As I See It
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.
Fred Cogswell has been publishing poetry for more than 40 years. He has
always been a traditional poet, employing sanctioned verse-forms and
metres; here, we encounter examples of haiku, quatrain, villanelle,
sonnet (both Petrarchan and Shakespearean), and especially sestina, a
form that seems to fit his brooding but carefully controlled meditations
on the oddity and fascination of life.
He is also a translator, best known for his renditions of poetry from
Quebec. In As I See It he concentrates on the European-French tradition:
there are accomplished translations here from Baudelaire, Gautier,
Leconte de Lisle, Verlaine, and Villon, among others.
This collection represents the harvest of a rigorous technical
apprenticeship. What might otherwise seem a fairly commonplace thought
is regularly enlivened and refurbished by a dexterous rhyme. While some
poems are deeply moving (“The Discord”), and others are directly
didactic, most record the musings of an old man assessing what has been
learned in a long and active life, and in such poems the pleasure we
receive is, to a significant extent, derived from an appreciation of the
verbal skill that the poet demonstrates.
There is nothing trendily postmodern about Cogswell’s work, though he
emerges as “contemporary” in always making us aware of art as art.
Take, for example, “Pipe Dream”: “Words came to me so quick they
blurred my thought / And how they did so God only knows, / But firm in
my imagination caught / They somehow fitted all the forms I chose.”
The poem embodies the thought it isolates. There is an elegance, an
adroitness, here that “free verse,” for all its other
potentialities, can never match.
As I See It is not a flamboyant volume but it displays a consummate
mastery of the craft of verse.