Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Omens in the Year of the Ox

Omens in the Year of the Ox / Steven Price
London, ON: Brick Books, c2012.
103 p.

This collection of poetry was sent to me by the publisher quite a while ago. I read it quickly and was quite impressed but never did write up my thoughts. So I've just been reading through it again, and finding it just as fascinating.

I read Steven Price's novel Into the Darkness a while back and wasn't overly impressed, but I do find that with many, many authors, I tend to have a preference for one kind of output -- ie: with LM Montgomery, whom I adore, I love her novels, am relatively fond of her short stories and don't think much of her poetry. Marge Piercy: absolutely adore her poetry, but can't read her novels. There is the same kind of breakdown with so many others. And perhaps this is one more example...while I wasn't really grabbed by his novel, Price's poetry engaged and delighted me.

This collection references Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose poetics used sprung rhythm. I think you either love or hate his stuff, I personally love it, and was intrigued by the way that Price incorporates many of Hopkins' themes and structures into his own work -- particularly notable was the inventive vocabulary that echoes Hopkins' nature-based compound descriptions. The opening piece, "The Crossing", makes explicit Price's nod to Hopkins and informs much of the work.

But another element, tied to the 'omens' of the title, is the recurring motif of a chorus of voices commenting on/sometimes heard by the poet. It's a nod toward a classical tradition that is then carried on in poems like "Medea", "Odysseus and the Sirens", "Icarus in the Tower", or "Orpheus Ascending". Another recurring pattern is the presence of a number of poems consisting of curses, those of a gardener, a midwife, or the blind. It all melds together into a collection that creates a winding path through classical allusions with inventive wordsmithery.

I found that I preferred to read one or two and let them sit for a while, rather than all together at once... they were too intricate to rush through, with a little too much to winkle out of each poem to simply rush by them. Overall, I was left with the sense of darkness and light as it has been expressed since the distant, mythical past. The cover expresses that idea of light eclipsed and returning, in the darkness of the human psyche. There were a couple of the poems that I didn't feel much of a connection to, that seemed a little cold to me, but I enjoyed the structure of the whole.

Personally, I  especially appreciated the elements of Hopkins and the classical references. I like that style of work and this collection certainly impressed. Now I must go back and read his first collection, Anatomy of Keys, which won awards and which I somehow missed.


  1. I've not heard of this poet before but you make him sound really interesting so I will have to look him up at my library! Any book of poetry that makes you want to read more has got to be worthwhile.

  2. Great to hear you liked the book. I had him as a sessional instructor in school and he was awesome.

    I would highly suggest you check out "The Anatomy of Keys" an earlier book of his poetry focusing entirely on Houdini. Most of the poems beg to be read aloud

  3. Stefanie - I'm glad I made time to read this collection slowly, to get to know the poems. He is erudite, for sure, and very interesting.

    Duck Thief - lucky you! I am so intrigued by the idea of a poetic treatment of Houdini - am definitely getting a copy of Anatomy of Keys.

  4. "am definitely getting a copy of Anatomy of Keys."

    I look forward to your review and I'll have to get started on one of my own!


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