A. F. Moritz
The Ghosts Call You Poor widens and deepends the vein Suknaski first explored for a large public in Wood Mountain Poems…. The hallmark of this poetry is a reverent contemplation of facts: facts about Canada, the Prairies, Wood Mountain, its inhabitants and their predecessors…. [The] sense of returning to a widowed, bereaved people and landscape, in danger of dying owing to neglect, dominates Suknaski's work.
For all his evocation of the hardihood of the plains-dwellers and their tough, resinous speech, Suknaski deals mainly in ruins, in the reminiscences the aged and semi-derelict indulge in about the mighty pioneer images of their forefathers, and in the dim presence of the shattered, dispersed Indian. For him these are the fugitive remains of a tradition that held an infinite promise. His Wood Mountain is a place visited, destroyed, and abandoned by progress, eaten and spit out by man's confused double quest for wealth and for the severe, terrifying, vague beatitude expressed in the word "North." The best poem here is "Dreaming of the Northwest Passage," a meditation on this quest in the concise, rhythmic, charged language that Suknaski too seldom achieves.
His poetry is often prolix and prosaic, apparently without sufficient care for (or interest in) words. In form, style, and diction many of the poems are only magazine verse of an unadventurous kind. This fault largely vanishes if one is prepared to give full marks to a poetry that seems designed for oral presentation to the largest possible audience. Still, the contrast between the Prairie speech Suknaski quotes and the frequent colourlessness and cliché of his own voice is not to his credit. Basically, Suknaski uses simple themes as receptacles into which detail after realistic detail is poured, hoping their sheer weight and presence will spark in the reader an intuition of the reality the poet confronts. When Suknaski departs from this method to think and comment he is not successful. In several poems he attacks the white man's guilt, and his felt kinship with history and place is lost in the mea culpa of the knee-jerk liberal. The Ghosts Call You Poor lives in its poetic summoning of the spirit of Wood Mountain—rich in dreams, proud, wounded, and unfulfilled.
A. F. Moritz, "Lost Glories, Found Clichés," in Books in Canada, Vol. 8, No. 1, January, 1979, p. 14.∗