Selected Poems 1960-1980


106 pages
ISBN 0-920428-85-1





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.


The poetry of Richard Outram is unusual in contemporary writing for two reasons: first, it is affirmative and celebratory; second, it is highly traditional in its use of regular metres, stanzaic patterns, and rhyme. As the blurb announces, “these poems were written from the conviction that the poet is a celebrant, or he is nothing. They were written for the love of God, of man, of a woman, of the world in its inexhaustible singular creaturehood.” In their sophisticated simplicity they align themselves with the work of Herbert and Blake rather than the experimentation of modern poets; in a Canadian context, the only poems that remotely resemble them (even in titles like “Theseus Tristis Est,” “Alternative to Labryinth,” “Sleeping Woman,” and “Caliban in Reverie”) are those of Jay Macpherson.

Personally, I find traditionalism refreshing in a poetic world where wild experimentation and barbaric yawps seem the rule rather than the exception. I therefore approach these poems with sympathy and a preparedness to enjoy. I find, however, that, though I enjoy a number of them, Outram’s poems exhale a somewhat faded aura. It is not merely the technique that is “oldfashioned”; more important, his rhythms no longer seem adequate for the expression of a modern consciousness. A sense of pastiche (though often, to be sure, skillful pastiche) lies over the whole volume. Macpherson is so consummate a mistress of rhythm and nuance that her work, for all its fidelity to convention, offers a freshly-minted sparkle. Outram’s succeeds in this only fitfully. He is at his best with witty effects (“The liver-fluke, abundant, thrives; /And by so many flukes, survives”), and for me the most satisfying poems are a sequence on circus-themes (“Bearded Lady,” “Knife Thrower,” “Funambulist”), which convey a wry idiosyncrasy.

This sequence originally appeared in Turns (1975), a reminder that Outram has published a number of volumes (including several fine, limited editions). This book is, of course, a “Selected,” but no indication is given about which poems originally appeared where. On the other hand, it is a simply designed, handsomely produced volume. This elegance fits the stylistic polish in the verse; I wish, however, that more poetic urgency was also present.


Outram, Richard, “Selected Poems 1960-1980,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,