Trade Customers click here
← Back to Book Main Page

Review in the Vancouver Sun

"The critic Terry Rigelhof, in his book This Is Our Writing quotes literary lion Alberto Manguel damning Canadian poetry with faint praise. Manguel said that the style of Canadian poetry is 'simple-sounding, chatty, intimate though never, overwhelmingly passionate, well mannered though sometimes effectively ironic, often funny, in obligatory free verse . . . It is as if, in the long beginning. Canadian literature chose to be easy . . .'

Easy? I'm adding Brad Cran's The Good Life to the stack of books I intend to slap Senor Manguel upside the head with, should we ever meet. It'll be poetry and pistolas at dawn at English Bay. (The stack also includes Anne Michaels' Miner's Pond, Lyle Neff's Full Magpie Dodge, Norm Sibums's Narratives and Continuations, all of Linda Rogers' poetry, all of John Pass, Harold Rhenisch, Eldon Grier, even Margaret Atwood's own triumphant 1995 return to poetry, Morning in the Burned House.)

In our national poetics, two teams often scrimmage for attention: poets who read their 'simple-sounding, chatty' ephemera with painful gravity, and frustrated standup comics whose poems lose almost everything in the transition to print.

Despite being an influential presence on the local literary scene, the publisher of Smoking Lung Press and a contributing editor at Geist magazine, Brad Cran is in neither camp, which means hen's lonelier than a right fielder on a Triple A ball club. It's the kind of isolation in which genius evolves – still in the game, but out of the hot infield.

Like Pass, Neff, Miller and Rogers, Cran is heir to the serious legacy of 20th-century modernism that descends through poets like the late Ralph Gustafson. In Cran's poems, a hallucinatory vision of reality isn't a pose. Rather, he’s channelling the voices of visionary poets who transformed the whole Western European understanding of poetry: Villon, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rilke, Rimbaud.

He's seeing our city as if through their eyes:

That year you moved to the city, everyone's separate
dreams swirled in the streets. October dull
orange lulled you to melancholy, your own dream
of moving away and forever. Life of unpacked boxes
and searching for a union job. The week you found
work, the police found a corpse in your dumpster.

Cran often employs the Rilkean 'you,' rather, than the egocentric 'I' favoured by most contemporary poets. An ambiguous pronoun, used by Leonard Cohen to great effect, 'you' addresses the reader directly. The pronoun’s power compels us to identify with him.

Throughout, Cran sustains a boldly poetic diction that is all too rare. There isn't a single 'chatty,' 'easy' lite-beer poem in this book.

His series of Cityscape poems captures the soul of Vancouver as no coffee-table book, even one as clever as Doug Coupland's City of Glass, ever could. In 'Cityscape XII,' he writes:

Dining amongst wallpaper willows. Content in
false views. Holding hands in candlelight.
The revolving restaurant turns. Skyscrapers push
into the sky’s dark bruise. Fetishes of cement and rain . . .

'Citycape V' contains these lines:

A foot tap and smiles
that are martini-bar warm. Nothing-as cold as blue neon.
Nothing burning harder than misplaced sin. The microscopic look
into the jauniced eye. Autumn wrapping the city in
influenza brown. Tickle your way to the top, but keep the peace.
There is no beast. We slouch toward ourselves.

If you read only one book of poems a year, make it this one."

John Moore is the author of Three of a Kind.