Bookmark and Share


The Exile's Papers: Part 1 by Wayne Clifford  

The Exile’s Papers, Part One, considers the implications of duplicity in autobiography as they appear in the first two hundred or so sonnets of a four-volume sonnet cycle completed over the past twenty years by the Lost Poet of the 1960s, confronted at the end of the middle game by anonymity on the one hand, and by opportunity the mass of a black hole on the other, in which Rilke, in his guise as Witness to the Angel, speculates on raw, necessary existence.

Disney’s Jiminy Cricket remains, of course, unconvinced.

Review quote

‘This essay does not make an argument that Clifford is our best sonneteer (although that argument could indeed be made), nor does it try to place him in a formalist tradition in Canada. What it is concerned with is the father’s role and responsibility as it manifests itself in Clifford’s poetry. It also deals with the beauty wrung into poetry by this role, this song of experience.

‘This experience is particularly valuable in terms of its relative rarity: women are far more likely to write about motherhood than fathers are about fatherhood.... Indeed, history is only catching up with fatherhood, with a spate of academic books written about the subject just in the past few years, some of which are referenced in this essay. Thus Clifford’s poems provide an invaluable guide, even a countervailing one ... for as Boose makes clear in Western canon, ‘‘Tyrannical paternity seems to mar the father-daughter text’’.’

—Shane Neilson, Wayne Clifford and Fatherhood

Author comments

Ezra Pound, a native son, many of whose jingles have become wisdom, advised his peers to make it new. That Modern man fashioned his exile out of his Idahoan accent, and prestidigitated his charisma into a disguise for what was otherwise a romantic troubadour. Fashion’s, of course, what comes ’round again, and sonnets, especially in sequences (which Ezra wished to make as passé as Chicago’s District Attorney now intends to show is the seigneural capitalism demonstrated so nobly by our very own Connie, Lord VeryCross) have sprouted through the concrete slabs of the mall-mindedness of this continent’s verse.

Since the sonnet was first defined into English by another, more convincing lord -- Surrey -- about 500 years ago, it has acquired turns and springings and enough washings, foldings, stretchings, twistings and shrinkings to have its sizing leak out to the chaos that reclaims us all. As a hairshirt, it’s become as pliant as any vestment for covering an ass in a day busy about money-earning, kid-care, mate-talk, and household chores. Books are again being written about the sonnet, its strategies explained by degreed, tenured and funded experts. Anthologies of its examples are being compiled. Young writers are unafraid to use it. And, because, as form-muse for the responsive craftsman, the sonnet demands clean lines to the thinking it takes in, convincing volume for the feeling it embraces, purity of each whole-at-once ‘Wow!’ that intuition pulls from its commodious sleeve, the making of a sonnet honours a long, an historical, conversation held wherever fine English is spoken.

In his preface to the collaboration with Coleridge, W. Wordsworth (who expressed the need for honest feeling in verse, but would wait for Ez to tell the rest of us ‘Only emotion endures.’) wrote that those willing to be pleased by the poems would likely read them with more than common pleasure, and ‘those who should dislike them would read with more than common dislike’. Here for your judgment is the first of four sequences of sonnets, many singularities and passages of which require you as reader to step well outside your conception of an ordinary book’s boundaries, and the whole of which is a long, but decidedly not linear, journey. Some who’ve read these sonnets have reported a very much greater pleasure than they’ve had or could expect from a book of poetry written recently on this continent. Some of those, of course, are politely acquainted with the author. And some really hated it. One, who collects lists of clichés from his peers’ work, suggested I cut the collection down to twenty-five. None, thank the fates, have been, so far, indifferent.

I’ll be dead before we see who’s right.

This gathering together of sonnets isn’t a journal, nor a novel, nor straightforwardly a record. It’s a system, closer to what Blake tried in the prophetic books, what Whitman bragged in his inventions, what Pound, it is largely agreed, failed at in the Cantos. And any writing of a group of sonnets after Berryman necessarily acknowledges that raggy man. Any poetry anywhere in any English, after the far-off Eliot, must know its place. Since I’m a Canadian, also a native son, well enough educated to write sonnets, curious enough to see where they take my evolving questions, and far enough outside the organized leagues of the national and other collectives to have very little to lose of celebrity, or prizes, or arts grants, I’ll present to you this exile, who, like Ez, like Thomas Stearns, speaks quite inventive English, and has some things to say of, for, and to his age.

In the uncountry that’s English-speaking Canada on a continent the neighbours claim entirely by referring to themselves as Americans, it’s easy to be exile. But since I’m fully American, too, born in Toronto, North America, and brought to adulthood understanding the long noses looked down all the way from London and New York, then by that peculiar delusion out of which a poet knows the worth of the offering, I am who can understand the exile of Emily Dickinson’s example. Rex Murphy, the CBC’s marvellously opinionated and animate thesaurus, has told me, today, that Connie Black is one of the greatest personalities this country (by which he means my part of the fragmented colonies well away from the Centres of Real Power) has ever sent on to the great stage of the world (meaning London and New York, the Centres of Real Power). The exile’s gone the other way, but the stories of his journey are always the story of each of us about to fall from the friendly acquaintance of the administrators of the polity.

