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Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Stiles Council

Eyewear watched the new doc on Canadian poet John Stiles last night. Scouts Are Cancelled (pleasingly coincidental as today is the centenary of the founding of the Scouts) is one of the best filmed poetry books ever, in some ways reminiscent of Bob Holman's brilliant Emmy-winning The United States of Poetry - but here, covering many poems from one poet, and one collection. And, what a poet, what a collection. Stiles will not be to all tastes - which is exactly the point of the film, and the man. Stiles, seemingly without effort, or much say in the matter, has become a persona that marries the more admirable qualities of a Kerouac to those of an Abe Lincoln: he is a small-town fella right out of Depression-era Canada, genuine as all get out, and shucks, he means what he says, and means to say it. Stiles spent his youth in an Apple Orchard, in the Annapolis valley, in Nova Scotia, and this Edenic place becomes his metaphor for all that is lost, all that is lovely, in the world. Stiles, sometimes seen hung-over, or vaguely inadequate among family and nearly-empty readings, is presented as one of the most original contemporary poetry voices in North America, combining rural sounds, and home-made onomatopoeia to his half-baked, sorrowful musings on the dead-end lives of boys and girls from Nowheresville. I've rarely been as moved, or convinced, as during this film, as it renews my belief in the integrity of the poetic calling. This isn't because he aims for a naturalistic Al Purdy-style Canadiana, though, for Stiles exceeds naturalism (the brakes on his poetry car are broken) and gets somewhere far more genuinely innovative and unexpected: a reimagined, respoken region where poetry and place are rowdily themselves, stuttering ugly-beauty into being. Stiles may not be Canada's best new poet - but he may be one of Canada's truest. See this movie, buy this man's books.
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