Before we get into things, full disclosure is in order. I know Bill Arnott and consider him a friend. I have admired his writing and even written a back-cover endorsement for one of his award-winning nonfiction titles, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga. Moreover, Bill has penned some kind words about my writing, both in this journal and elsewhere.
Does all of this mean I am unable to bring the expected (nay, essential) degree of objectivity to the assignment of reviewing his new poetry collection, Forever Cast in Endless Time? I don’t think so. Bill and I are both serious about writing—so serious that when reflecting back to each other about our respective literary projects we give each other, and expect in return, frank and honest feedback. When he asked me what advice I would give to other writers in the course of the Showcase Interview he conducted of me in September 2020, I said, among other things, this:
[I]t can be immensely helpful to find a mentor whose work you admire and who is willing to give your work a close reading and then render a candid assessment of it. And I do mean candid. Pats on the head are for spaniels.
That is how we have always approached each other’s work. The development of the craft demands nothing less. You as readers of this review deserve nothing less.
So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to work.
Forever Cast in Endless Time is Bill Arnott’s first book of poetry. It is high time that a publisher brought out such a selection. Many of Bill’s poems appearing in this selection have been published before by any number of print and electronic journals located all around the world. That is to say, his poetic writings have passed muster again and again with discerning editors of widely scattered magazines and e-zines. But having them appear between two covers—instead of having to hunt them down with the help (mainly) of a search engine—allows one to digest and savour the poems in this carefully curated selection in a rather different way. Being able to spend time with a collection like this in toto permits the reader to pick up the synergies and crosscurrents which amply demonstrate that Forever Cast… is much more than the sum of its parts.
Bill Arnott’s poetry is lyrical poetry in the Classical sense of the term. His writing brims with music and like that of some (but not all) skilled poets, the reading of his poems aloud brings to the surface a dimension that simply seeing them on the printed page does not reveal. Writing of a chimeric, mystical reflection encountered while pursuing the Camino de Santiago, he writes:
A redhead rides a painted clamshell, as a great saint crosses west Galicia, home to Guthred, for a spell, before more infidel, maverick moors moved in. Broken, oaken booze-soaked casks still wheeze beneath a thumbnail moon and distant shores curved like prayer mats.
Read those stanzas aloud and something new emerges. Savour the internal rhymes (of “spell” and “infidel”, for example) and the sibilants in “crosses” and “booze” and “wheeze” and “distant” and “shores” which propel the stanzas forward like a galleon quietly passing “distant shores” at dusk. Lovely. You’ll find examples of such sonorities everywhere in Forever Cast…
Wide-ranging travel informs much of the poetry in this collection. Bill’s word evocations of locations as diverse as the Isle of Lewis, Pike Street Market in Seattle, Peachland, B.C. during an apocalyptic forest fire, St. Ives’ sandy Cornish beaches, the San Francisco of Jerry Garcia and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, &c., will enchant and transport both the uninitiated and the familiar. For the former they will prompt a yearning to visit these far-flung places; for the latter, they will spark memories and reveries of them.
And for those who hanker after that quintessential North American rite of passage, the road trip, how about this?
…Road grabs you in a bear hug, highway getaway, asphalt bitumen grooves, grooves, grooves, and from the trunk of the funky funk of Mr T, Theonious Monk, Marsalis boys play left and right. Speakers installed in the rear of a silver chrome thunderbird, my word! The sound is crystal clear—treble, woofer, double bass vibrates up, out and through Corinthian patent leather
“Corinthian patent leather”. Just let that phrase roll around in the glove compartment of your mind for a moment. Who can resist taking a ride with Bill Arnott? I’d like to know. Move over Cassady, hop in Kerouac! Let’s get moving!
As should be evident from everything said to this point, Forever Cast in Endless Time has it all—rich, vibrant and colourful diction, romance, humour, music—everything. But, as noted, beyond that, these divergent attributes gel, in the end, into a uniquely satisfying whole.
Now, forgive me if I conclude with one small quibble. And it is a small one (but still worth mentioning).
One of Bill Arnott’s signal strengths is his ability to craft poetry that is luminously responsive to paintings, drawings, photographs and other intriguingly inspiring visual phenomena. That is, he excels in the writing of ekphrastic poetry. We see this repeatedly in Forever Cast…, in poems with titles like “Blank Canvas” and “Alchemy: Ekphrasis in Chalk” and “Portal”. But where, pray tell, are the images? I have seen some of those images when encountering Bill’s ekphrastic poems at the time they were first published by magazines like Ekphrastic Review. However, every last one of the images is missing in action in Forever Cast in Endless Time. I love the soundtrack but I want the movie too!
My surmise is that this omission lies at the feet of the publisher and not the poet. A book that contains images (especially coloured ones) on some of its pages is more expensive to produce and print. But leaving out the images that belong with the vividly descriptive ekphrastic poems published here was a cardinal example of false economy. “Blank Canvas” indeed. Put your foot down hard next time, Bill. Let us hope that Silver Bow Publishing might then dig deeper into its deep pockets and remedy that deficiency when the first edition of Forever Cast… sells out (as well it should) and the second edition hits the street.
Bill Arnott is a songwriter, poet, and author of the bestselling travelogue Gone Viking: A Travel Saga (Whistler Independent Book Awards Finalist and American Book Fest International Book Awards Finalist, Best Non-Fiction 2021, The Miramichi Reader) Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries and Wonderful Magical Words. His work has been published in literary journals in Canada, the US and UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and his column “Bill Arnott’s Beat” is a feature in several magazines. Bill has received awards for prose, poetry, and songwriting and is the creator of “Bill’s Artist Showcase.” For his eight-year Gone Viking expedition he was awarded a fellowship in London’s Royal Geographical Society. When not trekking the globe with a small pack and his journal, or showing off cooking skills as a culinary-school dropout, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving.
- Publisher : Silver Bow Publishing (March 8 2021)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1774031612
- ISBN-13 : 978-1774031612
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