Calvin Wharton was the instructor for the one creative writing course I had to take as part of the Print Futures program in 1995 at Douglas College in New Westminster (I only completed one of the program’s two years, felled by a disinterest in the graphic design components!). Vaguely, I recall handing in a poetic sequence grounded in the dissolution of my first marriage when I was a teen bride and left my gay hubby for a renegade poet. I believe there was a piece in this sequence where I described how my ex’s new partner, a drag queen, dyed my former wedding pumps to sport on the catwalk. I don’t remember Wharton’s comments on my weird paean but I think he suggested I had promise 😉 And now, in 2022, I’m reading his new book of poems, This Here Paradise (I previously reviewed his book, The Song Collides in 2011), and popping on my own critical cap to assess, but mostly relish, the pieces that travel from birds to water, and through family, aging, basketball and childhood, to end with a terse canticle on the pandemic. Quite a range! Although there are only a few poems that draw on overt forms (such as the blam-blam of the basketball cento or the eponymous and too-loose glosa on a stanza by another former prof of mine at Douglas, Susan McCaslin) Wharton obviously has an eye for line breaks and stanzaic structures and regularly varies the length of pieces, providing the reader’s gaze with a shifting interest.
The strongest poems in the collection come mainly from the first two sections, from the way a province and a bird meld in singing in Meadowlark (“daylight/becomes a verb, carrying”), to diving
“above the waist of Prince Edward Island” in Down the Sky and the songbird smuggler in Suitcase Full of Birds (“a mix of babblers and flycatchers”). Then there’s the Wallace Stevens’ blackbird-resonant fragments of The Waters (“In the news, water/plays one of two roles: either there’s too much/or not enough”) and the contrasts between types of weather and human complaints in Rain Falls, Laments Rise (“moist flesh of cucumber, melon…a cup of sun-warmed water”). Other sections contain simple yet powerful poems too though. In The Sting, the final rhymed couplet offers a memorable bite that lingers in that impossible imperative to “call back the bee, undo the sting,” while the dream poem (and this sub-genre is so challenging to pull off!) titled Travel Through Night, the movements between snow, the “you” who asks about love, the foreign city and a sudden solitude are smooth and compelling. How it goes, it goes is one of the more honestly specific pieces on growing older I’ve encountered, with its references to tinnitus, that “ever-present hiss” and floaters (all long term readers suffer this!) when the eyes strain to see through a “swimming curtain.” And the metaphysical chat with a dreaded wasp in Wasps? O yes.
Other lyrics falter in their promise like Little Monsters (a forced ending), Cake (the metaphor is plainly over-extended) or Here Not Here (stanzas veer into a wordy prose chunk at the close), but there are more solid poems than insufficient sketches and This Here Paradise provides, in its essential attentions, a directional hymn to being wholly present in the world (a definite B for Mr W! 😉