Garry Radison is one of Saskatchewan's most respected poets. This book brings together the best of Radison's previous work ... as wells as an exciting selection of new poems. In reading Radison we are in the presence of the constant dynamic of interior and exterior, of silence and music that are the essence of the prairie experience. There is a fierce authenticity of image and voice that makes us re-examine our assumptions about our connection with place and society. Within this 25-year poetic journey there is an achingly honest approach to life and language that is reminiscent of the late John Newlove, an early mentor of Radison's. Yet, Garry Radison has forged his own unique voice that is both spare and muscular; one that resonates with the hard-earned truths of living in and negotiating a quiet peace with his prairie world.
Radison's poems like guideposts in a vast desert
by Bill Robertson for The Star Phoenix.
Some people say that writing is the best -- may be the only -- way to stave off death. We gain immortality when our words live on after us. And some cultures -- not ours -- keep reminders of death around them at all times so they are prepared for the inevitable.
Yorkton poet Garry Radison is well prepared in both areas. Besides having a new collection of poems, his first since 1988, his entire selection of new poems has to do with death: friends, relations, children, houses, towns. And considering how many poems in Under A Small Moon are selected from his collection Jeffers’ Skull, with its large meditation on a fairly obvious memento nori, one can see that Radison has spent some time thinking about the end of things.
His strict attention to form, becoming more strict in the later poems, is another indicator of his attempt to exert some control over the chaos that is life in the universe. He says in one of the last poems in the collection The Gift, “Such darkness/ was at the beginning...// what is/ needed, the gift,//of form." What else can we do to push back against the darkness but build a house, or a town, or a poem? And when a house or life is gone, Radison honors them with a poem.
The all pervasive symbols in Radison's poems also fit within these strict patterns. There's the stone of solidity, the ocean of what Shelley would space have called mutability, the deserts of what Marvell called “vast eternity" where, as Radison says in You Can Walk, “one direction// is as good as another,/ where wind is// always against you." And then there's the dust, what we all turn to, what the people of these little towns are all walking in while they look to the stars of eternity.
Radison's poems have a curt, melancholy beauty. Like stones in the desert, they give us marks by which to guide ourselves, something to cling to in a life where the only sure thing is the way it keeps changing, and that it ends.
From Under A Small Moon: Poems New & Selected
This sunbleached church,
is Plato's idea.
Who walked here, respect
chipped by the relentless light?
Who thought this,
and then abandoned thought,
mind, numbed in the glare,
learning not to see,
sky diffusing in light?
Who thought this,
then succumbed to prairie,
or, voiceless, left all,
unblessed, to the meadowlark?