Patrick Lane Lorne Hicks - Essay

Lorne Hicks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Beware the Months of Fire is a book which is sometimes brutal, often morbid, usually disturbing. Like Yeats, Lane finds his muse "In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart", but what a foul shop this is, leading to darkness rather than Byzantium. These poems explore an intensely black vision, remindful both in grotesque point of view and morbid tone of Sylvia Plath's work. Just as Plath once confided that she enjoyed watching "cadavers cut open", Lane's poetry reveals a similar grisly fascination with bodies, both dead and dying…. Although death is treated graphically by Lane, rather than as an abstraction, there is an underlying sense of purpose in his poetry, summarized by the epigraph: "The greatest defeat, in anything, is to forget, and above all to forget what it is that has smashed you, and to let yourself be smashed without ever realizing how thoroughly devilish men can be." (Céline, Journey To The End of Night). This collection is autobiographical, and its characters—all either failures or outcasts—never allow Lane "to forget"; each of them has been cruelly "smashed"; death is degrading rather than ennobling. (p. 22)

The central concern of Lane's poetry is to gain a gut response to the grotesque action of his work, rather than leading the reader to a sympathetic understanding of character or motive. It's tough, but effective. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a poem such as "There was a Woman Bending" carries more impact than a long polemic dealing with abortion…. This is a stunning, moving poem which carries an immense feeling of emptiness and waste, even though it doesn't proselytize…. In "July", Pat Lane writes that "compassion is only the beginning of suffering." In the end, however, the poet describes what has smashed him through the symbolic act of remembering. Although pain and death are central here, Beware the Months of Fire is a collection provoked by love and understanding rather than hate and bitterness. (pp. 22-3)

Lorne Hicks, "Literature: 'Beware the Months of Fire'," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LIV, Nos. 640 & 641, May-June, 1974, pp. 20-3.∗