Dust becomes him: Don Kerr’s new collection

Don Kerr. The dust of just beginning (AUPress 2010).

Kerr’s latest is beautifully designed, & full of sharp wit & the (necessary?) awareness of passing time & mortality that comes with age. So there are some specific elegies, for friends & also for such well known people as the poet Anne Szumigalski, as well as a general sense of the elegiac throughout. Kerr writes a vernacular open form that moves with ease across literary class lines, but always seeing clearly from below, so to speak. So there can be a political edge to his poems, but here it’s subtle, not pushy, perhaps because of that backward gazing sense of all that we slowly lose as we grow older.

In one of two elegies for Szumigalski, addressed as ‘Anne,’ as she would have wished, he demonstrates the double voice I allude to above, catching both her original English tone as well as her deliberate ordinariness (& his own sense of loss):

or your eccentric angels falling
into the pie-shaped lot
on Connaught saying in their
odd way for heaven’s sake
pick the raspberries
red as thick blood
the sparrow hopping about
looking for the ear to pout
its song into while I, bereft,
fall back into the habit of books

and she sits, makes tea,
tends eh garden, reads,
in the voice of Anne,
all days in disarray

These line capture a lot of what makes the whole collection work so well as both a fine example of what Dennis Cooley calls ‘prairie vernacular’ poetry & a carefully wrought exploration of a daily world that cannot but be in ‘disarray,’ & is loved for that very reason.

Kerr offers love poems, poems on the body (remembered as young & proud; known as slowly aging & losing that pride), poems about faith & life (a very funny series of ‘the jesus poems’), poems in other voices, displacing the too easy I of conventional lyric, &, near the end, some truly funny poems in lieu of the usual ‘acknowledgements’ & ‘about the author’ pages. The title poem takes the lyric of natural description & pushes it just a bit harder & further than usual. The dust of just beginning is an entertaining & thought provoking collection.

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