D(ouglas) G(ordon) Jones Phyllis Webb - Essay

Phyllis Webb

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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
                 be, like this river,
                 thin as glass
             that thunder, dark clouds, rain,
                 the violent winds, may pass
             and leave no lasting darkness in their wake….

Occasionally the fear of leaving a "lasting darkness" results in a dodge into coyness. "Clotheslines", for instance, which begins with a tone I can describe only as a normal nobility, promising Williamsesque truths from common things, drops down into coy self-consciousness…. The overall achievement of The Sun Is Axeman results in a distinctive voice, a poetry of lovely assonances, syllabic grace, of insights glancing from a landscape "in which the birds or trees / Find all their palpable relations with the earth." (p. 59)

Phyllis Webb, in Canadian Literature, Spring, 1962.