D.G. Jones. The Stream Exposed with All its Stones: Collected Poems.
D.G. Jones. The Stream Exposed with All its Stones: Collected Poems. Montreal: Signal Editions, 2010.
Starting with the 1957 Contact Press book Frost on the Sun and up to poems published in the 1999 collection Grounding Sight, The Stream Exposed with All its Stones is a portrait of "Infinite vista and the mind at play," as D.G. Jones puts it in "Stevie and Sea." While displaying skill and intelligence, Jones's earliest poems are characterized by mannered diction and not always gracefully integrated mythological allusions. A few lyrics from 1961's The Sun is Axeman--most notably "The River: North of Guelph" and "These Trees Are No Forest of Mourners," both of which were anthologized by Margaret Atwood in The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse--herald the breakout success of 1967's Phrases from Orpheus. At his best, Jones juxtaposes, and fuses, the worlds of nature and culture in taut lyrics charged with memorable phrasings, as in the conclusion of "Annunciation," where "The air is not just air, it is an arctic / Confidence of flowers." Jones dedicates large portions of later books to open-ended sequences of varying length, as he moves away from the poem as a self-contained, crystalline thought towards poetry as a process of thinking. Unfortunately, most of these series confirm Poe's opinion that a long poem is a contradiction in terms. There are many lovely moments and sharp apercus to be found in them, but on the whole they are desultory jottings, often resembling nothing so much as banal commentary on current events and weather. Even W.J. Keith, who provides a warm introduction to The Stream Exposed, can't bring himself to endorse Jones's later work wholeheartedly, identifying "a curious enigmatic quality that can sometimes prove baffling" and lamenting that "there are times when [he] fails to bridge the gap between poet and reader." A notable and welcome exception is the nine-part "A Thousand Hooded Eyes," from Jones's 1995 book The Floating Garden. Each dense, zoom-focussed twelve-line piece in the sequence plays to Jones's strengths of observation, allusion and soundplay, as in his Marianne Moore-ish description of a turtle as "the amateur / of armour plate." Amid the serial poems, there are wonderful lyrics to be found in the later work, such as the playful abecedarium "Pioneer as Man of Letters" (an antidote to his friend Atwood's grim "Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer") and the masterpiece "Another Throw of Yarrow Stalks" (both from the 1988 book Balthazar). In his most recent collection, Jones returns to the isolated lyric and often gives Zen-like impermanence a resonant, memorable shape in poems that are hyper-aware, but not fearful, of mortality. In "Drawing the Line," he writes "I wanted to draw a line / a division / like an end // a beginning / a hammer that falls / a pillar that climbs // no is on, off is maybe, a line in the sand / becomes sand." The cover copy of The Stream Exposed overstates Jones' status in claiming that he is "one of Canada's major poets," but he has nevertheless been a poet with something to say and a gift for saying it well.