Crossing the Straits

Description

72 pages
$20.00
ISBN 0-9735910-1-3
DDC C811'.54

Year

2004

Contributor

Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.

Review

Crossing the Straits contains a gratifyingly large number of
accomplished poems; more important, however, it is a coherent collection
that holds together as a book, with a beginning, a middle, and an
ending.

The first section, “Islands in Memory” celebrates Greene’s
Newfoundland Irish-Catholic ancestry, with poems about a whaler
great-grandfather, the fishermen-soldiers of the Newfoundland Regiment,
the generations that “built frail houses against Atlantic gales, /
caught fish, tended kitchen-gardens, bred / and buried children year
after year.” “Crossing the Straits” itself ostensibly describes
the poet’s ferry journey from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, but is also
the journey from past to future, and what is called in a later poem
“the long journey out of selfhood.”

The second section opens up to consider the larger issues of life and
faith: “Home that was behind / in years, / now lies ahead.”
Religious poems about Pilate, the burials of Judas and Jesus, and two
early martyrs conclude with “The Way Out,” which gives its name to
the section and chronicles the way out of one world and into another.

The final section, “The Living,” is based on a serious pun. The
name-poem is in fact an elegy for the British writer Peter Levi, poet,
sometime Jesuit, and personal friend. This is followed by “Martin
Royackers,” another Jesuit acquaintance, victim of a political murder
in Jamaica. Both are dead but live on by their example. And the book
ends with two poems about the poet’s life in contemporary Toronto, in
which home and church are fragile havens in an area of racial unease and
the violence of poverty and deprivation.

All these interrelating subjects are further unified not only by the
way their themes chime with each other, but by a diction that is
dignified, precise, and always appropriate to the occasion, from the
forthright great-grandfather who “told the priest to go to hell,” to
the quotidian on Sherbourne Street as it “blossoms / in placards and
buttons to save / the hospital from budget cuts” to generalized
sublimity as “Voice answers to voice in a wilderness of spirit.” A
fine achievement.

Citation

Greene, Richard., “Crossing the Straits,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14637.