Letter to a Distant Father


49 pages
ISBN 0-919626-32-7
DDC C811






Reviewed by Sheila Martindale

Sheila Martindale is poetry editor of Canadian Author and Bookman and
author of No Greater Love, her sixth collection of poetry.


There is great power in this slim volume. Radu’s style is sparse, but his economical lines are loaded with tension and emotion. What we see on the page gives the impression of the tip of an iceberg — there is a strong sense of a lot left unsaid. And this of course whets the appetite and makes us go back and read the poems again to find yet another level of meaning.

The title poem is a long piece written for the father the poet has not seen since he was “quick under the wire” and heard the word “Run!” One assumes the time and place to be Hungary 1956, though we don’t know for sure (as usual, Brick gives no information about the author). Anyway, the son did escape, and 30 years later is informed in a language he no longer understands that his father is dying. “His letter is translated / we speak to each other / through the mouths of strangers.” He remembers his rural childhood and compares it with the academic life he now leads, as he prepares to return to visit the father he had presumed to be dead.

Radu sets many moods in these poems. “Sleepless Nights” has a poem for every day of the week following the loss of love. It helps to know some European history to appreciate “Royal Woman” — six cogent addresses to such persons as Marie Antoinette and Alexandra of Russia. The tight three-line stanzas of “The Dragon Empress” are particularly effective. His love poems are quite beautiful, and there is disturbing imagery in “Aschenputtel’s Sisters, “ a twist on a fairy tale. The poet describes a graveyard as a place of “deep thoughts and dead flowers,” and the extermination of tent caterpillars as “larvacide.” He captures climate in such lines as “a day drier / than a cactus needle,” and bids a controlled yet impassioned farewell to a friend entering a monastery.

Beautifully produced, this little book would be a jewel in anyone’s library of poetry.



Radu, Kenneth, “Letter to a Distant Father,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34654.