A review of

Red Ledger

by Mary Dalton

Central question: How should Newfoundland sound?
Format: 105 pp., paperback; Price: $14.95; Publisher: Signal/Véhicule; Title of first poem: “What Sort of Woman Would You Fancy, Nelson?”; Title of last poem: “Gallous”; Bizarre promotion in which poet took part during 2004: “Random acts of poetry,” in which twenty-seven Canadian poets walked around their home cities for one day reading poems to strangers; Representative sentence in Standard English: “now salt is a voice: // cool granular wooings/ out onto cliff edges,/ urging him back, back to sea.” Representative sentence in Newfoundland English: “spantickles flit in the old man’s beard.” Slogan promulgated in interviews: “Writing poetry is original research into the language”;

Can you find Newfoundland on a map? Canadians can; poetry readers from points south ought to learn. This wildest and easternmost of Atlantic Canada’s provinces, its coast-hugging culture dependent on fishing and shipping, has had its own form of English for centuries (see the amazing Dictionary of Newfoundland English). That coast and its culture now have a living poet worthy of their rough pride. Mary Dalton became semifamous in Canada for Merrybegot (2003), its crackling poems written all in Newfoundland dialect, full of rasping proverbs, unfamiliar nouns, and harsh weather. This bigger sequel uses (mostly) Standard English, and it’s as likely to depict uneasy students in the province’s schools, or taxi drivers in the capital of St. John’s, as to portray village fishermen and midwives.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt teaches at Harvard. His new books of poems are Parallel Play and Shot Clocks: Poems for the WNBA. His book about modern poetry and adolescence, The Forms of Youth, is out now.

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