Jones, D(ouglas) G(ordon)
The poems in Jones' [The Sun Is Axeman] depend delicately from the top of the page, reminding me of that excellent poem which opened his first book, Frost on the Sun, with the question, "Do poems too have backbones?" In that book, D. G. Jones explained that his poems were
… attempts to apprehend and understand fragments of experience … to capture and suggest the sense that the universe is a vast pool, globe, or continuum of energy—mysterious and potent—in which the individual thing or creature participates, changes, or dies.
The dominant sun of his poetry symbolizes that continuum of energy, with its creative and destructive potential. The sun is axeman, "it crashes in the alders," but it also produces dazzling protective revelations…. (p. 58)
The sun and weather, birds and girls are centring images in this carefully crafted work. The clarity, control, and music of these poems reveal the benevolent influences of W. C. Williams and Pound, influences which have been absorbed and used towards a personal utterance…. (pp. 58-9)
For a poet whose imaginative range is somewhat limited, Jones appears remarkably at home in … longer poems. The reasons for this security are not hard to find, for his poetic aims are as lucid as his poetic line:
So let my mind
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E. D. Blodgett
Beside the meteoric flash of such writers as Leonard Cohen and, now, Margaret Atwood, Jones's subtle brilliance seems a pale fire indeed. This is because Jones is a poet who is penetrating with care and delicate concern many of Canada's more troubling aesthetic preoccupations. He is a poet of courage whose surfacing is always deceptive and often misleading in a country where the search for self and heritage can be so exhausting that most poets would prefer to settle for any mode of irony that would both expose the mysterious folly of self-discovery and, also, prevent whatever fulfillment of exploration might be possible.
This is the poetry of an imagination that was early formed, and such changes as occur are those of a style deepened only by tragic events. It should be remarked, nevertheless, how the centre of Jones's circles of radiation is placed in his first book. As a poet who seems only minimally ready for statement, he enunciated an almost consuming passion in his first poem in Frost On The Sun entitled "John Marin". Jones's passion is for art, form and the artist's ambiguous relation to the world present to the eye. Every volume of his poetry has, in fact, begun with meditations on this problem. The Sun Is Axeman opens reflecting upon Anne Hébert; Phrases From Orpheus moves confidently into the same kind of aesthetic dimension. By the third book, however, the self is no longer a spectator of a simple...
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The typical setting for a poem by D. G. Jones, in 1953 or 1973, is some rural place in the Canadian Shield at that time of year when it is still winter but perhaps beginning to be spring. The difference between the 1953 poem and the 1973 poem lies in where the poet is situated. In the earlier poems Jones is the interpreter of the landscape. In the later ones he is part of the landscape. It is as difficult as that. To put it another way: during his early career he seemed faced with a dispute—shall he be "realistic" or "mythic"? Later he succeeded in discarding both poses, in favour of being actual. He learned to listen to his own body, the music it was (forced) to make in its environment, and there is the body of his later work, as beautifully trim as any we have heard in this country.
Jones has a reputation as an "intellectual" poet…. Certainly he has always distinguished himself from the majority of Canadian lyric poets writing in English, they who are satisfied to tell you how they are feeling right now about some occasional perception. Jones has always wanted to know that, plus: what does it mean…. [A] consecutive reading of his work reveals that he has always been looking for a world-view that would seem sensible given his perceptions and emotions. (p. 7)
Jones embodies the spirit of the Anglo-Saxon poet in a strange wintery land, the first morning outside Eden. For that was the European Eden, not so much a...
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