Saskatoon StarPhoenix Review - Love of Mirrors

Reviewed by: Bill Robertson

Giants of poetry and sport

Hyland collection remarkable for its breadth, depth and exuberance

Moose Jaw's Gary Hyland, with help from editor, Amy Caughlin, has put together a selection of poems from six of his collections, along with a substantial number of new ones, while Newfoundland poet Randall Maggs has gotten into the life, mind, and times of champion NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk to give readers some idea of what might have been going on inside the talented and troubled warhorse of the six-team era.

What is immediately impressive about Hyland's Love of Mirrors is the breadth of his reading, learning, experience, and understanding, as well as his sheer exuberance and compassion for his subjects. Hyland's fellow poet and friend Lorna Crozier, in her introduction, notes the facility with which he moves from loving poems about Moose Jaw boys Deke, Scrawny, Zip, Magoo and others -- young guys we once marvelled could even be the subjects of poems -- to ones about tai chi, the famous photograph of the burning Vietnamese girl running from the napalm strike, burial tombs on the west coast of Ireland, and an imaginary employee of a big corporation who feels like a nobody.

And on top of his relentless desire to push the boundaries of what he will write about is Hyland's zest for experimenting with form. Besides the free verse, prairie anecdotal style, which he does very well, Hyland turns his hand to such forms as the sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, and various types of multi-part and prose poems. He pays tribute to numerous poets who have passed on, including Anne Szumigalski, Al Purdy, Gwen MacEwen, and John V. Hicks, and he takes two different looks at the genesis of that famous anonymous lyrics of the 15th Century, Western Wind. He also addresses a poem to students for them to engage with in an essay. Hyland was an English teacher for years, after all.

Besides having an inquisitive mind that will make poems out of anything, Hyland is also an exemplar of the poet who stares long at something the rest of us take for granted, then writes in a philosophical vein about what he's seen. In Occupants he meditates on our human moving back and forth across the country and concludes, "This is how we flee and seek each other. How we mix / and sift the mysteries. These flights into our distances." In Lateness he opens with the staggering lines, "It's never as late as you think. / It's always later."

Hyland now lives with ALS (or Lou Gehrig's disease) and his condition lends these poems a profound poignancy. In one of his new poems, the beautiful Note to the Woman Who Danced in the Park Today, he opens by saying "You never saw me," then describes a woman throwing herself into a dance, despite the informal public forum. He closes by speaking of what she did as a miracle for which he gives thanks, then, in brackets, closes: "I was the lean, bald one who seemed / to be reading a book by the gate." There he sat, pretending not to stare, and taking it all in with gratitude. We can be grateful, as well, for this collection of poems. 

 

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