A Steady Hand


90 pages
ISBN 0-88984-070-9





Reviewed by Alvan Bregman

Alvan Bregman Ph.D., M.L.S. lived in Toronto.


Mike Doyle, who has been teaching at the University of Victoria since 1967, is a transplanted Englishman and New Zealander. This book brings together some of his best work, most of it previously published in journals and anthologies, or in two earlier collections, Stonedancer (Auckland University Press, 1976) and Messages for Herod (Auckland: Collins, 1965). The publication itself is very well printed and designed, if one overlooks the lack of a table of contents and the unfortunately rather lurid cover. The latter gives the wrong impression about the poems inside. Doyle seems to have left behind the excesses and jazziness of some of his early work, such as that found in Earth Meditations (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1971). He has refined his technique to reconcile his interest in surreal form and theory with a fine and touching sensibility that deals well with such themes as aging, absence, solitude, and love.

A Steady Hand is divided into four untitled sections. The first contains shorter poems that tend to be descriptive and rather tonal in character. They also reflect the wide variety of influences that Doyle readily admits, especially that of Klee: several poems derive from a reading of the painter’s Diaries. The second section, which deals mainly with reflective memory, includes an important long sequence, “A Month Away from Home.” The 21 poems of which it is comprised chart the poet’s experience of love in absence. As he moves from hotel to hotel and city to city, he is reminded by his surroundings of the past, which seems insistently to find its way into his poems, and becomes transmuted and fixed in this way.

Sections three and four present groups of medium-length and longer lyrics, some of the best being “The Inquisitor” (on the terrible knowledge derived from the experience of torture), “Green Motel” (a wonderful study in monochromatic shading), “Adam at Evening” (a monologue in which Adam intuits the darker side of himself) and “Melting” (a tour-de-force of composition on a theme).

Doyle’s consciousness of poetics is always in evidence, and in the poem “What Can I Tell You?” he makes a series of statements that almost demand to be quoted and that give a hint to the critic to conclude:

Certain poems

are like that, their enigmatic

& cherished qualities held tight

to a dark, living, fecundating centre

If I could tell you anything more about it, what would there be to say?


Doyle, Mike, “A Steady Hand,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38505.