These are books that periodically make an appearance in my bookbag, the sort of books that don’t get read straight through. They’re not always cover-to-cover reads for me; if they are, they’re read cover-t0-cover over an unusually long period of time.

Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings through the First World War
Ed. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies
M&S, 1994

Quite likely this volume is intended as a supplementary work, or as a collection designed to refresh the memories of Canadian poets who are loosely familiar with their national heritage already.

For the casual reader, Canadian Poetry would be a more meaningful read if each poet had a page or two (rather than a paragraph or two) of an introduction to their time, place and work.

I found, in particular, the first 80 pages of this volume to be one big blur of “early Canadian history”. To get some context, I pulled out Charlotte Gray’s This Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder.

Arranged into rooms, as though someone were assembling a gallery of important images and objects to chronicle the history of this land, This Museum Called Canada works brilliantly as a companion volume for this volume of poetry. It’s just what I needed. (I’ll have more to say about this volume at another time, but it’s most definitely not in my bookbag because it’s quite likely one of the heaviest and bulkiest books that I own.)

Divided into two sections (Foundations, which begins with Robert Hayman in 1628 and ends with Charles Mair in 1890; Continuations, which begins with Isabella Valency Crawford in 1880 and ends with Frank Prewett in 1923), this collection offers only one or two poems for each of the earlier poets, half a dozen or a dozen poems for most of the later poets.

It’s just enough to let you know which are of the most interest to you as a reader, so that you can track down a more indepth volume or a biography or some other unwieldy and glossy-paged volume to read following or alongside.

Mostly I’m reading straight through, to get an idea of the changes across the decades, but I’ve peeked ahead at particular poets; I got a good chuckle out of the Robert Service poem “My Cross”, which pokes fun at the fact that the only poem he’s known for is rude, ribald and vulgar (“The Shooting of Dan McGrew, of which an excerpt also appears) despite all the honourable verse he has written.

I’ll continue to slip this into my bookbag until I’m finished. Have you been dipping into any poetry lately?