Ink on Paper. Brad Cran.

Cran, Brad. Ink on Paper. Nightwood, Gibsons. 2013. Poetry; 12/13.

My kind friend Andrea lent me this little book after a conversation we had about not understanding poetry unless its main narrative line is directly accessible in front of you. See my comments on Pam Harrison’s work. Mr. Cran was I think a Vancouver poet laureate (I had no idea there was such a thing) for a time, has written and published some poetry, and also published apparently impressive comments on work he has done with Vancouver’s homeless people. This is accessible in my terms, mostly. I have discovered since reading and commenting on Pam Harrison certain poems (I usually see them in the Paris Review or New Yorker) that independent of narrative accessibility mentally or morally… I need a poetic metaphor here… flip mental traffic over or whisk away its superficial significance and show something else. A few of these poems do that.

They are pretty Vancouver and pretty doctrinarily left-of-center, but usually not to the point of spoiling the fun. The handbook for entering Canada seems naïvely political to me. The same with irony about our Olympics, the emotional content of which I didn’t find so simple. “Have you ever experienced an emotion stronger than miffment?” could have been for me “… an emotion with more ambiguous meaning than miffment?” Looking at a gray whale and concluding “you must change your life” reminded me with real impact of Paracelsus in Borges.

And again I find real and realistic ambiguity in the last stanza on page 21 in “At Lacey Madden’s Grave”. There is tremendous significance to children, almost refuge in them, and lots of worry about what we make of and do to them. And what they make of us: “Science Fiction” has to be one of his best. The awful power to harm connected with children, and second chances that they get all the time and we have to fight for.

“Contemplating Divorce” is another winner. I struggle (I’ve said before) with the signal in poetry, conveyed when ordinary sentence syntax doesn’t seem to make sense, that we are supposed to look for a different kind of sense. Get ourselves into a mystical or poetic frame of mind, at which point valued information magically arrives. I don’t easily fall into that frame of mind. But this poem for me combines plot narrative and that other kind of sense. There is a courageous run at erotic/romantic love which although it exposes a sex-educator’s hard-to-accept unambiguous attitude to pornography comes pretty close to landing the famously elusive fish in that lake.

My standard for success there is DH Lawrence, who had the advantage of surprise, swimming against a Victorian current we don’t feel very strongly any more. Great stuff. I’m going to see if I can enjoy poetry a bit more. 8.4

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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