Michael Ondaatje, “Letters & Other Worlds”

  1. The title of this poem establishes its theme: the essential separation between the two worlds that the narrator’s father lived in – the world of his writings and the world of his unhappy daily life. (The word “letters” here is probably used to mean written materials.) What kind of world was the world of his writings?
  2. Ondaatje says that the father “hid that he had been where we were going.” What do you think he means by this? What was the relationship between father and son?
  3. “His early life was a terrifying comedy.” To whom was it terrifying? Himself? His wife? His family? To whom was it a comedy?
  4. What characteristic is suggested by the metaphor “He would rush into tunnels magnetized/by the white eye of trains”?
  5. What was the father’s occupation? Ondaatje suggests two incidents that were instrumental in bringing about Home Rule in Ceylon. How serious is he?
  6. What is the narrator’s attitude to his father. Does he condemn him? Is he sympathetic? Analytical?
  7. Can you explain what it was in the character and mentality of the father that led to his tragic life and death?

Irving Layton, “Shakespeare”

  1. In what way is the concept of Shakespeare like the idea of “God” or “Death” or “the start of the world”?
  2. The poem is divided into four stanzas. Can you briefly summarize the idea that is expressed in each stanza?
  3. How many of the quotations from Shakespeare can you identify?
  4. Layton sees Shakespeare as the poet’s “unclimbable mountain.” Can you suggest individuals who might be “unclimbable mountains” in other lines of endeavor? Are there any in your life?
  5. Do such unclimbable mountains tend to discourage or inspire people? Discuss.
  6. What is the tone of the poem? Is Layton angry? Amused? Discouraged? Envious? What reaction does he expect from the reader? Amusement? Sympathy?

Robert Kroetsch, “Poem of Albert Johnson”

  1. From whose point of view is this poem written? What is it about the fugitive that the hunters cannot forgive?
  2. The specific events of the manhunt are suggested in a very compressed form. How many of the events can you list? Compare you list with the events as they appear from reading of “The Naming of Albert Johnson” on page 504
  3. Kroetsch relies on diction and unexpected juxtaposition of words for much of his effect. What is suggested by “blood reason”? “red authority”? “baited their pride”?
  4. Examine the phrase “the brave running/by which he will become poet of survival/to our suburban pain/” What combinations of ideas are suggested? The word “survival” is obviously appropriate to Johnson’s flight. In what sense might he be a poet? Might his skill in eluding his pursuers be considered artistic?
  5. What is suggested by the words “suburban pain”? Is Kroetsch suggesting that the hunters, dependent on the city for survival, are out of place and less at home in the north than Johnson is? Is he suggesting that the general public, safe in their suburban homes, find the circumstances of the hunt painful? What were the odds against Johnson? What is the natural human reaction to the underdog? What was there in Johnson’s performance to inspire admiration?
  6. How is the incident in parenthesis at the end of the poem used to influence our attitude to the posse?
  7. In what way might Johnson be considered “the poet of our survival”? Is Kroetsch perhaps suggesting that the life of every individual is a fight for survival?

Margaret Avison, “In a Season of Unemployment”

  1. What contrasts does Avison suggest between nature and the structures placed upon it by the circumstances of life in a city?
  2. The title of the poem suggests that the man on the park bench is unemployed. How has “progress” contributed to his unemployment? Would he have something to do if he lived in a more primitive society?
  3. The astronaut in the newspaper story is separated from the world, disoriented, confined within a man-made structure, bound by his relation with the scientific world. How does this parallel the situation of the unemployed man?
  4. What is suggested by the quotation marks around the final word “smiling”?
  5. What do you think the theme of the poem is? Does it have something to do with what we call “progress,” and its effect on the freedom of the individual and the quality of human life?

Milton Acorn, “The Fights”

  1. In the first stanza of this poem why does Acorn refer to a “gillettes width” rather than a razor’s width? How do the connotations differ? Which suggests the more personal image?
  2. Explain the phrase “a rude brush-cut to the chin/tucks on brain safe under another.” (Note that the word “rude” here means rough or simple, rather than impolite.) How does this add to the impression of the fighter as a human being?
  3. Throughout the poem Acorn is concerned with the effect of the fights on the mind inside the boxer’s target – the human being inside the trained fighter. How does the contrast between the TV picture and the actual fight contribute to this idea?
  4. In the first stanza Acorn likens the brain of the fighter to a coconut set up as a target in a carnival game. Who has the best chance of winning in a carnival game? The player? The promoter? The coconut? Do the players have a fair chance? How does this parallel his concept of the fights in stanza three?
  5. Acorn pictures the fighter, finally, as a jerky bum/humming with a gentleness less than human.” Is this another way of suggesting that boxing is a brutalizing sport? Would the effect have been the same if Acorn had used the term “brutalizing”?
  6. “We need something of its nature, but not this,” Acorn concludes. What aspect of the fights is he suggesting that we need?