John Newlove George Bowering - Essay

George Bowering

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.