I’ll thank here the many who read versions and by comment or its lack, helped shape the still ongoing collection, and thank those who as models came directly into text. I’ll name none save the dogs and the dead. If the rest can figure out who you are, and take offence, I’ll expect you’ll want a damningly hefty judgment, but ask you, what court can cleanly sort out a composite? For the inhabitants of these poems are many out of many, friends, enemies, friends enemied, enemies befriended, bosses, children, wives, brothers, traitors, tyrants, warriors, beggars and fools. At times the sentence of the exile’s as simple as being condemned to tell their tales, apart from them, absent as God after Eden. If I were a novelist, this would be a novel, and I’d probably earn appreciably more money. What’s more, you’d have an easier read. If I were a dramatist, you’d most likely be watching this as TV. If this were the book for an opera, you’d be in New York, where such markets are still pretended. And if this were fish in nets, then plenty, or zeroes after a one, then a state’s budget. But I still hope to be recognized thru the murk of post-colonialism and post-modernism as poet, so it’s sonnets.

Part One introduces the tellers and the tales, and sets the contexts for the state of exile. Part Two descends into the ordinary hells of contemporary pacts and agreements, codicils and oaths we call relationships. Part Three seeks the sacred and revelatory sanction for being alive. And Part Four brings the realization that a human life can’t finally be explained or saved.

—Wayne Clifford

Description for reader

Let’s say, in greening weather, on the street,
you pass and glance a townsman up and down
who meets your glance with his distracted frown
and, granted urban manners, doesn’t greet
your centred presence but with a discrete
annoyance. Call him s.o.b. or clown
or asshole later, call him any noun
will vent your pique to citizens you’ll meet,
but guess he marks the borderlands of chance
and choice. Alone here in the traffic noise,
he navigates his sphere to geomance
such as you’d choose not risk might shake your poise,
or upset staged constructions of your toys.
But your annoyance bumped him from his trance.

Is your beginning clear? Do you recall
the passing thru warm close of mom to fear
and wonder till you got used to them? The Here
and Now’s not such an easy load to haul
that you can discount his. And by the fall,
after your summer’s sunglassed drinks by water,
ready again for winter’s everafter,
you know you’ll see him differently, tho his jaw’ll
work the chawing on that bite. Of course,
all changes. Winter warms. Some critters find
urban opportunities; rural mores
die out. The drinks get watered. Screens blind
the plural you to the distance of your wars
against the peopled struggle in his mind.

Back cover copy

The Exile’s Papers is sonnet-writing on a grand scale. An unfolding odyssey of personal revelation brimming with quixotic ruminations and existential paradoxes, Wayne Clifford’s strapping new collection offers a masterclass on how a single form can assume a protean variety of shapes, sounds and voices. It also confirms the incantatory powers of one of our most unpredictable poets.’

—Carmine Starnino


Wayne Clifford was born in Toronto in 1944. He studied English at University College at the University of Toronto in the mid sixties during which time he came to be associated with a small coterie of students that included Stan Bevington, Dennis Reid, Doris and Judith Cowan, and David Bolduc. Wayne also remembers Tangiers Al, but not clearly, which says something about the time. While still an undergraduate Clifford won numerous Norma Epstein prizes for his poetry and also one E. J. Pratt Award (1967) that he shared with Michael Ondaatje. (One poet kept the money, the other, the medal. In the end each felt equally cheated.)

Stan Bevington had started his fledgling Coach House Press in 1964 and asked Clifford to acquire a few poetry manuscripts suitable for book production of an experimental sort. Wayne secured early work from George Bowering, Victor Coleman, bpNichol and Michael Ondaatje. At the founding meeting of the League of Canadian Poets (1966) Wayne proposed a Writers’ Anonymous akin to other, similar, twelve-step programmes. Clifford’s idea was not seriously considered. Shortly thereafter, Clifford left Toronto to pursue graduate studies in creative writing at the University of Iowa. Clifford began working at St. Lawrence College in Kingston in 1969, when the College was just new, and was involved in the Creative Writing program and the Fine Arts Program, until both were discontinued in the 1980s. Clifford then joined the General Arts & Science Program (GAS -- and yes, he does enjoy this irony of this acronym) and began teaching remediation in language. He retired in June of 2004. He was working on a poetry collaboration (unpublished) with bpNichol at the time of bp’s death in 1988.

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.

Buy AbeBooksPreview Google

POETRY / General

POETRY / Canadian

ISBN-13: 9780889842977

Publication Date: 2007-09-01

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.65 in

Pages: 144

Price: $17.95