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Director's Cut by David Solway  

Solway argues in this feisty and polemical book that the time has arrived to take stock and engage passionately with our literature, and especially our poetry, if it is ever to be rescued from the swamp of second-ratedness into which it has descended. He contends that almost all of the poetry (and much of the fiction) being written in Canada these days is turgid, spurious and pedestrian, the result of two highly questionable developments: the proliferation of Creative Writing departments in universities throughout the country, and a largely subsidized literature industry, abetted by a press of cousinly critics and reviewers, intended to construct a patchwork national psyche, create a sense of ideological cohesion and glorify the tribe. In consequence of this we have sponsored a coterie of underachieving overproducers and proceeded to collude in their diffusion by virtue of our silent complicity or our chauvinism.

Solway believes that we are on the whole far too nice, far too politically correct and, in a word, far too ‘Canadian’, to register our disapproval bluntly and agonistically. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone. But all that such manoeuvres ensure is that nothing changes while conscience is appeased. There comes a time when diffidence and affability, those specifically Canadian virtues, work against our best interests and prevent the candid and occasionally brutal assessments without which the critical stupor and aesthetic fog so congenial to us must remain destructively in place.

In Director’s Cut,Solway attempts to dispel that fog, to see clearly and to speak directly to a readership that has been far too receptive of questionable work.

Table of contents

The Colour of Literature
The Flight from Canada
Acorn, Lemm and Ojibway
The Trouble with Annie
Double Exile and Montreal English-Language Poetry
Dougie’s Angels
Louis Dudek: A Personal Memoir
Pliny’s Villa
Standard Average Canadian
Peter Van Toorn
Reflections on the Laureateship
Ardour Illuminates
An Open Letter to Lorna Crozier
The Montreal Forties
Reading Richard Outram
The Great Disconnect

Review quote

Director’s Cut is a brilliant yet decidedly independent Canadian poet’s report on the state of Canadian poetry, and the news (inevitably) is not good. It consists, for the most part, of articles and reviews collected from newspapers and magazines, and the impact they make when gathered together is devastating. Solway insists, in his own phrase, not so much that the emperor has no clothes as that the emperor doesn’t even exist. He offers weighty evidence of ‘‘the banalization of the craft’’ and quotes numerous examples of ‘‘all the drivel and gloop one has to contend with in the poetry of this country.’’ ’

—W J Keith, Canadian Book Review Annual

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‘Solway reminds me of the kind of character you used to find on Saturday afternoons in the corner of men’s rooms in the days when taverns in Canada were segregated along gender lines. If you’re old enough, and frequented such places, you’ll remember the type: belligerent, bellicose, pugnacious, continually quarreling with anyone who happens within shouting distance of his table.’

—Robert Reid, Kitchener Waterloo Record

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‘The polysyllabic Solway specializes in floccinaucinihilipilification, which, as you know, is the practice or habit of estimating something as worthless. He proposes that good poets must have substance, structure their work ‘‘in cadence, metaphor and overall design,’’ and ground perceptions ‘‘in vivid and memorable language.’’ Failing the test are Canadian ‘‘plebs,’’ stuttering recorders of the mundane, and ‘‘cabbalists,’’ language-fixated doodlers. He likes Irving Layton, Charles Bruce, Milton Acorn and the early Louis Dudek. Peter Van Toorn, on the strength of his 1984 collection Mountain Tea is ‘‘the most unjustly neglected poet of our time.’’ In a long concluding section, he compares such ‘‘matching incongruities’’ as the bad Jan Zwicky, George Elliott Clarke, Fred Wah and Christian Bök -- as well as the negative exemplars Purdy, Ondaatje, Atwood and Carson -- to the good Carmine Starnino, Eric Ormsby, Robyn Sarah, Norm Sibum, Michael Harris, Ricardo Sternberg and Mary Dalton. Sometimes these mix-and-matches make sense; other times, they rely on Solway’s personal taste -- or whom he has coffee with.’

—Fraser Sutherland, Globe & Mail

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‘There’s something terribly poignant about a minor poet like David Solway lashing out in the nastiest way about other Canadian writers who have somehow, inexplicably, achieved international celebrity without his permission. ... Solway’s inflated opinion of himself coupled with his hypercritical attitude toward most of his colleagues lays a sad tarnish on the otherwise sparkling and accomplished prose in his new collection of literary essays titled Director’s Cut.’

—Pat Donnelly, The Montreal Gazette

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A letter to the editor of the Montreal Gazette:

‘I found it interesting that although Pat Donnelly found David Solway’s collection of literary essays in Director’s Cut ‘‘sparkling and accomplished’’, she was so infuriated by his harsh critique of certain Canlit icons that she was moved to hurl the book into her recycling box. It would have been more helpful to her readers if she had given reasoned and analytical examples of why she disagreed with his assessments. For example, she is greatly offended by Solway’s description of Anne Carson’s poems as being ‘‘utterly devoid of charm, staying power and liveability.’’ but she does not tell us why, in her opinion, Carson does not merit this harsh criticism.

‘Instead, she rhetorically asks the reader, ‘‘Ready for more?’’ and gives us a couple more examples of Solway’s heresy. Not once does she defend the objects of his scorn in a positive and in an intellectual way. ... It does not seem to occur to the irascible Ms Donnelly that David Solway is probably not the only Canadian who thinks that some of our Canlit luminaries and prizewinners are mediocre writers. When Roy Miki’s unintelligible ‘‘avant-garde’’ gibberish, ‘‘Surrender’’, purportedly about the Japanese Canadian Internment experience, won the Governor General’s prize for best English poetry in 2002, I, too, realized what a farce some of these prizes are.

