Andrew Suknaski Lorne Daniel - Essay

Lorne Daniel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Over the years Suknaski, like any poet groping for a personal understanding of his art, has used an assortment of poetic devices and formats, ranging from the concrete, through the abrupt lyrics of some of his "Suicide Notes," to the more free-flowing forms of most of his work…. Wood Mountain Poems is a cohesive grouping of poems which are complementary in style, tone and (of course) their Wood Mountain subject matter. At well over one hundred pages, the book is … not without a few weak poems, "Principal in a Prairie Town" being one.

As important as the selection is the evidence that the poems have been extensively reworked and strengthened since they first appeared in the little mags…. More often than not,… the reworking has been done with care and a poetic energy equal to that evident in the creation of the original. "Leaving" has been re-written, becoming a new (and better) poem; "Leaving Home," and the newer version of such poems as "Sandia Man" is ample evidence of confident, well-directed revision….

In his unpretentious, straightforward style Suknaski displays a finely tuned ear for phrasing, an eye for vivid yet natural expression, and powerful imagery…. The Ukrainian and native Dakota languages serve as seed material for many of the poems, with words such as soongeedawn, loshka, mashteehka and shugmanitou often entailing the first line of a poem. While these explorations of ethnic heritage are effective, their somewhat self-conscious technique at times seems forced. Ultimately stronger are poems such as "The First Communion," the poems which tell stories of pioneers and friends, and in particular the opening poem, "Homestead, 1914." In such poems Suknaski works from the reality of personal experience towards mythology….

As intriguing as the individual poems are the numerous cross-references and inter-relationships of the collection….

With this edition of Wood Mountain Poems Andy Suknaski … establishes himself as an accomplished poet, a mature voice deserving of the national readership he has finally found.

Lorne Daniel, "Finely Tuned," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LVI, No. 667, December-January, 1976–77, p. 61.