Some mashups of words on my work.
Oxen—those deep-thinking brothers and sisters of cattle—keep their faces close to the ground most of the time. So does Christopher Patton. It’s an excellent posture for munching the grass and an excellent posture for poetry. Here’s a voice that is eyeball-to-eyeball with all that we stand on.
– Robert Bringhurst
Ox is artful, intelligent and substantial, a refreshing and generous first book from a very steady-eyed, steady-handed, steady-minded new poet. Though decorously undecorated, Patton’s poetry is carefully constructed. He begins with the usual physical world then segues out into the realm of a zenful consideration. In one of the poems, red maple flowers become the residual red paper confetti of an inauguration. In another, a weeping willow becomes anthropomorphized into a disheveled queen searching haltingly through her sorrows to tell her tale to her chastened, emerging buds. Patton circles and hovers over the existential profundity of human passion. Ox is a first-rate first book from a steady-voiced, capable new poet.
– Scott Hightower
Boxcar Poetry Review
Even the few houses and streets that appear seem strangely transformed into wild places. The first section draws us into an interstitial, deeply unsettling world between tree observed and person become tree, as if in mid-metamorphosis one could stop and function with both human and vegetable consciousness. We slip through time, geologic to microscopic, without missing a beat. People elide into wood and leaf with dizzying simplicity. Patton’s language play leavens his sometimes stormy visions. He’ll game a word so it pings throughout a poem. His musicality and sense of structure are impeccable. “Weed Flower Mind,” a long poem set in a Zen monastery in upstate New York, steers us through the days there in numbered block-like stanzas. As brick after brick of text is laid, the narrator’s mind rebels, his body rebels, his senses and emotions run riot. Mother, father, lovers, all appear, disturbing the peace. And by the closing we hear of a quiet small victory. “Each stone a path. We are not our own.” Ox is a terrific first book from a sophisticated and sure-handed young poet.
– Diane Schenker
University of Toronto Quarterly
The movement of thought is trickily elliptical, with abrupt shifts between present and past, observation and contemplation, “personal” references that remain deliberately opaque, and quick and subtle wordplay. Moving through the long last poem is like moving through an overgrown garden or through the thickets of the self; the poem’s texture and its difficulties beautifully embody its dominant concerns. Some here remind me of Marianne Moore’s in their finely detailed observations of the natural world, their intricate stanza forms and syntax, their subtle use of unstressed rhyme and half-rhyme, and their striking enjambments. “White Pine” in particular has a Moorish ethical critique of the Western desire to dominate and appropriate the natural world (contrasted here, as in Moore’s “Virginia Britannia,” to the ethos of Native North Americans). I’m not quite sure what to make of this poem’s close approximation of Moore, but it’s about as good as Moore at her considerable best.
– Malcolm Woodland
The Malahat Review
The poems titled for trees are as lovely as anything I’ve read in recent years. Patton has taken care to observe the trees as biological entities, and before they are vehicles of allegory, they are entirely themselves. From trees we move to poems about human alliances and relationships. The voice here is restrained and formal but the material is intimate: a son mourning a mother’s inattention, the loss of a lover, the anguish of a soul in extreme pain. And I loved the poems in the voice of Pliny the Elder. Phrases from his Natural History are woven through as a richly resonant homage to that quirky observer of natural and human affairs. Patton concludes a kind of daybook chronicling time at a Zen monastery. From the desolation of the third stanza, through a difficult attempt to reconcile with a host of visitants, a father, a lover, ghosts of the past, the poet arrives at a semblance of peace. This poem is beautifully-wrought, full of physicality, the stanzas fitting together like the flags the poet sets and tests: “Each stone a path. We are not our own.” A collection of great originality.
– Theresa Kishkan
Books in Canada
I’ll confess to being somewhat dumbfounded by the general excellence of Patton’s poetry. It is like a tart yet euphonious field guide, from whose pages we want to look up with eyes more informed. Patton seems immune to haste, although there is sufficient evidence of improvisation to enliven his testimonies. Patton is, paradoxically, a cultivator of wilderness. He does not tame the objects of his attention. Rather, his cultivation is always after the fact—sensuously he harvests what we cannot practically harvest, without resorting to a pernicious idealism. It is as if he were so soaked in botany that a vegetable slowness, not sloth but care, accompanied the registration of even the most ephemeral of phenomena, leaves and flowers. Patton addresses himself to nature without resorting to banter, and draws on Eastern philosophical traditions without the slack prosody that often accompanies the incorporation of these traditions into North American poetry. The natural world is both impromptu and organized—otherwise it would not survive. Patton’s work exhibits these features praiseworthily.
