Luna Moth and other poems

Luna Moth and other poems
By Steve Luxton
$14.95
Paper 81 pp.
DC Books 0-919688-91-8

Reviewed by Bert Almon

Bert Almon writes from Edmonton where he leads poetry workshops at the University of Alberta.

Source: MRB, (Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec), Sixteenth Issue, Volume 8, No. 2, Spring and Summer 2005.

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Steve Luxton's books appear infrequently, which is ironic considering what a facilitator of other people?s writing he has been, first as an editor of Matrix and The Moosehead Review, and now as the director of DC Books. This third collection seems to have been impelled by two powerful themes. One is the death of a forceful and somewhat distant father, who is the subject of five poems.

The book opens with "To My Dying Father," a poem in which the son recalls an incident at the age of four: his father lifted him to the top of a seven-foot hedge and left him there for a while. The vertiginous experience was frightening, but it offered 'terror and delight' (what more could we want?) and the birth of a perspective on the whole world. The volume closes with "Last Commando on His Death Bed," a valedictory poem that imagines the father (who had been a real commando) breaking open the door of death to confront The Enemy with a metaphorical Sten gun.

The other salient theme is a medical ordeal, a terrifying encounter with the narrator's own Enemy, a brain tumour. The poems about the terrors of surgery are sometimes mediated by humour, as when in "Post-Operative Ode" the speaker recalls "the big-domed neurosurgeon" saying "he'd popped / the tumour off my brain / like a cherry off a sundae." But he doesn't hold back on the grimness of the experience.

In "The Indescribability of Fear," he refutes his own title by recreating the sounds of a hospital visit, moving from the noises in the corridor to the sounds in the room to his own fingertips scratching the cuff of the sheet. The images convey it all. One poem, "The Night Before D-Day," unobtrusively brings the father theme and medical theme together when a younger man facing surgery listens sympathetically to an older man who is paralyzed by fear: the narrator can see himself as the stoic NCO in a landing craft exuding sang froid. The poem projects a wish fulfillment: to be the younger man comforting a paternal figure.

Luxton has other themes: political commentary on the USA, keen-eyed encounters with nature, and literary satire. Several poems about dentist-turned-gunfighter Doc Holliday and his improbable but historical lover, Big Nose Kate, seem to have wandered in from an as yet unwritten book, but they do fit the mortality theme of the collection, as Holliday (of OK Corral fame) was haunted by the spectre of tuberculosis, which might account for his compulsive violence. A short poem, "Nihil Admirari," deals with the nature of poetry. The title refers to Horace's line in the Epistles, "To marvel at nothing is just about the only thing, Numicius, that can make a man happy and keep him that way." The poem complicates its message by the choice of a less than noble bird to represent the imagination:

Above serial corderillas
of artfully folded Truth and
Beauty,
above peaks topped by strivers,
modelling
the latest fibre-based, light-
weight gear,
tilts that huge-winged, mountain
vulture,
poetry.

The passion of Luxton's poems about illness and the loss of a father temper the Olympian mood. It is the nature of a poet to share that "terror and delight" felt by the little boy left at the top of a seven-foot hedge to contemplate the world. Nothing to wonder at? Everything to wonder at!

Critical Comment

“The book opens with a poem in which the son recalls an incident at the age of four: his father lifted him to the top of a seven-foot hedge and left him there for a while. The vertiginous experience was frightening, but it offered ‘terror and delight’ (what more could we want?) and the birth of a perspective on the whole world.”

— The Montreal Review of Books,Spring & Summer 2005

“‘Silver Whiskers’ displays the figure of a dead mink found in a cedar hedge who ‘waxes pharaoic’.... With the dead animal being viewed with such curious, respectful interest, the apt comparison is a credit to both pharoah and animal. ”

— Books in Canada, October 2005

 

 

 

“Luxton can turn inward questingly when his own condition threatens to pin him as a butterfly is pinned..., and he embraces a natural world that will always hold sway among poets. Keenly conversational, Luxton's is a colloquial voice.”

— Gazette, July 2005

Copyright © Steve Luxton 2009 All rights reserved