John Newlove Essay - Critical Essays

Newlove, John


Newlove, John 1938–

Newlove is a Canadian lyric poet. His early work, characterized by a simple narrative and descriptive form, has evolved into a more complex poetry, featuring juxtaposition of fragments in his most recent verse. His poetry reveals an unremitting sense of alienation and despair. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

George Bowering

[Black Night Window] establishes for the wider literate audience what was previously known to sincere readers of Canadian poetry—that Newlove is one of our dozen really good poets. Period. (p. 187)

Newlove is a scholar … of the western American Indians, & finds their life style, history, thought, suffering, a major theme to return to, usually to start from. "The Pride" begins to make it because it is uncommonly rich in sound, image, historical resonances. In it the poet treats the Indians as men ("the indians / are not composed of / the romantic stories / about them")—yes, Newlove is aware of that word "composed." "The Pride" constitutes the great poem of the land. The Indians (not "The Indian") can be the origin of our own pride instead of our shameful human defeat. The Indians are carried inside us westerners—so poetry is not flakes of dandruff from the poet's long hair, but revelation of the whole body of poetry shared & put to use by men. (pp. 187-88)

Newlove is dedicated to his source, the West, & to that of which he is the source, the poetry. He provides a sense of real care & purpose to do the shaman's thing, get the spirit of the land's West into poetry as one thing, to make it permanent or at least available to like minds, & in other ways & degrees to Eastern strangers….

Only with [his] unpretentious grip may [Newlove] begin to "Ride Off Any Horizon." In that well-known & well-made poem he makes clear his poetic intent & way, his sources & methods. With clear images & sure lines he provides in order, prairie particulars of landscape, prairie evidences of history, prairie phenomena in childhood, smalltown prairie people….

A lot of poets & teachers in Upper & Lower Canada have askt me what makes the best Western poetry different from the best where they are. I'd suggest Black Night Window for an important part of the instructional reading list. (p. 188)

George Bowering, "Books Reviewed: 'Black Night Window'," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. 48, No. 574, November, 1968, pp. 187-88.

Peter Dale Scott

[John Newlove] is a formalist, alert to the tact as well as the audacity of the creative process. North America celebrates a poetic inebriation, moving the mind from "a medley / of sounds / from other men's / tongues" to "a disinterested / remembrance—/ like a flower, / dried". A heroic fragment stops in his mind like a racial memory; and he asks "through how / many hands / have those words // come?—to me, / so / that the noise / made // of the continent / might be / recovered to / my mind".

This movement into afflatus, and return from it, illustrates the impersonal dimension behind the sparse and controlled movements of his personae. A historical irony, not always explicit, allows him to record these movements in minute and exact perspective…. Occasionally Newlove uses mannerisms from an older and inferior generation of Canadian ironists. At his best, he goes straight to "the root / of common penury for / all of us the same". (pp. 360-61)

Peter Dale Scott, "Comment: 'What They Say' and 'Black Night Window'," in Poetry (© 1970 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CXV, No. 5, February, 1970, pp. 360-61.

Stephen Scobie

[In] the words of the epigraph to John Newlove's [Lies], a poet is someone who "often deceived himself and told the truth when he thought he was lying."

If the lie is one indirect form of getting at the truth, another is the dream; and Newlove's book is full of dreams…. The atmosphere of dreams pervades much of the book, especially dreams about water, the sea. Strange, surrealistic images float through the poet's mind, and arrange themselves in shapes which tease meaning towards the reader without ever declaring themselves fully.

And suddenly, in the middle of all these apprehensions, clear and stark come outright pictures of human misery: the desexed "it" who "loves company and company is disgusted by it"; the pitiful Harry who "just can't anymore, that's all"; the terrible complaint that "Nothing I'd read / prepared me for a body this unfair."

The latter quotation comes from a poem called "No Pleasure", which seems almost an understatement for the deep pervading pessimism of this book. "No world without demons, no island / not surrounded by sharks": these are the "Gross masks in the dreams." Lies deals with masks, illusions, self-deceptions; but in the end the most grotesque masks are true, and the dreams all turn into nightmares.

What makes this pessimism all the more pervasive, and yet at the same time a little less absolute, is Newlove's attitude of acceptance rather than outrage….

[Newlove's poems] always seem to be moving out. He … has obscured connections, puzzling images; but always the emotional charge at least is clear.

Stephen Scobie, "Books Reviewed: 'Lies'," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LIII, No. 638, March, 1974, p. 46.

Robin Skelton

The poetry of John Newlove, as presented [in The Fat Man, Selected Poems: 1962–1972] begins in a dark and brooding whimsicality, and moves steadily into utter despair. From the very beginning the protagonist chooses to portray himself as a solitary dominated by fantasy and desire, making "poems babies & love-affairs / out of women I've only seen once," a wanderer on the side of the road "cold / & afraid."…

The safety he finds is in situations which do not involve him in affection or desire; he envies the hitch hikers and their aimless travelling, their "feeling safe with strangers / in a moving car." He reports in drab low-key language on those who are "emptied of desire," on the beer parlour and street life of the small town, where all is directionless and customary….

He finds success a failure, for, recalling what he had wished to become and realizing he has succeeded, he finds that "complete, / I am more empty than ever." He observes the bird that declines "the privilege / of music" preferring to finger "the absolute / wood / beneath," just as he himself prefers plain and unvarnished speech. Sometimes this plain speech of pain results in self-pity as when in "The Dog" he recalls "never thinking anyone / would love me," but the self pity is countered by his sardonic envy of the dog, "damn fool / running and barking / away toward the town." (p. 101)

It is perhaps in contemplating the past, in sharing other lives, that we may discover something to admire, to revere, as in considering the strength of "The Doukhubor," and in "Remembering...

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