Prairie Books NOW Review - Love of Mirrors

Reviewed by: Ariel Gordon

To hear Saskatchewan Poet Laureate Robert Currie tell it, Gary Hyland has been angling towards poetry all his life. 

When Hyland was eight or nine, he attended a church bazaar where he paid a nickel to try the fish pond. Hyland hooked a book called Poems Worth Knowing, which almost didn't make it home with the hockey-obsessed Moose Jaw resident. 

"Some nights later, he was bored, so he decided to read some poems," says Currie, who has been in a writing group with Hyland since 1975 and who frequently speaks for him now that Hyland's health has declined due to ALS. "He read one and he turned the page and the next page was blank. The end of the poem wasn't there.

"So he tried writing the end of the poem. And then he wrote some more endings. And then he thought, 'Well, why don't I write my own poems?' So right from the beginning, there he was, alongside Wordsworth and Tennyson and guys like that."

Love of Mirrors is Hyland's seventh full-length collection over a career that spans four decades. Aside from his poetry, Hyland is also renowned for his work in the writing and publishing community in Saskatchewan.

"He is a legendary teacher around here," notes Currie, "and he has a great faith in the next generation as well as confidence in the writers of his own generation."

Teaching had a profound effect on Hyland's poetic pratice.

"I think that one of the things that teaching did is that it made him want to strive for clarity over obscurity because he wanted to connect with readers," says Currie.

"Teaching also made him an excellent reader." 

Hyland helped found Sage Hill Writing Experience, Coteau Books, and Moose Jaw's annual Festival of Words. 

"There wasn't a lot for him when he started out, so he became sort of an icon in this province for his writing and for his arts activism."

But Hyland didn't let his work as an arts activist interfere with his work as a poet.

"Though Gary spent hours and hours on volunteer activities - and I'm sure some weeks it must have been 80 hours a week on volunteer activities - I can only remember twice in all those years when he didn't bring poems to our poetry group," says Currie.

Currie believes that the 230 pages of Love of Mirrors speak to Hylands power as a poet. 

"I like his ability to command different voices in such a moving way," Currie says. "But I think there's real intellectual power in some of the poems as well.

"And I really admire his ability to deal with some of the rougher things in life such as marriage break-up in a poem such as 'Out of Heart' or his own demise in a poem such as in 'From Arguments in the Garden of Prayer.'"

Hyland's words warrant this confidence: "The future / does not crave our hands, our words to name / its changes and sustainings. It will awake / when we do not awake."

 

 

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