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Maggie Helwig

Kingston (Ont.), Quarry Press, 1989. 90pp, paper, $10.95
ISBN 0-919627-23-4. CIP

Reviewed by Doug Watling.

Volume 17 Number 5
1989 September

I wish that I could be more enthusiastic about Maggie Helwig's Talking Prophet Blues. It's a de­manding collection, in which Helwig adopts the voices of Simone Weil, Glenn Gould, and a clutch of Early Church Fathers. Readers are simply dropped into each of the book's three segments; the only contexts are brief commentaries on and from Gould, and longer passages accompanying the biblical material. If you don't know anything about Simone Weil...well, good luck.

An abstract, zen quality pervades much of Helwig's verse, with inter­mittent success: "Contemplate the face/reflected in the mirror of your hand." This excerpt is from the Gould narrative, "The Other Goldberg Variations," which is arcane and cerebral and captures the reclusive Gould almost perfectly: "Am I speaking secrets/to my own bluntness"? Amidst recurrent images of Russia and wolves and Toronto at night, Helwig fashions a portrait of tattered genius from Gould's "rag ends of intellect."

While "Hunger and the Watch­man," the Simone Weil section, is more accessible -- i.e., more emotional and imagistic -- it shares a problem with the Gould poems and with 'Talking Prophet Blues," the book's final section. Despite flashes of humour, episodic raw material, and a gifted poet at the helm, this collection doggedly courts the obscure. The Gould section is suc­cessful because Gould himself was a cryptic fellow, and the poetry follows suit.

The other narratives cast the reader adrift in their characters' psyches. Talking Prophet Blues reads like a riddle or an in-joke; with some sort of anchor, it might seem memorable and wise. An elusive, adult book.

Doug Watling, Meadowvale Secondary School, Mississauga, Ont.
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