Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Hockey Poetry: Randall Maggs, Terry Sawchuk, and Others

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Hockey Poetry: Randall Maggs, Terry Sawchuk, and Others

In light of the playoffs tonight, and the ongoing possibility of Ontario getting a third hockey team, it seems apropos to turn a little attention to Canada's favourite game run by Americans. It seems natural, given the interest in the game that Canadian artists would be turning their attention to the game. Leading the charge is Randall Maggs, whose book of hockey poems, Night Work: the Sawchuk Poems (published by Brick), is doing well and apparently keeping him very busy.

The book hits that rarefied space between cloying local-arena populism and intellectual Harbourfront elitism. As demonstrated by the great sales, it has just enough of both to motivate buyers of both ilk (and the former far outnumber the latter) but also enough of both to likely leave both somewhat disappointed. The popular audiences, who might expect a hockey legend to be given the hero treatment, suffer the indignity of "issues" overwhelming the star. The literati, whose tastes rarely extend to sports, or narrative poetry, let alone both, suffer the indignity of a rough-hewn narrative untouched by fine-wine Marxism. Despite recurring metaphors of the goalie as monk, or hockey-players as classical warriors, the book's Sawchuk is ravaged by alcohol, depression, and isolation. The elaborate metaphors don't connect with the goalie's ultimate psychological downfall, while the class issues implied by the title fall to the wayside.

Still, despite its unevenness, Night Work is already a phenomenon in CanLit. Why? Because it has earned the mantle of the best book of hockey poems. The book also participates in that very-Canadian genre of documentary poem, and has the feel of more contemporary creative non-fiction that I always associated with GEIST magazine. There's even a little bone thrown to postmodern readers, as the author reveals the manufactured nature of the history: as he acknowledges, "I have come to accept the idea that factual history is simply too elusive."

Other artists are working on hockey-related themes as well: Melanie MacDonald's painting (attached), Dave Bidini's writing hockey erotica and defending Paul Quarrington's King Leary -- a great little hockey book that CBC says Canada should read. If you are feeling adventurous, here's a little hockey project that I just completed with the New York-based Prize Budget for Boys: a hockey-card satire featuring Jason Chimera as underdog hero.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Gregory Betts

Gregory Betts is an experimental poet, editor, essayist and teacher. He is the author of If Language (BookThug, 2005), Haikube (BookThug, 2006) and The Others Raisd in Me (Pedlar Press, 2009). He has edited editions of poetry by W.W. E. Ross, Raymond Knister and Lawren Harris. His latest book is The Wrong World: Selected Stories and Essays of Bertram Brooker (University of Ottawa Press 2009).

Go to Gregory Betts’s Author Page