#867 Between the empty and the all

Between the Empty and the All
by Rod Deakin-Drown

New Westminster: Silver Bow Publishing, 2019
$20.00  /  9781774030547

Reviewed by Marie Bibas


The quote with which Rod Deakin-Drown starts us off on a delightful journey shocked me at first — until I rambled on reading to discover a poet seduced by a literary spleen that life and experience leads us all into. Mind you, there are ups and downs in his writing as in real life. And just like the mal de vivre that Malraux’s human condition or Camus’s absurd might evoke, the spleen can disappear at the stroke of a pen and hope can resurrect.

Capitalized, some of his poems are meant to make us regain vigour. Conversely, the small case of others is meant to reveal, through savvy or poetic acrobatics, the fragility of life; or, as Deakin-Drown puts it, the schizophrenic gulf in which he, the poet, often finds himself and invariably drags us into. But in his view of this often-crazy life, there is synchronicity in the multitude and in the variety of human decisions, and so the lurching drunk will live by the side of his once-better self.

Rod Deakin-Drown of Golden

As I moved through the verses, I sensed that the poet is in a constant double bind in the face of reality; he oscillates between pessimism and optimism in the constant come and go movement which hides the fabric of real life — its blood, sweat, and tears. In that sense, he is a realist but with a clear weakness for romanticism, to which some of his poems give way without hesitation. The spirit of his poetry is a kaleidoscope of all the ideals that we, as humans, strive for in this complicated universe. And so, yes, in that sense, he is also an idealist, albeit a cautious and sceptical one caught in a game where the joys and pains of life intersect, for example:

Oceans of tears drain
from your buried dusty box
and leave wave marks stained
not just on your sad face
but on all those
whose names
broke your trust
like smallpox (“Buried Dusty Box”)

Through a style of his own, tainted by the wisdoms of a vast life experience, the poet makes us feel and reflect on life as it happens and as it hits us in our vulnerabilities. The caring is affectionately palpable:

They have steel claws,
these ancient ravens
on your shoulders.
I imagine their weight
and try for your sake
to make them birds of paradise
singing now like nightingales (“Winter’s Water to the Truck”)

And just as palpable is his rejection of pain, albeit for a moment, as nature — and more specifically, the familiar landscape of his native BC — turns into a safe haven for all of us to share:

No, I will not be like that.
I will bear my own true candle
among the lamps at Johnson’s Landing (“I will not be like that”)

Whether it’s about Indigenous people or soldiers in Flanders Fields or birds flying south at the crack of winter, the unforgiving nature of life events crawls between the lines. And thus, Deakin-Drown’s poems are a constant reminder of one’s fateful position in the universe. But though they represent him and are his own battle cry, they exert a soothing and instructive power over readers who, absorbed in verse, are likely to reach a higher level of consciousness, perhaps a balance between the Empty and the All.

Rod Deakin-Drown. Photo by Terenza Verenca, courtesy Burnabynow

The substance of this poetry is an interplay of intertwined worlds emanating from the mind of the poet. The imaginary, the rational, and the emotional operate in unison to empower both author and reader. As these worlds collide, a splendid constellation is born that illuminates and nurtures the mind and soul of the reader who becomes complicit as his curiosity leads him to the next poem to discover how things evolved as time passed, and as the world turned once more. The sense of time is an important element in Deakin-Drown’s poems. He moves through life, one experience, one memory, one thought at a time, as the reader follows the music he has composed and directed.

His love poems make exception to the ominousness characteristic of his other poems. Through a charming tenderness, they allow for a total escape into the best that life has to offer. “Woman” is omnipresent in most poems. The importance of woman as a womb of creation adds to the depth of the work. And we can only surmise his experience as we read each poem that women share. Women are transposed into the context for the benefit of creation, as is their innate role, but only in relationship with the poet: his dreams, regrets, and his memories as he makes the choice of life over death.

And so, we meet Tatiana, Allison, Susan, Joyce, Juliana, Lee and of course, Isabelle, the woman of his life. They are part of the poetic architecture, of the landscape, as they monopolize Deakin-Drown’s full attention and become his focus. Through them, poetry becomes an ode, a bel canto, and you will find that each of these poems has its own history and personality and most of all, its own loaded message. And as voluptuous as the poet allows himself to be, each ode comes with its share of human suffering, occurring at a different moment in his life but where the different context always remains down to earth and close to the human heart. Often the feelings become unbearable and the poet will find that it is “Time to go” (p. 66) as the way is cleared for another experience, another poem. The reader grapples through these moves but only because he craves for more out of sheer curiosity, for example:

Meet me late in a small café
Or seaside shelter in the rain.
But send me poems of who you are
The stars your packsack contains (“Poem for Tatiana”)

The poem for Isabelle, the woman of Rod’s life, arrives at the end of the collection seemingly because she is the one who, from afar, settles down with Rod and becomes his pillar of strength, his muse. He feels grounded to earth with Isabelle, who becomes a guarantee of safety:

She has sailed far to arrive here;
 with her gentle heart beating,
beside me … (“Isabelle”)

The ferry at Shelter Bay, Upper Arrow Lake. BC Ferries photo

In Rod Deakin-Drown’s poetry, nature is a context and a refuge. It is a place to be free as “the crows free flying” are. Nature allows for a raw expression of what things are like in modern life, sometimes harsh and unforgiving — in contrast to the peaceful silence of creation, to which nature draws us closer. Nature provides the womb to shelter, grow and be soothed and, above all, it gives these poems a nationality. The love of country gives many of his poems a setting:

Leaving Shelter Bay
The ship of my life sets sail
Under the broken veil of clouds
That covers Arrow Lake,
Her valley and her mountains (“Leaving Shelter Bay”)

Throughout his poetry, there is a constant subliminal contrast of the urban and the natural as the ordinary problems of our time — hidden in the tragic architecture of urban surroundings — find their sounding board. Through the magic of the word, the tip of the solution appears, mythicized, in the form of verse where BC holds a privileged place.

Sometimes the voices are very soft
as when we have an ancient choir lost
in the memories of what I came here to do
with the fields, their presently broken fences
and the hayshed roofs with the loosened tin
lifted by October winds bringing down the leaves
that crumble on the ground by river-drift
the golden sunset cliffs, the hard grey rocks (“Cathedral”)

You might never have known that you liked poetry so much.


Marie Bibas

Marie Bibas is from Montreal, Quebec. Her professional experience has been mainly in Education, as a classroom teacher in a private elementary and high school in Montreal. She holds a B.A.1978, a Diploma in Education (H.S.) 1979 and a Masters in Education 1985, all from McGill University.


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Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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One comment on “#867 Between the empty and the all

  1. Thank you, Marie Bibas, for such a positive review of my book. Thanks too, to Richard Mackie for his excellent choice of the photographs. Readers wishing to buy this book can contact me at rpdrown@hotmail.com

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