Sightlines (ISBN 978-1-77183-133-8)
"This collection is truly global in scope and universal in perspective. From a bog near Ottawa to the lagoons of Venice, from a chamber concert in anOntario barn to a blind beggar in Mexico, from the infinities of interstellar space to the birth of a grandson – Henry Beissel celebrates the world in allits richness, mysteries and ecstasies, without ever flinching from its contradictions and torments, and offers exciting sightlines on the human condition...
Here is part of John B. Lee's review of Sightlines:
A Shelf Called Essential
by John B. Lee
On rare occasions one reads a Canadian poetry book as
fine as Henry Beissel’s Sightlines, an important book engaging important
themes, a book that might take its place upon a shelf called essential. Some of those essentials have earned their
place because they are a first of their kind, or because they have historical
significance in the literary development of this nation. I think here of titles by Crawford, Lampman,
and Knister to name a few. More
recently, there are those books that are something of an apotheosis. Al Purdy’s
Caribou Horses, Margaret Avison’s The Dumbfounding, and other relatively
early-in-life titles by Irving Layton, P.K. Page, Raymond Souster, and Alden
Nowlan, to name a few. (I shall refrain
from citing more recent examples to avoid the ego wars that might
erupt were I to do so.) That said there
are those late-in-life achievements that rival the accomplishments of
individual poets in the full vigor of youth.
Margaret Avison’s Concrete and Wild Carrot come to mind. Here is a serious poet for serious readers
doing some of the best writing of her life in her mid to late eighties. And octogenarian Henry Beissel’s Sightlines seems a worthy companion
to that late-in-life masterpiece.
There are those poets indulging in intellectual
gamesmanship to the eternal fascination of readers who prize the mind over all
else that seem to get the attention of the media and academics. Like birthday sparklers and party favours,
the fizzle and bang of experimental language and brilliant performance soon
enough fade and rarely, if ever, go deep.
How might we place any of the practitioners of this sort of stage over
page wordplay on the same shelf as Shakespeare or Keats, Dickinson or Heaney, Oliver or Frost? In the words of Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz,
“There must be a middle place between abstraction and childishness where
one can talk seriouslyaboutserious things.” And Henry Beissel fills the bill. He is serious without being solemn, he is
deep without being sententious, and he is profound without the needless
obscurity that often mars bad poetry, that muddies its waters to make them look
deep. In the closing lines of his
closing poem, his cri de coeur is the
sort of clear water drawn from the deep wells that might slake the thirst of
human yearning shared by all in every age of humanity. In his final poem, “Starry Nights,” he
Hold me, love, hold me in a
that we may know we are not
in this thundering
silence. We are such stuff
as stars are made of and
for better and for worse,
their fate. Let us, love,
be their most exquisite consummation."
John B. Lee is Poet
Laureate of the city of Brantford in perpetuity and Poet Laureate of Norfolk
County for life.
Guernica Editions published "Cantos North / Cantos du nord" in a bilingual edition (ISBEN 978-1-77183-239-7), French transl. by Arlette Francière, with an afterword by Sherrill Grace, OC, "Singing the North", in which she describes the poem as "epic in scope, lyrical in its celebration of nature, frequently uncompromising in its portrayal of human violence and greed, and rich in the keenly observed details. Cantos North sings an alternative history, a myth of place, not origins, that cradles us all..."
"Cantos North" is my way of celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary.
Here is how it opens:
FIRST CANTO: LANDSPACE
Vast blank canvas of a
hung tattered at the
top from ice pole
and stretched below
along a single latitude
taut into the
framework of two oceans.
The seasons try their
colour schemes here
summer on us in passing
falling forever into
between the skeletons
of elms and maples
leaving the ground
whitewashed so shroud bleak
it chills the light to
the very bone of stillness.
What artist dare raise
his vision from the dead
centre of creation
against this dinosaur indifference?
North my love north
where the earth stands
and whirls the stars
like a frozen wheel of
look north for the
in a chrysalis of
In your seeing the sun