Allan Cooper,
The Alma Elegies
(Gaspereau Press, 2007)

Here's another volume of poetry that has a story attached to it: In 1978, Allan Cooper was living in a house built by his great-great-uncle in Alma, New Brunswick. Although he was alone, he always sensed another presence in the house. He saw spirits, sometimes in groups. This situation led to his first book, a small group of 10 poems. Cut to 25 years later. Cooper is again living in the house, this time with his family. That first book was long out of print and he wanted to bring it back but it seemed too small. A friend suggested he write new poems to accompany the old ones. The Alma Elegies is the result.

Please don't go running for the door when I tell you that Allan Cooper is a nature poet. The usual conception of a nature poet is a person who wants you to marvel at the larger significance of a buzzard, a person who insists that a tree is not a tree, but instead is the symbolic second coming of Jesus. Cooper writes about nature but he sees beyond the sentimental. To him, nature is a force, with a dark side as well as a surface beauty:

I gather in my hands
snowflake, frost, cold wind
At last they enter the pores of my skin
they enter my blood

and rest like dark boulders
in the stream bed of the heart.

That's a verse from "The Dream of Winter."

The mundane reality we all share is not the only one available to us, and Cooper is sort of an emissary to the inner realms:

It's time the soul says, and we look at an apple
and see all the way through to the other world.

Even considering nature's dark side, though, those realms are nothing to fear. There is a comfort there, as shown in the closing poem of the book, "Twenty Years On."

A light comes on in the dark. Am I
the only one here? In the night,
sometimes footsteps, sometimes
a light goes suddenly out. My father,
still checking things, battening hatches,
twenty years after his death.

This is fine work. You'll be glad you read it.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

15 December 2007

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