by Lee Ellen Pottie
Reports of a new book of poetry being published never make the headlines of the six o'clock news, and hardly ever make a wave outside the small literary circle of poet aficionado/as. But I swear this time is different: Signal Poetry Editions of Vèhicule Press in Montrèal is publishing Wind and Root by Prince Edward Island poet, Brent MacLaine-his first book.
In our long-distance chat, Brent said that he tries to make his poetry "something more natural, spontaneous" and he tries not to repeat either himself or other poets. His poetry shows the many sides to his character and experience in that he uses the academic, rural, and personal within his poetry. He considers himself to be a formal poet working with the tension between formality-line-length, rhythm, and meter-and spontaneity-a "Ginsberg-like," telling of the way it is.
In "Making the Middle Be," the narrator recalls the Island "way of hanging back"; the aversion Islanders have of "making spectacles" of themselves. Reading this poem, most Islanders (or Maritimers for that matter) would recognize the wisdom in and contentment of "arriving late" and "standing up shoulder to the door jamb-/of the back door, the side door,/ the kitchen door-any door, in fact,/ but the front door."
However, don't get the impression that Brent's poetry is "folksy," based solely on the Island rural life. "A Lecture to Time" (quite appropriate for the beginning of the new millennium) is a rant laced with acerbity and irony. The narrator berates "Time" for besmirching children's "shine, the way you smudge/up smiles and darken moods./ In fact, everything you touch goes stale."
Brent MacLaine was born on PEI, and grew up on the family farm in Rice Point. He started off in Commercial Design at Holland College, but moved to the Education Faculty at UPEI, majoring in English Literature. After completing his degree, he went to Australia for a job and a change. Then with the assistance of a Rotary International Scholarship, he obtained a Master of Arts from a university in Norwich, England. From there, Brent went to the University of British Columbia for his PhD. After teaching in Asia, he returned to Prince Edward Island and UPEI where he is now a popular Canadian and Contemporary Literature professor. In 1997-98, he won a faculty teaching award, and in 1999 the student teaching award.
So what does writing mean to Brent now that his first poetry manuscript is about to be published? Writing now means that he does not have to worry about longer projects. As a matter of fact, he has enough poems already written for two manuscripts. But that solves his problem of trying to force himself to write. As he said, sometimes "poetry can't be pushed, and you can't wait for it. Writing is discovery."
Brent has published work in the Fiddlehead, Antigonish Review, Blue Shift, and Matrix. In 1999, he won third prize in the Annual League of Canadian Poets National Poetry Contest. Presently on sabbatical from the UPEI Department of English, Brent is working on an academic book and the final form for Wind and Root, due out in February or March 2000. He lives in Rice Point with his family.
Lee Ellen is working on her Masters in English and Creative Writing (with Alistair MacLeod) at the University of Windsor.