John Newlove Robin Skelton - Essay

Robin Skelton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 666 words.)