The National Post
What a pleasure to read critic Michael Lista's appreciative review of Sailing to Babylon in Canada's National Post (posted online on October, 26, 2012).
In this first response to the book in print, Lista writes, "as well-traveled as it is and by such titanic talents [as Edwin Arlington Robinson, Edward Thomas, and Robert Frost], new discoveries in the plain style are less likely, and less frequent. And that's why James Pollock's debut, Sailing to Babylon, (which had hardly left port before it was nominated for this year's Governor General's Award), is such a noteworthy book . . . . [I]n Pollock's unadorned style, forged as it is in traditional forms - blank verse, rhyming couplets, sonnets, terza rima - we get a vision of an old world, freighted with history, and still able to astonish itself with the novelty of its recurrence."
Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing
Tom Dillingham reviews Sailing to Babylon enthusiastically in the winter 2013 issue of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. For the full review, click the link and scroll to page 247.
Dillingham writes that the poems "engage the reader openly, generously, inviting us to notice how the details observed, the emotions evoked, the subtle (or noisy) repetitions of words and phrases, the precisely constructed lines and stanzas, the sophisticated prosody, work together with a rich and complex array of subjects and allusions to provide both pleasure and challenge."
Arc Poetry Magazine
I was delighted to read Chris Jennings' warmly receptive review of Sailing to Babylon in issue 70 of Arc Poetry Magazine (Spring, 2013). I'll post a link to the full review as soon as it becomes available online.
Jennings writes, "in Sailing to Babylon, the formalism—the regular stanza patterns, sonnets, and the long poem in terza rima—prepares you to think about the fine line between an advanced knowledge of the rules of traditional poetic form and a mastery of the subtleties of traditional poetics. When a poet deploys tradition gracefully, as James Pollock has, the pleasure in the poems also renews my affection for tradition . . . . [In "Quarry Park"] the real debt to Dante lies in the way the twining verse form braids personal, historical and moral currents into a seamless whole. It confirms the deliberate skill Pollock has shown throughout the book, but “Quarry Park” also elevates a skillful book to a graceful one."
I was immensely pleased to read Stewart Cole's thoughtful review of both Sailing to Babylon and You Are Here at The Urge (posted online on April 3, 2013).
Of You Are Here, Cole writes, "Pollock's book . . . provides both a series of unusually nuanced and intelligent takes on individual poets and volumes and, taken as a whole, an erudite accounting of Canadian poetic identity in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries . . . . [It has a quality of] extraordinary rigour, the meticulousness with which, in [Pollock's] finest critical moments, he substantiates his strong claims with argumentation so textured and intelligent that one feels dared to disagree."
And of the poem "Quarry Park" in Sailing to Babylon, Cole writes that "Overall the poem is, frankly, a masterpiece; if I were compiling today an anthology of Canadian poetry from its beginnings, it would doubtless make the cut. For not only does it constitute a significant formal achievement, but it takes the prominent Canadian genre of ‘nature poem’ to new heights, meditating on aspects of flora, fauna, and landscape formation with a level of detail and engagement with both the scientific and folkloric aspects of natural history that can only be attained through years of intimate observation. As verse narrative, 'Quarry Park' flows so beautifully as to make it difficult to quote from while doing justice to its subtle rhetoric . . . ."
Patty Comeau at ForeWord Reviews (posted April 24, 2013): “'The virtues of good critical reading,' writes James Pollock, are 'openness, attentiveness, patience, critical intelligence—and love.' You Are Here, a collection of essays on the contemporary Canadian landscape, aptly embodies these virtues and displays Pollock as an honest and heartfelt contributor to the national poetry’s topographical record."
The Poetry Daily Critique
A pleasure to read Andrew E. M. Baumann's careful analysis and evaluation of my poem "Northwest Passage" at The Poetry Daily Critique (posted April 19, 2013): "This is not a poem about history, this is a poem that pushes into the mythic, into the unconscious, into the resonant. Though, "pushes" is not the right word here: the poem functions within the mythic. This is what divides aesthetic narrative poetry from the banal . . . ["Northwest Passage is an] absolutely wonderful, and wonderfully calculated poem."
