Book Review: Winter Tennis

Winter Tennis is Todd Swift’s fourth collection and is pleasingly hard to pin down. Although there are recurrent themes and stylistic manoeuvres, attempting some kind of sweeping summary would do a book that extends from tiny aphorism (‘Communal Garden’) to sprawling list (‘I Empty My Wallet’) a disservice. So where to begin? Well, certainly, there is concern for what poetry’s various resources can do, both through meticulously deployed local and structural rhythm and, perhaps most importantly, sound. As Swift himself puts it in ‘Modest Proposal’: (“It isn’t what you write down/That carries the full weight;/ It’s what they heard, and why.”) What you might hear, then, are terse elegiac poems about his late father (to whom the collection is dedicated), virtuoso outings like ‘Taking Tea With Charles Bernstein’ or the careful ambiguities of ‘Woman At A Station’. Then again, it could be echoes of WH Auden, Thom Gunn and Robert Browning -not so much obvious ‘influences’, as submarine currents feeding in to a gulf stream which negotiates contemporary situations but also reaches into a richly known past. Behind it all is a distinctively restless, ambitious and cosmopolitan voice, a questioning awareness of a diverse, unlikely world of poets, parents and emperors, and a passion for what Swift calls in ‘Some Clarity’ “language, that strange badge of honour”. (Tom Phillips)

by Todd Swift, $16.95, 86 pgs, DC Books, Montreal DC Books, Box 666, Stn. St. Laurent, Montreal, QC H4L 4V9

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