
Linder’s work is mostly reprinted from Adder’s tongues: A Choice of Norma West Linder’s Pomes 1969 – 2011, a Canadian collection published by Aelous House in 2012. The remaining poems have been printed elsewhere or appear in print for the first time.
While the book title Two Paths Through the Seasons appears mundane for such a dynamic and creative couple, it isn’t until the reader begins analyzing the work inside that the significance of these words is revealed.
Similar to Frost, both Linder and Deahl are fond of recording the idiosyncrasies of nature and those lonely or familial people found along their journey. Seasonal details such as “bone-chill of stone”, “autumn crow”, and “beaded curtains/of rain” lift each memorable setting and character from the page. Using a narrative style, they embrace the clarity associated with the “people’s poet” tradition.
For example, Linder’s work leans towards a minimalist style. Her words are simple, easily understood and yet they resonate, grabbing the reader’s attention with evocative images. She has mastered both free verse and more traditional poetic forms. Even her oil painting “Trilliums at Highland Glen” on the front cover reinforces her love for nature. “Like a greedy child/I long to pick spring beauties”.
Her featured selection begins with haunting descriptions of “an island/fogbound in morning mist, “ghost-like cows” and the whippoorwill with “its three ghostly notes”.
Drawing from familiar places (Manitoulin Island where she grew up and the conservation/nature trails near her current Sarnia, Ontario residence), she often dives into the nostalgia of childhood and an earlier era. Her strongest poems pay tribute to both famous and everyday characters: American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, Canadian poet Irving Layton, a black-haired secretary in Vancouver, a frail old man playing a violin “for love alone” at a mall entrance and the “girls in trouble” with hair described as “a golden curtain/over silent water”.
Her poem “Names Etched in White Marble” is a touching recollection written and inspired by a recent visit to a national memorial built in Pennsylvania on the United Airlines Flight 93 September 11, 2001 crash site.
Because she favored turquoise
he bought a silver bracelet
studded with polished stones
like bits of summer skies
Like Linder, Deahl also writes about the seasons where “the harp of rain falls quiet” and mentions the mist and the haunted: “the dockers stare with ghosted eyes” and “From the dark wind the dead/were filing up, obstinately/refusing to name themselves”.
However, unlike Linder, his work is more complex with a layer of depth added especially when he turns his attention to history, politics and unique geographical locations. He is a well-travelled, articulate poet who likes to count his syllables and hone in on those precise details that transform an ordinary line into something extraordinary.
In the poem “Rhondda”, he writes:
And the lightless water
filling the abandoned shaft
is the voice of our bones
calling from a great distance,
from miles beneath our white skin.
When describing the changes in “Kampuchea” he pens “The rice beds lost their odour of flesh” and “Skulls are stacked in stalls, on tables/like pale melons stained with summer heat”.
His work in the collection often juxtaposes this dark reality with that of beauty. His most touching works are tributes to his daughters, his wife Gilda and his grief following her death in 2007. “This evening/even the full moon/wears its black mask”.
The binding strengths of this collaboration are the undercurrents of new romance and the tight manner in which the poems are woven together. For example Linder’s tribute poem to James bridges her work to Deahl. She writes: “Only the soothing sounds/of nature fill the air/till we arrive full circle/back where we started.”
In Deahl’s second last poem, he writes “It is an old friend I had almost forgotten/returning after many years/in this season of need.”
In his final poem, a tribute to Norma, Deahl begins with: “Seasons arrive and pass” and concludes with an intimate moment and his “wonder/at this inexplicable life.”
This captures the book’s breath, lifeblood, and beating heart: not necessarily the traditional depictions of spring/summer/winter/fall but the way those seasons reflect the cycles and stages of life, from birth to death to birth again.
As the epigraph by Yoshida Kenko reminds the reader “So everything is grief/until the green leaves come”.
Deahl and Linder are master poets, risking their individual careers for each other. They are like Frost’s character faced with a tough decision: “I took the one less traveled by./And that has made all the difference.”
Two Paths Through The Seasons autumn-swirls and spring-sings on pebbled milestones like a well-rehearsed duet. Bravo, on a job well done!
*Previously published on Riffs & Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens (the buoyant blog of Canadian haiku poet (haijin) Chris Faiers) on March 20, 2014 and on http://www.coviews.com on March 21, 2014.