Catherine Owen at her blog, The Relentless Adventures of OCD Crow: "Pollock is a deep scholar. Not only as evidenced by his erudite and impassioned collection of essays on Canadian poetry, You Are Here (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2013), but within this carefully honed array of poems [Sailing to Babylon]. Nothing in this selection feels like poems from a first book, each piece crafted with the tools of long thought and line-listening."
Brian Palmu's Blog
Delighted to read Brian Palmu's appreciative and thorough review of You Are Here on his blog (posted July 23, 2013).
Palmu writes that "it’s both a relief and a delight to encounter James Pollock’s recent You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada, which puts the evaluative approach front and centre. Ultimately, it’s the critic’s job to sift and weigh, to consider, and to judge. Pollock takes great care in this sequence from reading to writing, and the force of his conclusions, always nuanced, [is] made plain, and backed by a hefty portion of core citation."
Stephen Osborne, writing in issue 89 of Geist, observes, "The poetry celebrated in the pages of You Are Here includes the work of Jeff[er]y Donaldson, Karen Solie, Anne Carson, Daryl Hine, Eric Ormsby and Marlene [Cookshaw], each of whom receive illuminating and often brilliant close readings."
The Savvy Reader
Inderjit Deogun, reviewing Sailing to Babylon at The Savvy Reader (September 2013), writes "I can’t remember the last time I was so moved by a single collection. After each poem I had to stop and allow myself the time to marvel at Pollock’s mastery. . . The extraordinary thing about [the book] is Pollock’s ability to recall an action, a moment or an object with tremendous elegance. . Pollock revisits his past and sees it with absolute understanding. . . . Sailing to Babylon reminded me why I fell in love with poetry in the first place."
From Laura Cameron's dual-review of my book You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada, and Carmine Starnino's Lazy Bastardism: Essays and Reviews on Contemporary Poetry, in the journal Canadian Literature:
"You Are Here and Lazy Bastardism are important books. On a practical level, they are important because they do justice to rich poetry and varied poetic careers through intelligent, sensitive, and captivating close readings. On a cultural level, they are important because they are concerned with nothing less than the future of Canadian poetry. Both Pollock and Starnino make the high stakes of their work palpable with grace and style."
University of Toronto Quarterly
Brent Wood, reviewing Sailing to Babylon for the Letters in Canada 2012 issue of the (pay walled) University of Toronto Quarterly (Vol. 82, No. 3, Spring 2014), writes, "Pollock shines brightly in 'Quarry Park,' a long poem . . . . The tight terza rima format showcases [his] poetic discipline . . . . [He] blithely hints at the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise while creating a rich complex of his own past, his son's future, the childhood games of a boy (also named James) who once lived in the quarry, the glacier called "Huge Toad" by the Huron, and the Rowan-tree mythology of the Gaels, all without losing the immediate beauty of the ecology of the place itself, rendered through carefully detailed images. The poem moves gracefully through the woods at an easy pace for over twenty pages, never making a false step or departing from the idiomatic tone, sweeping readers along through the magical dimensions of the real, and the real dimensions of the magical, showing how beautiful are "the ruins that prevail/ even in the midst of death; how we forget/ and how our forgetting makes us homeless, / until we dig ourselves out of this debt/ we owe the giant past for making us ourselves."
University of Toronto Quarterly
Robert Stacey, reviewing You Are Here in the Letters in Canada 2012 issue of the (pay walled) University of Toronto Quarterly (Vol. 82, No. 3, Spring 2014), writes, "The readings Pollock offers are thoughtful, knowledgeable, and precise. He is truly an excellent close reader of poems, his technical vocabulary is superb, and his command of the tradition enables him to tease out allusions and echoes of other works that are likely to be missed by the more casual reader. It seems to me that little is to be gained from trying to catch Pollock in a mistake or a misattribution . . . There is no doubt that You Are Here will be appreciated by many, especially practising poets and aspiring critics."