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Crossing the Salt Flats

Marita Dachsel

i love good narrative poetry. There is something wonderful and amazing in how a narrative poem can appear fluid and effortless on the page, but is ripe and full of engaging language and complexity. Because Crossing the Salt Flats, Christopher Wiseman's eighth collection of poetry consists primarily narrative poems, I was looking forward to reading it. While the strongest poems of this collection Growing up in Rosewood, Standing by Stones, and Grandfather, The Somme, An Invoice are compelling, none seem to have the magic in either language or structure to elevate it above competent.

Crossing the Salt Flats book cover The majority of the collection has the unfortunate tone of an old man looking back, remembering the glory days. Unfortunate, because there seems to be no payoff, no enlightenment from the continuous pondering, reviling, wistful remembrances. The same ideas, tone and even characters reappear so often without any movement in the collection that the earlier poems seem more like drafts towards Wiseman's strongest "remembering" poem Grandfather, The Somme, An Invoice. What is missing is the grounding, putting the past into a relevant context for the present or the future, so that the poems are more than just vignettes of yesteryear.

Often the poems feel like shorthand, with abrupt punctuation and tired images "Your voice was molasses hardening" (Kind Words [A Lament]). However, there are instances where his experience comes through with some lovely lines: "Flowers grow / Better than children in this smoke-grey climate" (Village Cemetery, Scotland).

Near the end of the collection, Wiseman has added some poems that clearly do not belong in Crossing the Salt Flats where he has unsuccessfully experimented with language. In The Duchess Takes the Waters, 1732 he "mimics" the voice and style of woman in the early eighteenth century. It is unclear why he has done this other than as an exercise, as nothing new or interesting has come from the poem. This is also the case of Theorizing a Poetics of the Kleen/ex Box: A Non-Disjunctive Ficto-Critical Prosetext-Or Not My Department part Two (yes, that is the title) which is really just; a post-modern rant about academia.

As his bio states, Christopher Wiseman is an important member of Alberta's poetry community and has won many awards in the past. I am sure his contribution to Canadian poetry will continue, and, hopefully, his next collection will be more whole and progressive.

published by porcupine's quill
ISBN 0-88984-210-8

Marita Dachsel is a Vancouver based writer.

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