Saskatoon StarPhoenix Review - Running in Darkness

Reviewed by: Bill Robertson

American poet Theodore Roethke told his students that poets must be able to risk sentimentality in order to write their version of truth. And this is a huge risk because so often it is that wide gulf between the so-called coldly objective and the abjectly sentimental that divides supposedly good poetry from occasional verse and doggerel.

Moose Jaw writer Robert Currie takes that risk, and takes it often, in his fifth full-length collection of poems, Running in Darkness. 

Put quite simply, this collection is the many stories of a man's life, from conception to the burying of both his parents and his grim acceptance of the vibrant life that goes on without him at the school where he taught for many years.

For some reason teaching, whether it be school or university, has rarely been deemed an acceptable subject for poetry. Perhaps it was Irving Layton's macho dictum that poets go find themselves a war or be lumberjacksor miners that scared a generation or two away from writing about the clasroom. Whatever it was, Currie is having none of it, and having spent his working life teaching English, he mines it for all it's worth.

He helps a student with her public speaking in one poem, then meets her again in another nearly 40 years later, or he watches the transformation of a bunch of raggedy kids into Hamlet, Ophelia, and Laertes. There are are also university parties here, first jobs to pay for school, athletics, and an anniversary call home from a teachers' convention.

Of course, there are poems of youth, an especially good one, despite its sentimentality, being Jubilee, where on a vacation to the U.S. the boy's father hands out Saskatchewan Jubilee matches to everyone he meets. And there are poems at the other end of the spectrum about the adult man playing with his grandchildren and nursing his parents through their final days.

In between, taking another huge risk, Currie writes about one of Saskatchewan's most popular indoor sports, writing poetry and attending poetry readings and conferences. Now this is something that often gets writers' hands slapped, but Currie wades right in where others would dare not follow, proud to have seen poets such as Earle Birney and Anne Szumigalski in action, happy to have written books and attended workshops, blessed to have read to former students who love him.

Yes, Currie goes out on a limb here and risks it all, writing what writers are told to do and write what you know: his own life, as much of it as he can happily crowd in.

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