You by Gary Hyland


Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

Who are you, the reader? Who am I, the writer? How do we interact and connect? These are the questions that Hyland explores in this collection of poetry. The relationship is abstract and distant, and Hyland probes that distance and abstraction with precision. No solution is possible and he gives none, expending his expertise on close scrutiny.

Hyland’s eye is keen. He uses words with the skill of a fencer, changing his stance and aim with dazzling vocabulary and graceful insight. His poems “explore relationships and variations on relationships with diverse people in these modes” (11), modes which Highland categorizes as the vocative, evocative, illustrative, transmorphic, apostrophic, and indeterminate ‘you’.

He tests the theories and constructions of the subjective ‘you’:  “Most imaginative writing seeks to subvert [the] self-centred state, at least temporarily. It attempts to open vistas, shed a different light on old ones, or, by reflecting on the self, grope toward some sort of self-illumination. I hope that at least some of these poems do some of these things for you” (12).

Has it come to this
tumble of conjectures,
you left guessing
which you might be you,
while slowly your life seeps
under the door?
(“You, you, you or you” 15)

How do we know who we are? The reader presumes self-knowledge but gains further knowledge by reading, by connecting with the writer, while life moves on beyond, or under, the door. Both writer and reader question identity, but if we “erase the boundary lines. If we each // score love while playing well, we’ll win” (20). If it were possible to have no line between writer and reader we might achieve love between the two and gain enormously, but, in tennis terms, it could be nothing at all. The pun doubles the interest and meaning here. Between “Observer. Observed. Light. Darkness. // You” (23). There are always contrasts, opposites.

Hyland recognizes that “this poem accepts complete responsibility// although the truth is it hardly cares you’re there”. The poet doesn’t write for the specific reader, or even for any reader, but for every reader in particular. “You and all that’s not you add up // to everything” (48). And everything, every mind “is a gift with which you love” (48).

…Unlikely though we will ever
meet, you and I, each of us beleaguered
and euphoric at certain times, in certain
places, none the same, a special sort of
loneliness from someone never to be
present who might have been if only.
(“Note to the Absent as if Present” 97)

Writer and reader do occasionally meet and are happy to do so, but it is never the same reader or the same writer, for both move on into another possibility in another time, for

Galaxies rotate between you and us
a few with suns and planets that may
have created more observers of space
who may have discovered you as well.
Mapping darkness is our common enterprise
before we pass into it ourselves.
(“Dark Matter” 98)

Humanity travels in darkness; enormous space and time exists between each one of us. We attempt to place markers, to discover who each other are, as we move towards the darkness of death.

Hyland uses the sonnet form frequently but with variations from octet and sestet, quatrains with couplet, tercets with couplet, all in free verse or half-rhyme.

He covers immense distances in his thinking, in his poetry, which reveals the human desire to communicate, to touch another in some way. There are, in the end, no answers to the questions of identity of writer or reader. What Hyland does achieve is a searching of the distance between relationships and how one human being can meet and recognize the mystery in another. His language is both rich and contemporary, explosive and exciting. This is a book that merits continual exploration and dedicated contemplation.

Joanna M. Weston has had poetry, reviews, and short stories published in anthologies and journals for twenty years. Has two middle-readers, The Willow Tree Girl and Those Blue Shoes; also A Summer Father, poetry, published by Frontenac House of Calgary, all in print.