Peter Sanger,
Aiken Drum
(Gaspereau, 2006)

Peter Sanger is an objective poet. He uses the world outside to reveal his meanings, drawing word portraits of things in water, such as fossil ferns, snow fences and rivers, even a newscast. The people in his poems are mostly viewed from outside. Still his pictures are sure and precise, creating rich pictures in the minds of readers.

You are 24 pages into the book before the word "I" appears, and even then it disappears after the first line of the poem. When it reappears in other poems, it refers, most of the time, to personas, characters created by the poet rather than the poet himself. Some of these characters who appear in the poems are from history, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, for example. Sanger bases poems on the journals, books and letters of real people. One striking long poem, "Abatos," uses myth -- Abatos was one of the horses that pulled Pluto's chariot -- to tell the story of a 19th-century thief and conman. It is rich and unusual, as is most of Sanger's work.

You'll have to trust me on that point because these poems do not lend themselves to short quotes in a review. To be appreciated they have to be taken as a whole.

In these days of the personal poem, Sanger's strategy is risky. Many present-day readers have been conditioned by the solipsism of much of modern poetry to be too impatient to deal with objective and sometimes challenging work, with poems that ask you to bring a little something to the table. Sanger's not a difficult poet; he just takes an elliptical approach to his subjects. Read Aiken Drum slowly and attentively. It will reward the attention.

by Michael Scott Cain
27 January 2007

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