Goose Lane Editions - August 23, 2006 - 5 Comments

The Hunt on the Lagoon

The Hunt on the Lagoon by S.P. Zitner

Reviewed by Liam Ford

The last two poems of S.P. Zitner’s post-humously published collection, The Hunt on the Lagoon, deal somewhat comically with the state of poetry inCanada.  He reports in “The Prospect Behind Us” that “there are more Canadian poets than Canadians who read them” (3).  In “Last,” he laments how “these poems / will doze on the bookstore’s lowest shelves, / to which few readers deign to stoop” (12-14). Unfortunately, that is a probable reality for one volume of Canadian poetry that actually deserves to be read.  The Hunt on the Lagoon is accessible, affecting, and vast.

Each of these poems builds towards an almost enlightening insight and is written clearly, eschews academic diction, constructs a compelling narrative, and paints easily visualized pictures.  Zitner puts into words sensations that we only feel, either as a warming of the heart, a tingling of the brain, a swelling of the eyes — sensations usually left un-elucidated, referred to simply as longing or yearning, thirst or hunger.  Zitner has a unique empathy that allows him to express the thoughts of a newborn or a ten-year-old, a young man in the throes of his first love, a regretful college graduate, a guest at a dinner party, an adulterer, a disenchanted husband, an elder enjoying a performance of Schumann, a convalescent in a hospital bed, and a victim of heart disease down the long white hall.

The volume is named after Carpaccio’s “The Hunt on the Lagoon,” which is reproduced on the cover.  In “The Hunt on the Lagoon (1493?): Carpaccio,” placed near the end of the book, Zitner declares that “we invent the world we love” (27).  This line carries us back to the first poems of the collection, “Weed” and “Rodent,” which remind the reader of the oneness of plant, animal, and human, and of our privileged position in this company.  What Zitner does in these poems, and through the whole collection, is inspire “a forbidden breathing of spirit into things” (“Handkerchiefs” 19).  He can as easily put himself into the form of the weed or body of the rat, or that of a dispossessed object, as he can into the infinite forms of a human.  Forbidden is an important word, because atrocities of war and love, adultery, abandonment, anticipation of that which won’t come to pass, and the humiliations inherent in our mortal bodies, are all themes that Zitner evokes heart-wrenchingly and triumphantly.

In “The Mirrors,” uncertain lovers unite in a fancy restaurant.  The man seems out of place, sitting low in his chair.  The woman arrives late, and “Jewels // of rain are glistening on the fur of her coat and hat” (10-11).  The stanza break allows the imagination a moment to wonder: does he sit low in his chair because he doesn’t want to be seen?  Are they unsuited because she is of a higher social class?  But no; she has simply been caught in the rain, and the sight of her exalts him from his seat.

In “The Transfer,” an invalid, almost devoid of humanity, draws from the poet a motherly empathy; he sees an

and joy-of-being cry out from within,
largely unheard – like trolls
imprisoned in a mountain.

The tragedy is not in the invalid’s condition, but in our response to it, our desire to shun him because of his hideousness, in our inability to see the humanity inside of the monstrosity.  These poems unearth both “things fallen or unsprouted” (“Recalling Frances” 13), while liberating the hope of “a brighter chance / in the redundant dawn” (“To Inexactness” 5-6).

What more could we ask of poetry than to remind us of our humanity, of the balance of glory and grief, to illuminate moments that allow us to transcend our flesh and blood animality and give us a glimpse of our quiescent, manifest spirituality, and then to leave us satisfied, peaceful, and content as in “the moment [where] no one is thinking / of something to say next” (“A Little Chocolate” 13-14). Reader, next time you’re at your the bookstore, skip the A’s, B’s and C’s, and deign to stoop down to the Z’s.

Liam Ford lives in Coquitlam, BC.


On February 04, 2012, Fred Tromly said:

I am Sheldon Zitner’s literary executor, and I just want to say how happy I am to see Liam Ford’s sensitive and mving appreciation of Sheldon’s posthumous volume.

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