Reviewed by Eric Barstad
The poems of Terrance Cox’s Radio & Other Miracles (Signature Editions, 2001) are honest and rooted in the soil of the poet’s own life. These pieces, all connected in some way by the ever-present motifs of radio and music, recall times long (and not so long) gone, often moving between astonishment (at the transcendent power of a short-wave radio on a clear night or at a new-found ability to communicate across vast distances), nostalgia (for a schottische in the backwoods of Quebec or for Billie Holiday’s “delicious lick of lip”), and tribute (of an uncle who “could stickhandle like a devil” or of musicians such as Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk).
Radio & Other Miracles explores a history that is at once personal and shared. Relating to the reader tales of his youth and adulthood, Cox also re-imagines popular history (the days of humankind’s first tentative travels into space, Bob Marley’s death, and the first appearance of The Beatles on American TV), pondering – sometimes in celebration, sometimes in lament – the humanity that both unites and divides us:
In revels of a Saturday
& Sunday’s pop-tune praise,
great rifts heal & close
Babel was never built
We are, these nanoseconds,
sisters & brothers
blessedly one species. (“Saturday Night in the Central Region” 56)
What makes the book somewhat less enjoyable, however, is the way Cox drops definite and indefinite articles (the, a, an) from his sentences – almost like static interfering with the clarity and continuity of a radio’s signal (and just as annoying). It is a technique that can be quite intrusive, never allowing the reader to become fully absorbed into the moving and extremely detailed narratives the poet creates. Yet, once you get used to Cox’s style, the book, especially for a first collection, is certainly worth many readings.
Eric Barstad is the editor of PoetryReviews.ca, and he currently lives with his wife Erin and their two cats—Finnegan and Pickles—in Brooks, Alberta.