This new volume brings together selections from several of Bringhurst’s collections of poetry, including The Beauty of the Weapons and The Calling, along with complete works including the polyphonic Conversations with a Toad and The Blue Roofs of Japan, and a series of new poems, “The Living.”
The collection’s geography wanders from Japan to the Middle East to El Salvador to British Columbia. Bringhurst’s attention to place cuts below the level of foreign tongues and telling landmarks to more elemental meetings of stone, sky, water, bark, breath and blood. This elemental imagery is matched in a poetics that joins together the economy and elucidating repetition present in improvisational and classical music but so often missing from contemporary poetry.
Poems from “The Book of Silences” and The Old in Their Knowing underline the influence of Eastern and pre-Socratic philosophers on Bringhurst’s thinking, lending the reflexive, sometimes near-unutterable concepts in the writings of Parmenides, Pythagoras, Empedokles, Nagarjuna, Dogen and Uddalaka Aruni, a certain physicality. Here too are attempts to whittle back to the experience of a body in a knowable and unknowable world.
Those familiar with Bringhurst’s prose will find many of the same concerns manifested here. The author’s ideas about mythology, ecology, philosophy, language, art and music are taken up in verse. In particular, polyphonic poems and the typographic illustration of them are represented, with selections from Ursa Major, as well as The Blue Roofs of Japan, New World Suite No. 3, and Conversations With A Toad, each in their entirety.
About his continued fascination with polyphonics, Bringhurst says: “If conditions are right, it is good for poems to be spoken aloud. I mean that the poems themselves can benefit and if that occurs, people may benefit too. Some of the poems in this book are composed for two or three voices speaking together, saying the same thing differently or saying different things at once. I understand that this may seem a needless complication, but poems have presented themselves to me in this form now for many years, and I have not found any way around it. In this book, where different voices speak at the same time, they are printed in different colors. The poems in which this happens can be read in silence alone or read aloud with one or two friends if conditions are right. Which, in the presence of one or two friends, they just might be.”