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reviewed by Sheila Martindale

George Whipple
Ekstasis Editions



The poetry of George Whipple never fails to delight the senses. Divided into six sections, and separated by whimsical sketches by the author, this collection is a welcome addition to the Whipple opus. This is a poet who is spiritual but at the same time accessible, reflective while being a tiny bit mischievous, and who ponders the human condition in a universal yet down-to-earth fashion.

Collage is enormous in its themes, yet particular in the minutest detail. The subjects range from childhood to old age and everything in between, all in a compact 95 pages! Small children in the playground are aware of “neither sky their origin/nor dust their destination,” while the aging poet “dawdle(s) away my day/in the sun.” The apparent simplicity of the language is a foil for the many layers and depths of meaning contained in thee poems. The descriptions of the natural world contain profound but veiled comments on our life and death as human beings. Each time you read one of these poems it will tell you something you had not noticed the first time around.

Whipple’s love poems can be erotic or parental, can hint at the many delights of a woman’s body or can describe a beleaguered but happy father “stuccoed with children.” He talks about the dreams he missed fulfilling as he pursued the dollar, but one gets the impression that this has been a life well-lived, with ample time for contemplation of the universe.

Humour is very much present here, and a connection with the modern world. In the section titled Poetry and Painting, he notes how the written word had changed from petroglyphs to Kindles! Writers who tend to revise ad infinitum will relate to the metaphor about digging for the perfect image until one reaches China. On the flip side of this are some disturbing descriptions of insanity, as manifest in such tortured creative souls as Proust and van Goth. And in the final pages of the book we see the juxtaposition of creation and crucifixion, of charm and ugliness. One of the most outstanding images (among so many!) is that of the cradle and the coffin being fashioned from the same wood.

So, yes, there is a lot about the inevitability of death, but these poems are in no way depressing. There is no suggestion that we should feel sorry for an old man facing his final years. The whole atmosphere of the book is one of optimism and awe; of satisfaction in the knowledge that life goes on according to some great plan. We feel that, despite our frailties and stupidities, there is hope for mankind, and a continuity in the way the world unfolds.

George Whipple might be one of Canadian poetry’s best-kept secrets. He has never been a high-profile writer, does not engage in promotional readings or book tours, and appears to make no effort to be “on the scene.” But the simple strength of his words seeps into our collective consciousness, and will no doubt lodge there for a long time to come.

Sheila Martindale