Terry Barker – Book review
of Starlight Tapestry by Don Gutteridge

Barker LE P&W 6 Nov-Dec 2023

Download PDF Here
14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Six Nov-Dec 2023.

Starlight Tapestry by Don Gutteridge – book review by Terry Barker.
(translation by Anna Yin). Published by SureWay Press, 2023 156 pp. C$ 15  ISBN 978-1-998911-00-4.
Available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1998911004

Starlight Tapestry by Don GutteridgeThis unusual and attractive volume of a generous sampling of the poetry of one of Canada’s senior and most respected poets and literary academics also offers great insight into the painstaking and personal methods of the translator of poetry. For Professor emeritus Gutteridge has selected for the reader in this collection a wide range of examples from his lifework of pellucid poetry, and translator Ms Yin, herself an accomplished poet, has organized the book in such a way, with proper introduction and inclusion of poems the author and translator wrote for one another, that the reader can appreciate the complexity and sensitivity of translation, requiring genuine dialogue. With regard to this book, we can thus trust such critical communication has taken place.

The main body of the book is divided into three parts, each containing poems by Professor Gutteridge related to the theme of that part, with their translations into Chinese on the pages facing the English original. Part One, “Starlight”, consists of poems about prominent persons, mostly pillars of English Literature (Wordsworth, Emily Brontë, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Wolfe, W.H. Auden etc.), American Literature (Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens etc.), or Canadian Literature in English  (John McCrae, Robert Service and Al Purdy; Leonard Cohen merits two poems, perhaps because he was both a poet, and a singer/song-writer), but also Nelson Mandela, who is presented as a Christ-like figure

“a man of supreme reason
seasoned by hope and harmony.” (p. 39)

Part Two, “Life tapestry” gives us (in English and Chinese) a series of poetic vignettes of the life of the author, from childhood in Point Edward (near Sarnia) Ontario to current retirement from teaching and life as a widower, through the phases of awakening to the reality of war in the experience of his grandfather and father, and thus of his family, the complexity of the questions raised by the Christianity in which he was brought up, and the turbulent passions produced by puberty, the ordering of the psyche (consciousness) offered by the reading, writing and discussing of poetry and plays, and thus to the discovery of the full range of mature human love in his courtship of, and marriage to, his late wife Anne, and in his love and appreciation for his children, a perspective that elicits his keen observance of the transcendent possibilities of meaning in the love between his son, Tim, and Shahrzad, his bride:

Loving Look
The day you lay your loving
look upon Shahrzad,
the stars came out
to celebrate with the sun
and the moon took time
to shine anew, and when
the object of your amorous eye
returned the grazing glance,
the skies burned a brighter
blue and the Heavens above them
shook, and on this day,
when two souls have pledged
to breathe as one, we wish you
a hatful of happiness and the winsome
ways of wedded bliss. (p. 111)

Part Three of the book, “The Longing Shore”, the concluding sequence of poems, begins with a series of accounts of anamnesis, the poet’s reflective recalling of the spiritual experiences, shared with others, that shaped his mature structure of consciousness (“Pod”, “The Morning I Fell in Love”, “For King and Country: Remembrance Day 2022 For my grandfather in loving memory”, “Remembrance” pp. 117-124).

These meditations are followed by poems expressing the deep loss, both personally and to his poetic practise, experienced by Professor Gutteridge after the death of his wife, Anne. These honest, touching and yet lyrical verses do not mark “the end of the story”, however, for they are followed by a finishing twelve-poem series of pieces that, in effect, reveal a rebirth of rhyme, as we might call it, a great further and more profound outpouring of poetry about the meaning and mystery of life itself, in which, as the poet puts it:

We come into this world
      (but) somehow
inhabit the broad
acreage of that space
Nature grants us-
and celebrate the birth
of our being.                    (“Being” p. 135)

Professor Gutteridge’s philosophical conclusion towards the end of Starlight Tapestry is that, in his poetic practise, for him:

When a poem percolates, 
there is no end
in sight; meaning lies
not in the words, it flows 
out of them towards some 
timeless truth
…                           (“End” p. 147)

Neither the author, nor his translator, Ms Yin, explore this (apparently shared) philosophy further in this book, but a possible small typographical error (or a work of the “collective unconscious”) may give the close reader of the book a clue where the poet and his translator “are coming from”. For the title of the poem for the book’s central figure of political philosophy is “Mandala”, not “Mandela” (p. 39), and, of course, the mandala is the “magic circle”, self-representation of a psychic process of centring, and production of a new centre of personality, in the psychology of Carl Jung, and it is a symbol that unites the cultures of East and West. Furthermore, it has been creatively used by scholars to throw light on the work of key authors in the Romantic tradition (see, for example, Professor Roderick Marshall’s study of the “earthly paradises” of William Morris).

Starlight Tapestry is a wonderful book that improves with every reading. The accessible style of the poetry, and clear organization of the text, make it a joy to read, and the cover and occasional illustrations fit in well with the spare, almost stark, poetic presentation. This book is ideal for Chinese readers wanting to sample Canadian poetry in English, as well as learn more about English literature in general. A sensitive and accurate account of a long life in Canada lived in the light of literature is given in this book, and it constitutes a real contribution to cross-cultural communication.

© Terry Barker

Terry Barker taught Canadian Studies at Humber College, Toronto, Canada, including for over a decade in a special program for international students from China. He currently is researching the origins of the Canadian national archetype of “The True North.”

Don Gutteridge was born in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada and raised in the nearby village of Point Edward. He taught High School English for seven years, later becoming a Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He is the author of more than seventy books, poetry, fiction and scholarly works in pedagogical theory and practice. He has published more than twenty novels including the twelve-volume Marc Edwards mystery series, and forty-four books of poetry, one of which, Coppermine, was short-listed for the 1973 Governor-General’s Literary Award. In 1970 he won the UWO President’s medal for the best poem of that year, “Death at Quebec”. Don currently lives in London, Ontario.

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