A Figure on the Move


120 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 1-55081-040-5
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by Gildas Roberts

Gildas Roberts is a university professor of English at the Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


The poems in this book are the most perfect expressions of social
loneliness that I have ever encountered. The poet is always alone,
looking on, overhearing, never partaking. But there is no self-pity
here, no recrimination, only a deep and witty understanding both of the
poet himself and of the lonely crowd all around him.

The long central poem, “Isola Bella,” is a Festabend presentation
of the mingled sights and sounds of a lovely Italian tourist mecca on a
glorious day in the sun. We see here, as in all the poems and the
accompanying fluid line drawings, that if Macdonald has been cursed with
solitude he has had the abundant recompense of being blessed with eyes
and ears remarkably sensual and acute.

In any collection of poems a reader inevitably has a favorite one that
has especially moved, startled, or shaken him. In this book it is, for
me, “The Solitudes.” The setting is a resort on the French Riviera
posh enough to have made it into the words of an international hit song.
The poet sees the kinship of solitariness that links him “all white: /
light slacks, shirt, / in the summer heat” to a long, latter-day hippy
“hair page-boy long, / black, matted, greased, / like a travesty foul
/ of Olivier’s Richard the Third.” Suddenly the derelict takes off
from “his bed of earth” and passes “with surprising alacrity /
like some scuttling black spider / out of sight, / into his further
darkness.” The poet, like the scuttling hippy, departs the scene, and
we have this magnificent coda “And I go now / back to my own / night /
of self-sustaining comforts / at the end of a day, / career, and soon
perhaps / a life / adequate in the world’s eyes, / respectable, if
unremarked, / to solitude like, / I presume, his, / and a certain dark
emptiness / I’ve never managed, / will never manage, to fill.”

Macdonald is a poet who combines the technical mastery of his craft
with heart-stopping insights into the human condition. When, when, when,
are the grand petty Pooh-Bahs of the Canadian literary establishment
going to grant him the recognition he so blatantly deserves?


Macdonald, Alastair., “A Figure on the Move,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/11939.