F(rancis) R(eginald) Scott Ian Sowton - Essay

Ian Sowton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The sardonic, sceptical habit—itself entirely salutary—has won Frank Scott many satirical victories but they've always struck me as rather easy ones. There are a few more such victories in [Signature]…. Good Bye to All That, while not exactly a case of easy temptation-easy victory, would perhaps do better as a … gap-filler in the bulletin of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. I am making a literary, not a moral objection. Cheap victories have soured all attempts of Canadian poets at satire. In The Blasted Pine, for instance, not even Scott's contributions managed to get the old Canadian pine really blasted; it was left a bit charred, but still flourishing in its inimitable, betundra'd fashion. The object of a satiric blast must be either obliterated or transfigured; you have to be left either with a smoking crater open to the chancey seed and fall of rain or with a burning bush. Neither Scott nor any Canadian satirist else has brought this off. Poems like General Election and Audacity seem to me to discharge the tension between soloist and urbanized, politic man far too inexpensively in favor of the former.

More successful than Signature's inexpensive satires is its series of world-tour poems and those poems celebrating the temporal, evolutionary process of the whole cosmos. In such poems as The Seed Thrower, Journey, Polynesian, and Time as Now attention is shifted from the zanier, close-to-home configurations to the widest universal concerns…. Here the single sensibility grows into a mulitple sensibility and becomes more human, more singular, in the process. The microcosmic soloist learns himself as a recapitulative paradigm of the macrocosm—not merely in terms of a biological theorem but in a living commitment to man-in-nature.

Most successful of all the poems in Signature, I think, are those of the soloist in a national landscape where the paradox and the sensibilities are realized neither in immediate, local Aunt Sallys nor in cosmic racemanship, but in the quality of being, so to speak, a landed immigrant who's both affectionate and sharp-eyed.

Ian Sowton, "Soloist," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XLIV, No. 530, March, 1965, p. 282.