NEIL LEADBEATER Reviews
Carilloneur by Tony Cosier
(Penumbra Press, Newcastle, Ontario 2012)
Tony Cosier is from British Columbia. After graduating from the University of Victoria, he specialized in English Literature at York University and the University of Toronto. He taught high school English for thirty years in Ottawa and now writes full-time. He is the author of ten volumes of poetry, five plays, a novel and a book of stories. He was short-listed three times for the Ottawa Book Award and was a finalist (twice with honourable mention) for the Lampman Award with his four previous poetry collections: Landsinger, Kilmarnock, Clearwater Tarn and The Spirit Dances.
His latest collection, Carilloneur, is a sustained contemplation on the wonder of creation expressed in words relating to landscape, architecture, music and literature. The book is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on observations from the natural world while the second is concerned with matters relating to music, art and poetry. A third section consists of a series of free verse narratives relating to the Irish dramatist John Millington Synge. The final section is a reflection on the author’s boyhood in Victoria, British Columbia.
Cosier’s landscapes are drawn with precision. The scenes that are described and the emotions that they evoke are always keenly observed. Often it is the surprise of the moment that is charted so well and captured with the minimum of fuss. In the opening poem Small Stone Church:
You meet it unexpected through the windshield’s sleety snow
The whitening of a church in looped compactness hunched
Like a pioneer caught in the weather behind a horse and plow
With his hoar hat bent to the effort, his freezing shoulders bunched.
You get a sense of the emerging scene out of the harsh, deep winter where the transience of snow is pitched against the solidity of the old walls that hold the promise of truth.
A similar effect is achieved in the next poem, They Come Like Ghosts, where a chance encounter with a great buck in an ash grove leaves its impression long after it has gone:
The size of it! Like something from a myth…
Time and again Cosier conveys the intensity of the moment when it is relived after the event. This is aptly demonstrated in the poem Rock Climber (Lake District, England) where the subject of the poem recalls his climb from earlier in the day:
in the pub
you see his thought slip from the talk.
His blessing now is inward,
Frost flecks his beard,
winds whip at his leggings,
way up on old Helvellyn
out on Striding Edge.
Sharp observation informs his work at every turn. In The Shell Seeker, inward emotion at the moment of discovery where
………he feels the same
Catch in the breath
is counterbalanced with outward spectacle when he is seen through someone else’s eyes where he becomes
…a heron, poised on patient stilts.
In the second part of the book there are neat turns of phrase that catch the reader’s attention in an arresting way. In Mozart Composes His First Mass we are told that
worked through a counterpoint formal as an old man’s wig.
It is a very physical poem in which the sheer effort of concentration in conjuring up a musical masterpiece is finely wrought. This is one of the themes that weaves in and out of the book -- the spirit of artistic creation whether it be through the medium of music, words or paint. The joyous act of creation spills over
in a burst of yodelling mirth
so that words and phrases positively sing. This is especially so in The Life of An Artist In Music where there is something almost incantatory about the sound quality of the opening lines and the controlled appearance of end rhymes.
The poem from which the collection takes its title brings the second section to a close. It is simply stunning in its impact as it describes a carilloneur who:
…thinks of the bells overhead - clustered in a loft,
Patient and portentous, drooping bulbous pods
Hollowed and trimmed to a sheen.
The description here is so tangible you can almost feel the weight of the bells and their huge, cold, metallic smoothness against the compass of your hand.
……..At length, he curls
His hands, strikes downward into wooden stubs,
Hears bronze mouths ring.
Any sense of lonely endeavour is quickly dispelled by the arrival of the congregation as the bells themselves do their work
Casting sermons from the air.
In the third section of the book Cosier turns his attention to the playwright John Millington Synge. The poems are drawn from Synge’s account of the trips he made to the Aran Islands from which he drew inspiration for his first two plays and the latter portion of his ten years as a playwright for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, focussing on the turbulent time of The Playboy of the Western World. There are also some poems which relate to Synge’s last play, Deidre of the Sorrows. Cosier draws on Synge’s letters, notebooks and related biographical and autobiographical writings as background to this section of the book.
In the final section, Cosier revisits his own boyhood in Victoria, British Columbia with portraits of family members which are sensitively drawn. Through these poems we learn about his family in an almost oblique way as if they are to the side of the frame rather than presented full-on. In The Wharf, for example, he recounts the story of how his older brother saved his life without going into any great detail about character or appearance:
The day I drowned and was delivered back,
I skimmed the fringe of Otherness. I was ten,
And foolish. And lucky my brother was older than me.
Being strong-armed and quick and bold in the clutch,
Barry gave me life.
In this poem the long and the short line are used to good effect.
His father, as subject, is treated in a similar manner in Athletic Park. The poem is lit by a love of sport handed down from a father to his sons and yet it also takes on a more weightier aspect when a philosophical note makes the poem change gear at an unexpected moment:
Do those towering lamp poles still loom
over those romping meadows? those terraced benches?
those goalposts? those scoreboards?
those white circles and boxes and lines?
Believe so. Believe and know.
Lives must stay true to where they find themselves,
as waves coming in on a roll
must break to the shape of the shore.
Think of what filled the sky
when they lowered our father before us
into September grass.
When the bugler played the “Last Post”
there was no other sound on the earth.
This is a very fine collection from a poet who knows his own voice and speaks with a quiet yet determined assurance.
Neil Leadbeater is an editor, author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, essays, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His most recent books are Librettos for the Black Madonna published by White Adder Press, Scotland (2011) and The Worcester Fragments published by Original Plus, England (2013).