Patrick Lane John Cruickshank - Essay

John Cruickshank

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The title poem of [The Measure] should quickly find its way into the anthologies, not because it is the best of the 25 poems brought together in this volume, but because it is the most striking. "The Measure" depicts a dead dog in a field being watched over by a magpie; it is a small, almost perfect song in a minor key. The metaphor is precise and compelling, drawing the reader into a slightly claustrophobic but richly furnished poetic world. And, like much of the best anthology poetry—though not always the best verse—"The Measure" feels authorless and timeless…. Such words as "bone" and "stark," and such images as wind whipping away sound, seem to suspend the poem in time and place, giving it a universal quality.

In fact, I'd advise readers to make their way through the title poem before grappling with Lane's rather bathetic screed for himself on the back cover: "I sometimes think I was born old," he writes. "If that is true then these poems are a way of return to an innocence I never knew." Unfortunately, this triumph of grammar and logic intrudes into some of Lane's poems. A poet's reflections on life and community are often valuable—perhaps when recounted in memoirs or magazine articles—but when in poems they force the reader to stop in mid-stanza to ask why he is being subjected to this or that opinion, the coherence of the reading experience suffers.

Many of the poems are of the "Most Unforgettable Character I Have Known" variety, which now seems so much in vogue. They are entertaining, cleanly written, and though at times they are little more than loosely punctuated short stories, they are at least free of the preciousness that creeps into some of Lane's lyrical work.

John Cruickshank, "Precious Little," in Books in Canada, Vol. 10, No. 7, August-September, 1981, p. 18.