Monthly Archives: December 2012

Double Vision

In 1971 Henry Weinfield, Professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame, sent Frye a copy of the following poem, which Weinfield dedicated to Frye.  The poem was later published in Weinfield’s In the Sweetness of the New Time (Atlanta: House of Keys, 1980), 37–8.





I distinguish between the two cases:

The bird of the forest and the bird of the poem.

The Nightingale flies in the poem,

The Dolorous Wood,

Not Mother Nature’s forest,

Hovering th’ambiguous foliage.


Nor does he fly as a symbol,

Perched on a Golden Bough,

As metaphor or allegory

Or as messenger between the realms.

There are no messengers between the realms,

And I distinguish between the two cities:

The Nightingale flies in the poem,

For the song that he sings is himself.


And when the Phoenix is burnt on the pyre,

Does he rise as a myth among men?

And are there any reasons?

The circles converge

Not on the singer but the song.

The ashes are lost in the wind,

And the song goes forth from the flame,

Ant there are no reasons.


And therefore, distinguo.

I distinguish between the two grammars:

The sphere of the singer and the sphere of the song.

The Phoenix goes forth from the pyre

As a song in the midst of the world,

And he fashions these verses out of nothing

In order that you might remember


to Northrop Frye


Frye replied to Weinfield, saying

Thank you very much for your letter, for the poem, and for the great honour of dedicating the poem to me.  I don’t find it ironical that criticism should influence poetry, because a fair number of poets have spoken to me about being substantially helped in their creative work by my criticism.  Some other poets have attacked me in tones which suggest some influence there too, even though a negative one.

I was most interested in your remark about a cycle of return to the confines of poetry.  I have felt for a long time that what a great deal of the agitation in contemporary universities and elsewhere is all about is really a movement back from specialization and the intellectual division of labour towards a new period of enlarged perspectives and the building of mental bridges. (Selected Letters, 134)

In Cabazon

Trevor Losh-Johnson, one of our regular contributors, has recently published an original hybrid book of lyric  poetry and prose. It is a brilliant piece of writing, with many remarkable high points and outstanding passages. In an email Trevor described it to me this way:

In Cabazon is a gothic pastoral spun out of a setting that by any exercise of rationale should be fictional. Cabazon, a dusty hamlet in California, is home to the world’s only creationist museum to be housed in the bowels of a dinosaur. A fusion of verse and prose, the narrative roves through the suburban sprawl of Southern California and into the heart of Western wastelands. In Cabazon  is of and for Californian deserts.

 By gothic pastoral, I mean a nightmarish story split formally between two poles, the lyric and the narrative. Each relates to the other. The lyric side starts with an invocation to build a church in a boundless, chaotic desert, to delimit sacred space. It then transitions into a journey through a museum, in which the attempt at building a space like a cathedral to contain all creation has changed into an attempt to record and preserve the things that have been lost to time. The narrative side follows a man’s search for his lost wife, and makes a similar transition into loss, but with a twist. It is a very hallucinogenic piece of writing, extremely ironic and revelatory at the same time, ambitious, doomed to failure, entirely in keeping with the spirit of a desert city with concrete dinosaurs espousing creationist ideology.

The book was edited and published by Jeffrey Douglas, a PhD candidate here at McMaster, and a brilliant young writer himself. All content is copyrighted by BlankSpace Publications, 2012. For more on the book and BlankSpace Publications, go here, here, and here.

Here is a sampler:



At the Cabazon museum a single room

Contained two antechambers, sun and moon

And I took the latter through a purple veil

Silent and dim the chamber led past a mural

As on a cave’s wall down unintended steps

A plesiosaur suspended in the deep

Caught a darting fish with needleteeth

And past the mural encased upon the wall

A fossilfrieze of curled bones in rock

As boulders pebble the surface of shallow lakes

And diagrammed beside the osseous heap

A map depicting how the mother lay

And where to note the bones in the uterine wall

Beside that broken eggs or stomach stones



In the oilhot temple smells of olive and cedar

Climb along the columns to erect

The prehistoric past with carved dinonecks

Inhabited of old Titans, serpentine and follicular

Those cornices seethed and the room suffused with green

And while the herd milled like scattered palms

A pack, bipedal carnivores, lurked and surveyed

At once took casually the nearest calf

And exerted after others but the mothers

Trampled many—one both dazed and hurt

Pressed its snout to its partner’s neck and found

Gashes and spongiform tissue—ponderously

Their knees sank beneath buckling weights to the mud

And let the carcasses rot in the fetid place