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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

AMO ERGO SUM Ralph Gustafson, The Moment Is All: Selected Poems 1944-83 (McClelland and Stewart) $12.95 pb.
Don Coles, The Prinzhorn Collection (Macmillan of Canada) $6.95 pb.
Don Coles, Landslides: Selected Poems 1975-85 (McClelland and Stewart) $12.95 pb.
Robert Billings, The Revels (The Porcupine's Quill, Inc.) $6.95 pb.

Ralph Gustafson published his first book of poetry in 1935 and, particularly in the last decade, has written prolifically ever since; so that this 180-page selection, excellently made by Don Coles, must serve as introduction to a half-century's copious dedication and invention. An earlier Selected Poems appeared in 1972, and Coles has therefore rightly opted to stress Gustafson's more recent work in this book. Only twenty pages are given to poems written before 1970: they show early Gustafson to be clogged at times with a hankering after the hieratic gesturing of a Hopkins, and to be a touch over-poetic (he speaks not of birds but of orioles and cardinals, not of flowers but of jonquils and phlox, not of trees but of elms). Still, there are extremely attractive poems here, notably 'On This Sea-floor', 'On the Top of Milan Cathedral', 'Franz Liszt's Dummy Piano: Bayreuth' and 'My Love Eats an Apple'.

After 1970 the poet grows increasingly expansive, Goethean in manner. Obsessed with the grandeur of God and the potential in man's brief life, Gustafson has in advanced age produced a body of work whose probing seriousness is unlike anything I know by a British writer (though at times a comparison with R.S. Thomas would be instructive). 'I shall go to bed when grandeur comes / And pull the sheet up over time,' writes Gustafson, toying with metaphysicality in a spirit of unconceit. 'So God loved / The world He gave us brevity in it,' he adds ...

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