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This review is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

WHAT SHALL I DO TO BE SAVED? The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English, edited by Margaret Atwood (OUP) £15.00.
The Oxford Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry, edited by Fleur Adcock (OUP) £6.50.

In her introduction to The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English, Margaret Atwood is apologetic about the Victorians and lyrical about the moderns (the latter take up about three-quarters of the book), but it is in the main the Victorians I feel I want to re-read and find out about.

On the evidence of this anthology the most nearly perfect Canadian poems are by Archibald Lampman (1861-1899). Two of his poems ('Heat' and 'November') must be among the finest to have come from the New World in the nineteenth century; they describe - indeed enact - an involuntary absorption in landscape that is reminiscent of Jones Very's best sonnets, and they are written with a similarly persuasive rapt intensity. Landscape was the subject of almost all the best nineteenth century Canadian verse, and there are many fine poems collected here that are essentially meditations on the alien wilderness and man's place, or European man's lack of place, in it. Apart from Lampman, Wilfred Campbell and F. G. Scott provide notable examples of the genre, and even Bliss Carman, read within this tradition, seems explicable and interesting. The landscape's human representative, the Indian, also early engaged the settlers' imagination and, as Margaret Atwood remarks, Charles Mair's verse drama Tecumseh certainly looks worth attention (though many of the 'Indian' poems, particularly those by Isabella Valancy Crawford, are pretty shy-making). Passive awareness of landscape soon gives way to struggle and heroics, and Robert Service's themes surface virtually unchanged ...

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