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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The Way It Was is a collection of poems written by Don Gutteridge. This collection is divided into three parts: Back Then, Present Tense and Miscellany. The first part is a celebration of his early years as a boy growing up in Point Edward, Ontario, a small town bordered by Lake Huron and the St. Clair River. These poems are idyllic in nature, timeless snapshots of the past when all seemed possible and summers were endless vistas of possibility. Gutteridge’s grandfather is lovingly remembered in Letters: For my Grandfather: 1892-1955. Elsewhere in the collection, we see the poet as a child “Curled on Grandpa’s lap,/while he spins the tale/on the Three Bears, I/succumb to the thrall/of the story, spun a dozen/times or more, drawn/to the ancient tug/of its three-pronged plot,/riding tall on the velvet/voice I adore,/and we both guffaw/at the inept antics of Goldilocks..”. And in Touch, the young boy ‘hop-steps’ to keep up with his grandfather’s military gait as he plies him with questions about the war. While Gutteridge’s poems often focus on his father’s preternatural skill on the ice and gift for fishing, it is his grandfather who is that all-important, supportive and gentle presence in his life. In Grinning, he recounts how his grandfather built a snow slide one snowy winter: “and sailing down we went/as ardent as Argonauts,/our scarves spinning out/behind us and our eyes/as wide and thrilled as a/hummingbird’s flutter,/while high on the hill, his own eyes alight,/my Grandpa -- grinning.” This marvelous piece had me visualizing the man as godlike, benevolent, a force of nature that was larger than life as he stands high overhead, sharing in their jubilation and beaming with delight at those children sailing down the slope.
While I love the poems celebrating those people from his past, in this volume, I was most taken by the Canatara poems. In Dunes at Canatara, Gutteridge contrasts the eons of time taken to sculpt the dunes surrounding the lake with the easy carelessness of the young boy and his friends who take an afternoon romp and “put our imprimatur upon/the shimmering concavities,/our bodies pressing/their wry signatures deep/deep into the sun-stunned sand,/feeling the heat of a hundred/centuries oozing through.” In this poem, Gutteridge weaves sound and sense as he describes the sculpted dunes being painstakingly built up of wave-washed sand grains. The first sentence is a feast for the eye, mind and tongue as the reader slowly takes in the splendor and substance through the action of alliteration, sound and image. In The Right, another Canatara poem, Gutteridge posits the dunes as “pyramids along the/wind-whispered shore-/line..while the dunes looked on/with their thousand-year smile.” The contrast of the young boys filled with enthusiasm, imagination and the heady, if fleeting, possibilities of their dreams is beautifully offset by that “thousand-year smile.” In Clarity, he remembers the hours spent at Canatara, playing in the woods and then the “dash to the dunes,/sifted from the sands of a/thousand forgotten seas.” The boys luxuriate in the “foetal warmth” then plunge into the “blue clarity of the lustrous/Lake, certain that days/like these would have no end.”
In Part Two, Gutteridge continues to focus on the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in his poem, Fancies: For Katie and Rebecca, where he delights in the unrestrained dancing of his grandchildren to a “tune heard only/in the head” and watches as “they beam me a smile,/untroubled by anything/as guileless as stage-fright,/knowing they have made me/complicit in their furious fancies.” And, again, there is the sense of time and the unbroken ties of family in Flowering: “the love they harbour/for me and mine glows/like gladioli brightening/under the moon’s breath:/may we waltz hand-in-glove/towards Time and Eternity.” In Dusk, he gazes over Lake Huron as the sun is setting and recalls those early days. In Here Am I, he’s “instantly grounded” by the twin photographs of his grandfathers “smiling out at me/with English or Irish eyes...and somehow I know/they’re watching with a wink and shrug/to see themselves/reintroduced to the world.”
In Posterity, Gutteridge affirms: “My death will not consume me,/there is little room/for grief or grievance,for I will live in the lively/eyes of my grandchildren/in those moments when they are/startled by a memory too/deep to be unremembered/or prize on a particular day/the embers of my voice in the/lilt and timbre of a poem/I wrote just for me/and posterity.” And that seems to be the gist of this remarkable and moving collection of poetry, the essence of timelessness and immortality, seen in the patient dunes building themselves over eons, the wide-open horizons and exuberance of youth -- and the special bonds that form living chains through generations. The Way It Was is a collection to be savored slowly and lovingly, with frequent stops to appreciate the way the words, sounds and sense merge and mingle to become more than they ever could be through the magic that is poetry. Let the sound pairs dance on your tongue as you read aloud or just savor their possibilities in your mind; each poem is lovingly burnished and primed, ready and waiting for the reader. The Way It Was is most highly recommended.