Robin Skelton Doug Fetherling - Essay

Doug Fetherling

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Professor Skelton obviously learned to polish his verse into what … is now the "casual mastery" mentioned in one of the poems, but I am unable to find anything very new or interesting in what the poems stand for [in Selected Poems]. One of two examples exist where the conclusions are meant to be half understood by the readers. One is "At Walden Pond" where

   I stamp on the ice of a man a hundred years dead.
   My children scream half-laughters at the risk … (of crossing the ice.)
   But I don't laugh.

The best poem in the collection is one about a prisoner of war released by the Japanese after World War Two who recalls having been marched through Nagasaki after the American atomic bombing:

              "It looked like a flower
              among the stones," he said,
              "a cup and saucer
              melted and hardened back
              into folds of petals.
              Lovely it was," he said,
              "but I felt sick…."

This poem and a much longer one about Vancouver Island make up for a lot. You've got to really go for Mr. Skelton's poetry to keep from wandering through the book, which also would have been better with the exclusion of his traditional ballads. (p. 30)

Doug Fetherling, in The Canadian Forum, December, 1968.