AN UNKNOWN POET

Friends,

I want to tell you about a poet I’d wager not a single person who reads this blog has ever heard of. His name is Andrew Suknaski and the name of the book is WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS.

Andrew Suknaski is a poet of the Canadian prairies. Wood Mountain is a town in south-west Saskatchewan where Suknaski grew up. WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS is about the history and people of Wood Mountain. The book is full of poems with people’s names as titles–just as my own JUDEVINE is–“Jimmy Hoy’s Place”, Jim Lovenzanna, Soren Caswell, Vaslie Tonita, Louie Leveille, etc.

There are also poems about Indians–Sitting Bull, The Teton Sioux–Ukranians, Polish, Roumanian, English, Serbian, Chinese, all the different ethnicities that made up the Wood Mountain of Suknaski’s childhood.

These poems deal with, as Suknaski puts it, “a vaguely divided guilt; guilt for what happened to the Indian (his land taken) imprisoned on his reserve; a guilt because to feel this guilt is a betrayal of what you ethnically are–the son of a homesteader and his wife who must be rightfully honored in one’s mythology.” Few places these days do you find such an honest statement of the conundrum we all find ourselves in.

WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS first came out in 1976, a year before my own THE CHAIN SAW DANCE was published, which was the first small book of JUDEVINE poems. Suknaski and I have a lot in common. We are both intensely interested in our immediate neighborhoods and in the people who live there. We are both storytellers.

I first read, as best I can remember, WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS when it first came out. How I found out about it I can’t remember now. I read it again over the past couple of weeks, reading it as slowly as possible. It’s 36 years later and I still think it’s a great book, and a book that expands the embrace of what a poem is.

Suknaski somewhere has been called a “documentary poet.” Okay. If you must. I was once called a “folk” poet by a stuffy academic poet. “Documentary poet” “folk poet”: both an academician’s way of putting down something not understood.

Suknaski’s other books, among many others. include East of Myloona (Thistledown, 1979), Montage for an Interstellar Cry (Turnstone, 1982) and the new and selected poems edited by Stephen Scobie The Land They Gave Away (NeWest, 1982).

One blurber said, “Since the mid 70’s, Andrew Suknaski has been one of Canada’s major writers of the sense of place and the ethnic experience. As [Toronto’s] Globe and Mail has said, “If Canada ever needed an argument for the regional artist, Andrew Suknaski is it.”

Get some of these books. Read them. Discover something new. The point is, there are thousands of poets out there waiting to be read. Try something other than what the New York Times or The New Yorker or some other New York centered rag, on-line or off, tells you is good poetry.

I wish I could send this notice to Suknaski but he died, at the age of 69, on May 3rd of this year.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill