Andrew Suknaski

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Eli Mandel

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

[Suknaski's poem, "West Central Pub",] is about identity, change, process, the poet. And it deploys with beautiful subtlety several prairie motifs: the beer-drinking or wine-drinking philosophers; the beer-parlour as seminar and place of initiation; the poem as parody. But it also locates the poet for us in a striking use of an old image out of Gilbert & Sullivan: a thing of rags and patches, the wandering minstrel, ineffectual lover and singer, prince in disguise. And it's that sense of identity or patchwork, a now patched up of then and no longer the same, that gives Suknaski's work its authenticity. Al Purdy, in his introduction to [Wood Mountain Poems] says rightly, "This book is in no sense a history of the area, although it does deal with Wood Mountain people and history. Nor is it an autobiography of Andy Suknaski, although his own life is both marginally and centrally involved." For Purdy that means the book gives us, as he says, "a clear look at people and places," and exploration of the territory of time, a sense of place unequalled anywhere else, an overriding sense of sadness, and nostalgia and affection as well. Fair enough…. What I hear in Suknaski's work differs from Purdy's version only in emphasis, I think. Purdy chooses the metaphor of territory or place for time, the double sense of time in Suknaski's poems. Place, then, is in Purdy's phrase "Multi dimensional" so that whatever a clear look at place means, it is by no means a simple matter. To change the metaphor, if Wood Mountain Poems is about roots at all, these are a tangled and complicated mass, and more than anything else, it is the poet's unease, his deep-rooted embarrassment, as he touches on, reveals, the tangle, that comes through to us—not sadness, not nostalgia, not affection, but shame, everything implied in his own use of words like "betrayal" and "guilt". (pp. 75-6)

As Purdy says, "There is nothing flashy or sensational" about Wood Mountain Poems, "no verbal surprises or gymnastics (apart from the elasticity of time)" but there is an exceptional sense of dialect, of voice, as if Suknaski were hearing sounds carried by the wind: fragment of speech, the way it sounded to be there, what was said. Why that is important I leave it to you to sort out, but it is true that wherever the diction of poetry radically alters, unusual things are happening, both in sensibility and culture. (p. 76)

Eli Mandel, "Writing West: On the Road to Wood Mountain," in his Another Time (copyright © 1977 by Eli Mandel), Press Porcepic, 1977, pp. 68-80.∗

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