Gravity's Plumb Line


96 pages
ISBN 1-55447-002-1
DDC C811'.54






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.


When the history of contemporary Canadian poetry comes to be written, a
not-yet-recognized group of poets will be seen to have achieved
prominence against the grain of the age. Their poetry is written in
reaction to the excesses of confessional verse, registers
dissatisfaction with the slackness of vers libre, and is a product of
hard-won technical discipline. These writers admire wit and precision,
are not afraid of intellect, and, while neither rejecting nor imitating
the traditional, adapt its virtues to the needs of our own time. Poets
who belong to this diverse group include Eric Ormsby, David Solway,
Christopher Wiseman, Robyn Sarah, Jeffery Donaldson, Carmine Starnino,
John Reibetanz, Richard Greene, and others.

It also includes Ross Leckie. This is his third book of poetry, and
reflects his recent residence in the Maritimes. The opening section,
“The Saint John River,” revisits Charles G.D. Roberts country, but
the result belongs indisputably to the present. His is a poetry of
meditation. The riverine and maritime landscape is internalized. There
is little or no conventional description, and certainly no enthusing
over “Beauty”: “The movement of the river is a parable / told over
and over. Its meaning is polished stone.”

The closing section, “The Horizons of Tragedy,” is totally
different in subject, yet clearly the product of the same poet in style
and tone. Leckie takes up Aristotle’s thinking on tragedy in Poetics,
and contemplates its implications in a series of challenging poems with
titles like “Mimesis,” “Unity,” “Plot,” “Catharsis.” In
between are two untitled sections containing shorter poems. Leckie
favours unrhymed triplets or (in “The Horizons of Tragedy”) unrhymed
couplets, but there are sonnets (often with mystifying titles) and
numerous other forms. One of the pleasures of this text is its technical

Leckie’s poems do not make for easy reading. Though syntactically
straightforward, they feature metaphors that are often unexpected and
startling, and the movement of thought can be intellectually
challenging. They need to be read slowly; then, after a little
pondering, their meaning will gradually emerge. And it is almost always
a decidedly worthwhile experience.


Leckie, Ross., “Gravity's Plumb Line,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,