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Edited by Sam Solecki. Montreal, Vehicule Press. c1985. 369pp. paper. $I4.95. ISBN 0-919890-66-0. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 14 Number 5
1986 September

Although the editor of this collection modestly claims that the essays and reviews "should be seen as a first and very tentative attempt to describe, interpret, evaluate, and situate a writer very much in mid-career," Spider Blues succeeds admirably in defining Michael Ondaatje's central concerns as a writer. Of course, Ondaatje resists "easy categorization"; anyone familiar with The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Anansi. 1970) or Coming Through Slaughter (Anansi, 1976) would agree. But this collection provides enough useful critical approaches lhat we no longer need feel baffled by Ondaatje's strange genius.

The collection is divided into two parts, with eleven articles on Ondaatje's poetry, and fifteen on the longer works. In addition, there is an introduction by Sam Solecki, a 1975 interview with Ondaatje, and an annotated bibliography by Judith Brady.

The collection's title comes from Ondaatje's wonderful poem, "Spider Blues," in which the poet is seen as a dextrous spider: "I admire the spider, his control classic, /his eight legs finicky,/making lines out of the juice in his abdomen,/A kind 'of writer I suppose." The spider "thinks a path and travels/the emptiness" to new regions "where the raw of feelings exist." The spider is the poet who explores the unknown, returning with a new vision of reality. Unfortunately, though, the spider/artist can only see new truths by divorcing himself from the reality he describes. Thus the fly, though less talented than the spider, is the real subject of art because it is closer to life: "the spider in his loathing/crucifies his victims in his spit/making them the art he cannot be." No wonder the spider sings the blues.

Even if Spider Blues represents only a tentative first step in detining Ondaatje's place in Canadian literature. it is a step worth taking.

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin C.I.. St. Thomas, Ont.
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