The poems in Drift, Toronto arts journalist Kevin Connolly’s third collection, make huge imaginative leaps. Driven by surreal imagery and associative wordplay, they are slippery creatures, tough to pin down. At his best, as in the free verse sonnet “Swallows,” in which the speaker in a euphoric fit of Keatsian negative capability imagines himself as the titular bird, Connolly can write a poem “that thunders and/beckons and brightens, then, tightening, flees the scene.” The leaps in his strongest poems leave contrails of what Robert Bly calls “dragon smoke” streaming behind them. There is a healthy handful of such poems to be found here.
That said, more often than not Connolly’s predilection for following his “whims” and “frivolities” wherever they lead him causes the poems to drift into eccentric randomness, throwaway jokes, gratuitous pop-culture references, and groanworthy punning. Connolly would probably laugh at such critical qualifications, since he tells the reader plainly in the opening poem that “it’s all about process” for him – as it is, I would say, for most writers. For most readers, however, the finished product of a book is of more interest than a transcript of the author’s creative process, and Connolly would have done well to give the raw material of his fertile imagination more cohesive shape.
Given that this was a common criticism of his last book, Happyland, it seems that this is a poet dedicated to his hit-or-miss approach. This is probably due in part to a refusal to write the sort of well-crafted workshop lyric that is so ubiquitous in today’s verse – a refusal he makes explicit in his satirical poem “Domestic Lyric.” It’s refreshing to see a poet going against the grain as he does, but Connolly takes it too far, displaying not so much an individual style as puerile, nose-thumbing anti-conformism. Which is too bad, because with a bit more focus, this wildly uneven, occasionally brilliant collection could have been a very strong book.