The Panic Field: Prose Poems


103 pages
ISBN 0-86492-021




Reviewed by Neil Querengesser

Neil Querengesser taught in the Department of English, University of Calgary, Alberta.


The three groups of prose poems that comprise The Panic Field do not precipitate much panic, although they contain some passages of literary quickness. This seems to result from Lochhead’s chosen method of expression. As prose poems, his creations are easily and perhaps too swiftly read. The syntax is often loose, the subject matter sometimes verging on the mundane. Yet there are passages which are satisfying because of their unassuming and understated expression.

The title sequence consists of 58 brief poems that record the poet’s perceptions and feelings during his military service in World War II. They are intended to show that “the ultimate panic field” for the Canadian soldier was in the home training camps and not in the European Theatre. Yet he seems to distrust the ability of words to penetrate directly to the source of this panic, describing, instead, its shadows:

To go directly to the creation. Whitman says the great poet will do this. There is no greatness here. I go now to the poetry of scrubbed barracks, parade ground boots, to the regular beat of Dunlop and a girl in the next bed’s world, to the wild rose against a grey fence rail on a roadside near Brockville.

This refusal to be “poetic” while yet communicating the essential poetry inherent in his subject material is characteristic of most of the poems in this sequence.

The other prose poems in this book contain insightful images and ideas that are also often in danger of being subsumed by their prose format. An exception to this is the extended poem that makes up the second section, “In a Winter Apartment,” an original and localized version of The Fall. Most of the poems, however, depend to a certain extent on the reader’s own willingness to create poetry out of the poems’ prosaicness, and in some cases, although not in all, the effort is worthwhile.


Lochhead, Douglas, “The Panic Field: Prose Poems,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,