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Peter Christensen

Saskatoon, Thistledown Press, 1988. 61pp, paper, ISBN 0-920633-52-8 (cloth) $22.00, 0-920633-53-6 (paper) $9.95. CIP

Reviewed by Doug Watling.

Volume 17 Number 4
1989 July

Peter Christensen's To Die Ascending is a collection of lean, compact poems rooted in the out-of-doors. The first half, "Geography of the Heart," is almost entirely based on experiences in the mountains and on the trail-Christensen is a guide in B.C.

Stylistically, the poetry is of a piece. Christensen's neutral tone unites skiing, mountaineering, rescue operations-the occupations of the moment-with the "indurate events" of life. To make this material even more austere, the sheer physical presence of nature dwarfs or at least informs almost every experience.

The world Christensen depicts is also merciless, whether the subject is avalanches ("Deep Slab Instability") or the hunt ("Lycanthropy"). The killing poems are brutal re-enactments, not quite salvaged by a tinge of compassion. A poem like "Deep Freeze," which finds the author combating infidelity by losing himself in the wild, hits closer to home.

This no-nonsense point of view informs the collection. The absence of sentimentality does away with glib elements, but makes for some very stark verse.

To Die Ascending is adult in every sense, but too narrowly focused to be of practical classroom use.

Doug Watling. Meadowvale Secondary School, Mississauga, Ont.
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