A language of personal resonance is precisely what Brad Cran displays in his new collection, Ink on Paper (Nightwood), which contains several “public” poems written for occasions and issues that would drive many poets into banality and bathos; one of them, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Grey Whale and Ending with a Line From Rilke,” invokes—brazenly, some might say—not only (by some thematic convergence) the Rilke sonnet quoted by James Pollock in You Are Here, but also “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens. The occasion is the appearance of two grey whales in Vancouver harbour, and the poem succeeds wonderfully in leading us to Rilke’s—now Cran’s—famous last line.
Cran has found a public voice that emerges from plain speech and stays rigorously clear of the declamatory, the polemical, the sentimental; the result is always compelling and at times harrowing. The title poem is an ethically and morally tangled excursion into the life of the celebrated Chinese poet Gu Cheng, who murdered his wife with an axe.
There is nothing coy in these poems, most of which are clearly framed by their titles: “Contemplating Divorce While Watching Porn at the Local Best Western Two Miles from Home”; “Conflating Memories While Listening to ‘Day In, Day Out,’ by Billie Holiday”; “The Death of Ronald Reagan: A Final Love Song”; “At the Canadian Olympics I Am Canadian and On TV”; and, especially appropriate to this notice: “Reading Wittgenstein,” the first stanza of which reads: “I was reading Wittgenstein when / all three were killed on the viaduct.”