House of Anansi, 105 pp., $16.95, softcover.
You can't mistake A. F. Moritz's voice for that of any other Canadian poet past or present. Through its diction, Night Street Repairs, the most ambitious of his 15 collections to date, sucks readers into a rare state of luxurious concentration before firing the kill shot.
"I have a mild case of everything," he writes. The decaying cities of Europe and the Americas, and the humanist culture they once nurtured, infect him with chronic melancholy. He's laid low by both revulsion at the U.S. and painful nostalgia for its now-deserted industrial Midwest, where he lived until the early 1970s. He's got a bad bout of regret that Catholicism has lost its hold on people's imaginations but, equally, that anarchism has failed to fill the void. He's a solitary patient, hand cupped to his ear, straining to hear "the more-than-ancient, the prealphabetic wind..."
In his poetic world, humility and discontent are our natural states. He asks:
And won't even bitter hate ever be mine
at living in unpropitious days, deformed
by necessary anger while having to know
that no good man or woman
grows from revolt?
When momentarily resigned to the present, however, he can bask, even wallow in it. He delights to mix high and low, classical and contemporary, as when he puts the poet Homer and 1920s jazzman Bix Beiderbecke together in a poem. A strip club (and, by extension, everything else):
has the shuttered umbrella-folding sad
end-of-the-season feel that any religion will exude
as it survives stubbornly into the new age.
Making a grudging transition to the future is what he too does. One tool is the life- and chaos-affirming language of the Latin American surrealists, whose work he translates often and enthusiastically but from which his own differs: Reading Moritz you get caught up in the mellifluous (but never glib) linguistic dexterity. Going along, you ask yourself: "How does he do that?"
Moritz is an increasingly influential figure in Toronto literary circles but deserves to be better known here. There's no finer mind at work in Canadian poetry and few if any sensibilities of equal pertinence.