– Eric Miller
Christopher Patton’s Ox has an ecological emphasis that demonstrates the importance of acknowledging the multiple, ethical connections between the natural environment and human society. Through unique examinations of the flora and fauna that inhabit the spaces of daily interaction, he illustrates the multiple narratives that intersect through time and across lives. The poems are finely-wrought paintings, nuanced observations of both elemental and human nature. Patton’s insightful connections between individual human life and communal ecology are shown in his depiction of trees as both witnesses to and participants in human settlement and history, and in his reflections on the pastoral as genre, aesthetic, and problematic romanticization.
– Amanda Lim
The problem with this variety of poetry is that it is often beautiful but emotionally vacant. The poems leap off the page with their ecstatic longing for communion with nature, and they seem divined to view the most minute details and report back with verbal acumen. Not, as the book cover suggests, a whole new scale of Canadian nature poetry, but rooted in it, and in Gerald Manley Hopkins, and in the American school of quietude. But what is it about? What moves below the surface of the ear? What depths does the poet plumb? “A seed is a sound,” a poem begins, beautiful alliteration, a whisper over ice, over seed pod, rattle of fall, a few flashes of wind. But nothing transforms, nothing after the first line surprises. A carafe is a blind glass. That’s a new scale. Still, this is lush poetry, an absolute pleasure to read. Beautiful syllables rolling on the tongue, very fresh. Though it doesn’t leave us shaking in newness. I’m making much of this because I think presses should be held accountable for their blurbs. Yet it isn’t the poet’s fault his work is being spun a particular way. His work is doing this—this sound, this line, this beauty. Line after line of it, a delight to the ear, just gorgeous. Not leaping off into a new way of thinking, no, not quite new, but lovely. Another impressive debut. One you must check out.
– Sina Queyras
There is very little to hold on to in these poems. You don’t gain a greater understanding of yourself or the world. You don’t come away feeling cheaply enlightened. What you come away with is an experience, the feeling that you’ve been through something, something more physical than mental. You learn of concentration, the poet’s and your own. The language of Ox is a tangle of words and sounds, its phrases are deeply nested, opening up into one more possessive, one more subordinate clause, one more adjective before the next subject, the next matted clause. And while the poems are full of human beings, settlers, soldiers and scholars, to whom the wood lends life and through whom it acquires a kind of history, they are barely noticeable as wilful, subjective actors. They appear more as wispy veins of a maple leaf or barks off a trunk. You can never be sure whether he is referring to the thing or to the person—the animate and inanimate are interchangeable here, shot through with each other. Nature does not stand in for us here. Nor is it set apart from culture or human-made objects. Things just are as they are. Instead of outlining the hollow of human anxiety and then filling it with pre-made, tilled responses, Patton waits to see if the world has anything to say about itself. And it turns out it does: the world says things in the earthy, tangled language of an untended shrub, fractal but sensible, messy but luscious.
– Abou Farman
Here is a poetry which demands (and rewards) an attention we may not know we “had.” The compensations are as generous as the scruples are insistent. Yield to the rigour and it will reward you with a kind of ease not available elsewhere: there are no further pains to be taken here, only delight and a semi-botanical perlustration.
– Richard Howard
Three Translations from the Anglo-Saxon
Your best bet is to find a translator who works in that rare middle ground—a scholar gifted with a poet’s ear and sense of line, or a poet with a scholar’s interest in faithful rendering. Patton finds that balance. His approach clearly gives lyricism high importance, but he never sacrifices clarity or readability. He wisely turns the separated, double two-stress line of Anglo-Saxon poetry into a standard iambic tetrameter, which he handles with maturity. In his tone, I think he has achieved something similar to Lattimore’s translations of Greek, a voice that manages to sound epic and dignified like the original without sounding archaic or stilted. Patton’s translations leave the pathos intact. They make us feel that these speakers are us. I think they have the potential to become the definitive modern translations of these poems.
– Sam Selinger
Curious Masonry is a physically thin, beautifully produced volume, an artefact in every sense. The first poem, “The Earthwalker,” is a wandering imagination, a weary spirit in a landscape of travail and exile, a lone speaker without the comfort of familiar landscape or kinsman, who extolls temperance in the face of existential realities. The second, “The Seafarer,” Richard Hamer translated very closely to the original Anglo-Saxon text. There are extensive essays on Ezra Pound’s much freer translation of the poem. Patton artfully comes down somewhere between the two. Again the speaker of the poem is forlorn, without kinsmen or landscape, on “the way of exile,” warning that one must only cling “moderately” to the rewards of the world:
[a man] must hate whom he
hates, love whom he loves, moderately:
though he wants to see the one on fire,
he may also see the friend he adores
on a funeral pyre. Fate is far stronger,
Measurer mightier, than a man’s mind.
Patton’s Curious Masonry, done well in every way, lends itself to reading and re-reading.
