A Temporary Stranger: Homages, Poems, Recollections
By Jamie Reid. Anvil, 158 pp, softcover
Jamie Reid, who died in 2015, age 74, was an important figure in the volcanic Vancouver writing scene of the 1960s and 1970s. He was one of the original editors of Tish, the historic poetry newsletter that ushered in a new school of poetry (called “projectivist verse” and many other names) that was antimetrical and closer to real speech: a movement that would always be associated with the West Coast and helped make many writers’ reputations. He was admired as a quiet, serious figure: a dedicated artist, not a mover and shaker.
Nor was he prolific, but this fine memorial volume, edited by Karl Siegler, highlights three phases of Reid’s writing. The first is a section called “Homages”, a series of poems paying tribute mostly to familiar names from French literature, such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, André Breton, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, Jacques Prévert, and Tristan Tzara. “There is no doubt,” Siegler writes, “that during the middle of his life Jamie experienced, not a crisis of faith…but a loss of direction.” Writing these poems evidently allowed him to regain his momentum and push on with a very different kind of work that he called “fake poems”.
No relation to “fake news”, of course. Reid used the term because, as Siegler puts it, he realized “that in the making of poetry, like that of history, we are bound to create not a reproduction of the past, which has become lost to us forever, but simply what the present requires—a reenactment of the past”. In Reid’s own words: “Any poem is an impossibility of language that does not end, a remain, a survivor, something that has appeared [but] is always unfinished, unconcluded, and free.”
The third and final section, taking up more than half the book, is a collection of heartfelt prose pieces, most of them previously published (and never forgotten). They recall some of Reid’s contemporaries in the nascent Vancouver arts scene of 50 years ago. He lists a great many names. Those who seem to stand out include Warren Tallman of UBC, the professional dilettante Curt Lang, the sui generis bill bissett and his blew ointment press, and Patrick Lane’s brother Red, also a poet, who died much too early. That fine poet and reviewer Heidi Greco stands out as a representative of the present generation.