Andrew Suknaski George Woodcock - Essay

George Woodcock

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[On] one level Suknaski's Wood Mountain Poems are elegiac records of Saskatchewan's past; of the Indians, Sitting Bull and all the others, who were only memories in Wood Mountain by the time he grew up there; of the pioneers, including his father, who broke themselves in the process of breaking an ungrateful land and who survived to populate the poet's youth.

There is thus a great deal of sheer history to be sifted out of these poems, and no prairie archivist worth his salt would fail to note it, but Wood Mountain Poems has other dimensions. It is, to begin, not merely a record but also a judgment, of white rapacity that killed the Indians' culture, of urban indifference that allowed the way of life replacing the Indian way to expire in its turn of neglect. For Wood Mountain, as a white village, is dying as the nomadic Indian villages died before it. And Andrew Suknaski, in the flat eloquence of reproach and regret, laments alike the Indian life that drained away into survival, and the wasted lives of European immigrants who gave their manhood and often their sanity in the thankless task of taming a region—the south Saskatchewan prairie—that should never have known the plough…. [For] if the Indians have already become wronged ghosts, the old pioneers are there in all their individual idiosyncrasy, from the poet's father, unpredictable violence turning his life into five decades of terminal solitude, to the farmer who madly threshes Russian thistle when his land has borne no wheat for years. A smaller Suknaski collection, On First Looking Down from Lions Gate Bridge,… consists largely of items already included in Wood Mountain Poems; the new poems have a transitional feeling, for they follow on the poet's departure from his omphalic village and his search for an imaginative hitching post in a new setting. (pp. 86-7)

George Woodcock, "Playing with Freezing Fire," in Canadian Literature, No. 70, Autumn, 1976, pp. 84-91.∗