"Words point to what cannot be said."
Sightlines (ISBN 978-1-77183-133-8)
"This collection is truly global in scope and universal in perspective. From a bog near Ottawa to the lagoons of Venice, from a chamber concert in anOntario barn to a blind beggar in Mexico, from the infinities of interstellar space to the birth of a grandson – Henry Beissel celebrates the world in allits richness, mysteries and ecstasies, without ever flinching from its contradictions and torments, and offers exciting sightlines on the human condition...
Here is part of John B. Lee's review of Sightlines:
A Shelf Called Essential
by John B. Lee
On rare occasions one reads a Canadian poetry book as fine as Henry Beissel’s Sightlines, an important book engaging important themes, a book that might take its place upon a shelf called essential. Some of those essentials have earned their place because they are a first of their kind, or because they have historical significance in the literary development of this nation. I think here of titles by Crawford, Lampman, and Knister to name a few. More recently, there are those books that are something of an apotheosis. Al Purdy’s Caribou Horses, Margaret Avison’s The Dumbfounding, and other relatively early-in-life titles by Irving Layton, P.K. Page, Raymond Souster, and Alden Nowlan, to name a few. (I shall refrain from citing more recent examples to avoid the ego wars that might erupt were I to do so.) That said there are those late-in-life achievements that rival the accomplishments of individual poets in the full vigor of youth. Margaret Avison’s Concrete and Wild Carrot come to mind. Here is a serious poet for serious readers doing some of the best writing of her life in her mid to late eighties. And octogenarian Henry Beissel’s Sightlines seems a worthy companion to that late-in-life masterpiece.
There are those poets indulging in intellectual gamesmanship to the eternal fascination of readers who prize the mind over all else that seem to get the attention of the media and academics. Like birthday sparklers and party favours, the fizzle and bang of experimental language and brilliant performance soon enough fade and rarely, if ever, go deep. How might we place any of the practitioners of this sort of stage over page wordplay on the same shelf as Shakespeare or Keats, Dickinson or Heaney, Oliver or Frost? In the words of Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz, “There must be a middle place between abstraction and childishness where one can talk seriouslyaboutserious things.” And Henry Beissel fills the bill. He is serious without being solemn, he is deep without being sententious, and he is profound without the needless obscurity that often mars bad poetry, that muddies its waters to make them look deep. In the closing lines of his closing poem, his cri de coeur is the sort of clear water drawn from the deep wells that might slake the thirst of human yearning shared by all in every age of humanity. In his final poem, “Starry Nights,” he writes:
Hold me, love, hold me in a tight embrace
that we may know we are not alone
in this thundering silence. We are such stuff
as stars are made of and must share,
for better and for worse, their fate. Let us, love,
be their most exquisite consummation."
John B. Lee is Poet Laureate of the city of Brantford in perpetuity and Poet Laureate of Norfolk County for life.
Guernica Editions published "Cantos North / Cantos du nord" in a bilingual edition (ISBEN 978-1-77183-239-7), French transl. by Arlette Francière, with an afterword by Sherrill Grace, OC, "Singing the North", in which she describes the poem as "epic in scope, lyrical in its celebration of nature, frequently uncompromising in its portrayal of human violence and greed, and rich in the keenly observed details. Cantos North sings an alternative history, a myth of place, not origins, that cradles us all..."
"Cantos North" is my way of celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary.
Here is how it opens:
FIRST CANTO: LANDSPACE
Vast blank canvas of a harsh land
hung tattered at the top from ice pole
and stretched below along a single latitude
taut into the framework of two oceans.
The seasons try their colour schemes here
always springing summer on us in passing
falling forever into winter sleep
between the skeletons of elms and maples
leaving the ground whitewashed so shroud bleak
it chills the light to the very bone of stillness.
What artist dare raise his vision from the dead
centre of creation against this dinosaur indifference?
North my love north
where the earth stands firm
against the continental drift
and whirls the stars about us
like a frozen wheel of fire,
look north for the future
in a chrysalis of snow.
In your seeing the sun exults.