White Salt Mountain: Words in Time


235 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55447-003-X
DDC C814'.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.


Subtitled Words in Time, this book, though complete in itself, is a
sequel to spar, which was subtitled Words in Place and released by the
same publisher in a similar format. In the foreword to spar, Sanger
explained that his essays were concerned with “the ways in which we
take words with us when we journey.” The same could be said of White
Stone Mountain, though here the journeys are triggered by old books with
intriguing references that invite exploration.

So an abridged version of Johnson’s Dictionary (1756) contains
annotations that lead Sanger to investigate a land contract apparently
dating back to the end of the American War of Independence. Similarly, a
copy of Fir Flower Tablets: Poems from the Chinese translated by Frances
Ayscough (1922) spurs him to assemble biographical information about a
virtually forgotten Canadian writer. Then a line from Ayscough’s
translation of a Tu Fu poem is found to be echoed in one of the ghazals
of John Thompson, the Maritime poet whose collected poems and
translations Sanger lovingly edited in 1995, and his follow-up of this
clue results in a detailed analysis of Thompson’s range and poetic
methods. Finally, a casual reference in Silas Rand’s Legends of the
Micmac (1894) sets him off, in the interests of history, not only on a
fascinating if abortive canoe trip, but also on a subsequent research
journey that throws light on Rand and his Mi’kmaq collaborators.

Peter Sanger, both a poet and a prose writer of elegance and
distinction, is a man whose retired life in rural Nova Scotia enables
him to range creatively over the history and literature of many lands,
yet effectively roots him in a fulfilling locality. (This book is
imaginatively inspired by continual references to Maritime bald eagles
that accompany his journeys like guardian angels.)

White Salt Mountain is a book for readers as wide-ranging and
intellectually curious as its author. Not, therefore, for all palates,
but it will be savoured by all those who cherish the resonant
interconnections between poetry and place, past and present.


Sanger, Peter., “White Salt Mountain: Words in Time,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16448.