– Scott Hightower
This book will not encourage readers who are curious about how the original Old English might have sounded, for it fails to provide discussion of allophonic variants and directions for reversing the Great Vowel Shift. It will not encourage budding translators, for it obscures all the real problems—manuscript conditions, necessary emendations, dialectal variations—and fails to provide a grammar and a glossary. Because it lacks an essay on the poems’ cultural/historical context (for example, the lord-retainer relationship, the ubi sunt echoes, the goals of Anglo-Saxon seafaring, the association of the ruins with Roman occupation), and does not encourage further reading by providing a bibliography of interpretative scholarship, it does not cultivate reader curiosity about the original audience who heard these poems recited and the literary traditions of the place and period that produced them. Instead, it invites the casual reader to provide his own interpretations, out of his own life experiences, and then tricks him into believing that he has understood what he has read.
– Norma J. Engberg
Andrew Steeves of Gaspereau Press
won first prize for Curious Masonry …
… in 2012 in the Poetry category of
the Alcuin Society Book Design Awards.
A gorgeous object in itself, with deep blue cover blind-printed with phrases of text, this is small press production at its finest. Patton has offered versions of three poems from the Exeter Book, the 10th c. codex: “The Earthwalker” (often translated as “The Wanderer”), “The Seafarer,” and “The Ruin.” Going deeply into the heart of these magnificent texts, Patton provides us with durable poems for our own troubled times. Interested readers should also seek out the glorious Anhaga, the late Jon Furberg’s own retelling of “The Wanderer.” recently reissued by Arsenal Pulp Press.
– Theresa Kishkan
Christopher Patton’s Jack Pine is both informative and imaginative as it teaches children about the natural world. The author sympathetically portrays the pine’s role in the ecosystem and represents the history of human misunderstandings about it by focusing on one fictional, though realistic case in which a farmer blames the pine for the poor soil quality and even for the death of his cattle. The pine is seen as useless and even harmful by humans, while the ecosystem, including the other varieties of pine, benefits from its sheltering qualities and its hardiness. Each type of pine in the poem is given its own voice, so that the poem is told from many perspectives. The author also provides a brief one-page history of the pines featured in the poem for the curious child—aged from six upwards—who might want to know more. The connection between all different aspects of animal and plant life is constantly evoked by the collage illustrations. The technique of printing photographs of Cybèle Young’s etchings and subtle watercolours, rather than printing them directly on the page makes them tactile and immediate.
– Sarika P. Bose
The Globe and Mail
Cybèle Young’s exquisite, three-dimensional etched-paper collages are, somewhat paradoxically, the medium that makes visual and visible a most unprepossessing tree. The first lines of this extended poem, an ode, of sorts, to the Jack Pine, tell the reader exactly what’s not to admire about this tree:
Come meet Jack Pine. You’ll never see,
with luck, a tree less lovely than—
a tree more bent, more squat, more grim,
more weird and ugly than—Jack Pine.
Although the Jack Pine is not unkind—”he shelters growing pines / from blasts of wind and scorching sun”—he is seen to be a useless tree, a pine that, unlike the White Pine and the Red Pine, cannot be used for ships, floors and houses. He is condemned as greedy,
to what he has, a clutch of cones.
They’re small and sharp and hard as stones.
They never seem to fall or open.
He’s vilified, unfairly, as the poisoner of a farmer’s field, the cause of the barren soil over which he presides.
But when he’s punished for his perceived crime, he rises to glory. Torched by the farmer, Jack Pine is enveloped in flames and his cones finally release their seeds. Before long,
They sprout. Eight new Jack Pines are born.
Now Red and White, who owe their lives
to Jack, watch over them as they sway
in the wind, whispering to themselves,
“Jack Pine is dead. Long live Jack Pine.”
There’s a fine and pleasing symmetry here between the plain-spoken but ultimately eloquent verse and the unlovable tree and its ultimate nobility.
– Susan Perren
Jack Pine was adapted by Vancouver Opera in Schools
and toured across British Columbia and in Ontario.
The New Canon
An Anthology of Canadian Poetry
Carmine Starnino, ed.
Times Literary Supplement
Judging from this anthology, Canada’s younger generation are more than just promising. Starnino has chosen poems and poets with real sureness of voice, technical inventiveness and a broad range of themes and forms. One poet who works in longer forms is Christopher Patton. On this showing, his work will become indispensable, and he is one of the book’s revelations.
– Patrick McGuinness
Christopher Patton brings a Zen power of clear-seeing to his poems along with a formal style reminiscent of Marianne Moore’s syllabic verse. The pleasure of reading Patton’s language is so great that it’s easy at first to miss the subtle spirituality of what he is doing; that is, until he springs it on us, often at the end of a poem, often with a phrase that recalls the Zen masters, and then the significance of what we have been reading is suddenly clear.
– James Pollock