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Anything but the Moon

by George Sipos

The title of Prince George, B.C., orchestra manager and former bookseller George Sipos’s poetry collection sounds like a rejection of shopworn imagery, and in the title poem he says, “None of that,/the old tune’s played out/grooves worn clean off the shellac.”

But readers looking for originality are bound to be mostly disappointed. Though this is a debut collection, Sipos’s poems read as if they could have been written by any number of established and unexceptional Canadian poets, so familiar are the tropes, tone, preoccupations, and prolix prose diction and syntax of his free verse line. The seasons change, the speaker ponders loss, hope, and other matters of the heart while experiencing ineffable moments of epiphanic insight during his daily rounds. Despite their ineffability, he tries gamely to articulate them anyway – or at least explains that it’s all beyond his ken.

The title of the book’s second poem, “Dapple,” invites comparison with Hopkins’ great curtal sonnet, “Pied Beauty” (“Glory be to God for dappled things”), but instead of dense musical economy and syntactic verve, we find the lame personification of clouds and strained verbosity. While it is arguably unfair to compare a newcomer with one of the great innovators of English poetry, I have to wonder how Sipos can have read Hopkins and apparently learned so little craft from him.

But Sipos does occasionally surprise the reader with a poem in which language – and not the ponderously intrusive neo-Romantic ego of the speaker – is the engine. “Arrow Lake” (with its breathless, open-ended syntax), “Laundry Day” (with its angry cascade of original imagery and allusion), “Crowbar” (with its deftly controlled metaphysical conceit), and the title poem (with its reverberant sound play) are such works. If Sipos has a contribution to make to poetry, this handful of verses is an excellent starting point. Everything else is reasonably competent, but as humdrum as the moon in a smoggy night sky.