John Newlove Stephen Scobie - Essay

Stephen Scobie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.