‘Is it that in Donnelly’s politically correct world, the only ones she feels she can safely criticise are those who reject political correctness, and dare to think independently and speak honestly?’

—Lois Hashimoto

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‘Few critics match the moral urgency of David Solway, whose poetry reviews constitute an anti-canon set against the literati’s assessment of its own merits. [ ... ] Solway’s praise, by contrast is refreshingly nuanced: he wants to restore to readers poems ‘‘that are so verbally rich and juicy, they are like peaches you have to take your shirt off to eat.’’ Director’s Cut might be read as the tree where these forbidden fruits await the plucking -- with all the sudden self-knowledge that implies.’

—Quill & Quire

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‘David Solway’s critique of contemporary poetry is another instalment in a growing subgenre of Canadian publishing: the literature of complaint. Other books in this realm have come recently from Stephen Henighan and John Metcalf. The persistent theme, voiced again here, is that Canadian writing (poetry, in this instance) is not what it could be (when was it ever?) and the wrong people are getting all the recognition. Solway’s screed is delivered in a state of high dudgeon -- complete with the overuse of italics for emphasis. Solway, a Montreal poet, obviously has a tremendous background in classical literature, reads voraciously, and displays a superabundant vocabulary. The energy of his persistent choler can actually be engaging at times, in the ‘‘highway accident’’ sense of wanting to see who will be run over next. His clarion call for a return to technical form in poetry (rhyme and meter, essentially) means a host of poets (and novelists) belong on the dung heap: Al Purdy, John Ashbery, Anne Michaels, Lorna Crozier, Don McKay, Yann Martel, and George Elliott Clarke, among others. Canlit icons Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Anne Carson are ‘‘a drone, an entrepreneur and a cipher respectively.’’ ... He reserves his highest praise for a small number of past and present poets, almost all from Montreal: Louis Dudek, Milton Acorn, Irving Layton, Peter Van Toorn, Eric Ormsby. Typical of any harangue, Solway mistakes his mere opinions for truths. While he has a few interesting points to discuss, the book is more diatribe than dialogue. In the end, this special plea for more recognition for the poets of Solway’s coterie is an instance of the squeaky wheel just wanting to get greased.’

—Mark Frutkin,

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‘Here in Canada we can’t expect any of our generous rich people to follow [ Ruth E ] Lilly’s suit [ in giving US $100 million to Poetry Chicago ]. We’ll have to find other ways to startle onlookers into noticing that poetry still matters. If we can’t startle with generosity (the Lilly method), perhaps we can startle with abuse. In this regard, the recent publication of Director’s Cut a collection of essays by Montreal poet David Solway, may have an effect. It’s a polemic on Canadian poetry, and polemics always get attention. On page 147, for example, Solway begins a long one-sentence paragraph, ‘‘Consider once more the material that camouflages itself as poetry these days,’’ and then completes the sentence by giving one Canadian poet after another a good sharp poke in the ribs:

‘‘Blowzy episodic wanderings. Stringy flitches of prose. Idle reveries. Half-baked domestic reflections. Insoluble gibberish. Orthographic high-jinks. Approved proletarian sentiment. Fey pretentiousness cloaked in a kind of peregrine orientalism. (No, I don’t know what that last phrase means.) Curious as to which phrase applies to which poet? Buy the book, and find out. ...’’

‘Solway is also absolutely right, in an essay about ‘‘Canadian content,’’ to point out that ‘‘it is precisely the comfortless absence of a secure identity’’ that is the ‘‘greatest gift and blessing’’ of being Canadian. I wish all our readers and writers could understand that.’

—Philip Marchand, Toronto Star

Unpublished endorsement

‘I am sure glad that Soilway put me on the list he put me on and not the other one. Thanks be to God.’

—George Bowering, Poet Laureate


David Solway is the author of many books of poetry including the award-winning Modern Marriage, Bedrock, Chess Pieces, Saracen Island: The Poetry of Andreas Karavis and The Lover’s Progress: Poems after William Hogarth, the latter illustrated by Marion Wagschal and adapted for the stage by Curtain Razors. His work has been anthologized in The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse, McClelland and Stewart’s New Canadian Poetry, Border Lines: Contemporary Poetry in English from Copp Clark, and The Bedford Introduction to Literature from St. Martin’s Press. Among his publications, Education Lost won the QSPELL Prize for Nonfiction and Random Walks was a finalist for Le Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal, while his poetry collection Franklin’s Passage won the prize. Solway publishes regularly in such journals as The Atlantic Monthly and Canadian Notes & Queries, and is an occasional contributor to the book pages of the National Post. His more specialized writings have appeared in the International Journal of Applied Semiotics, Policy Options: Institute on Research in Public Policy, and the Journal of Modern Greek Studies. Solway recently completed a new collection of poems entitled The Properties of Things and in the past three years has published two political books, The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism and Identity and Hear, O Israel!. David Solway writes regularly for FrontPage Magazine and Pajamas Media, and is a contributing editor for The Metropolitan and Arts & Opinion.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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ISBN-13: 9780889842724

Publication Date: 2003-11-15

Dimensions: 8.81 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 216

Price: $19.95