Declared the “people’s poet”, Keith Inman has been writing since his twenties and has become an award-winning poet. Prizes he has won include those from Cranberry Tree (2007), The Bannister (2004), and Freefall (2004). His poetry has been featured in various literary publications such as Thistledown, Event, New Quarterly, CV2, PRECIPICe and robmclennansblogspot. Beyond writing, Inman has been involved in other literary pursuits like judging literary contests and editing. He has received ‘Reserve’ and ‘Progress’ grant-badges from the OAC, and one from Sigillate Press, for being one of three poets in the book ‘Hanging on a Nail,’(2009). Inman is a member of the Canadian Authors Association, the League of Canadian Poets and the Ontario Poets Society. His newest book of poetry The Way History Dries, is launching in October, 2020.
The Way History Dries (coming Fall 2020)
April 4th at 7p.m. for Niagara Reads
April 28th -Welland Public Library during regular library hours
Bill Bryson writes in one of his travel books “nature enables and culture denies,” and so in Niagara poet Keith Inman’s book of poems we take something of a cultural journey in which we accompany the poet on his travels seeing the southeast Asian world through the filter of language as we depart by way of poetry from our common home in Canada travelling east by way of Cambodia and Vietnam and returning to our Native land changed by the experience of having been away. Inman guides us in this four-part journey by providing the reader with a filter of four quotations taken from writer Hugh MacLennan’s novel The Watch That Ends the Night. In the preface he introduces us to the two companions whom we accompany on this journey to Cambodia and Vietnam. As for the author, tour guides escort us through the land haunted by history. Of course we know the tragic tale of Cambodia and her killing fields and we know the story of the Vietnam war and we are familiar with the diaspora fleeing Indochina after the defeat of the Americans with the image of the helicopters lifting off the ground encumbered by terrified people clinging to and dropping from the struts like overripe fruit. In his poem “Glass (Third Level)” we are reminded of the infamous photographs of the war as we see them in a museum “a man grimaces at a gun/ against the fountain of blood/ flowing from his head in a day-lit/ street of people looking on;” and later in the same poem he reminds us of the naked girl her flesh burning from napalm running toward the camera “the back-lit cross of a girl runs naked/ beside a grim brotherhood of soldiers/ fleeing allied planes, her body/ a flame with fallen sky.” Inman tells us that “Tara-Linh/ hurries through the exhibit.” And we know we have something invested in this image. We remember the photograph from the day it first appeared in newspapers all over the world. We take some consolation from the public knowledge that this girl survived the ordeal, came to Canada and became a medical doctor. And we who are tourists, or we who are the comfortable witnesses of this horror are more profoundly moved because Inman has provided the reader with a protagonist for whom this is more than a cultural memory. His witnesses “… hold hands, slip/ through throngs of tourists/ charging for shelter, and make our way/ to the back steps/ where we sit and stare/ at the streaming/ drying road/ in a sudden sun returned.”
Vietnam vets described returning home to America as “going back to the world.” And in this book of poems, we are companions on a journey. We are fellow travelers having knowledge of going hence from the familiar and returning from the foreign. And we wonder what it means to belong. How is it for the exile? In his very moving poem “Knead,” the whirling knives of a stand mixer accidentally eviscerate a boy. The penultimate verse “The father, on a sunny day,/with the smell of fresh bread/ trapped in his lungs, stood/ outside the glass of the bakery,/ and cried for a simple recipe.” is followed by the shameful “Someone yelled at him/ to go back where he came from.”
In a journal entry in an essay by Brian Bartlett he asks, “Do you stop writing poetry because others suffer?” By way of answering his own query he writes in a later entry concerning lines worthy of hanging over your desk, “… if you believe that poetry makes some small difference in the world, that it can be a kind of seed – or rain – or music – in our lives.” And it is faith in poetry that triumphs in this fine book by Keith Inman where he comes to these final lines, “Wonder/ clasps tight to the bedrail and wails/ into the dizzying height of breath.” And we think back having read this book and we reflect upon the hymn by Isaac Watts “Our God Our Help in Ages Past,” and we remember David’s words from Psalm 90, verse 4 “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” and we acknowledge the lines that inspired Hugh MacLennan’s title for his novel, and we revisit Inman’s quotation from that novel “to be able to love the mystery surrounding us, is the final and only sanction of human existence. What else is left but that …” and we realize the continuum, the connection human to human, word to word, place to place, time to time. And we might celebrate a faith in poetry to be a kind of seed – or rain – or music in our lives.
Review by John B. Lee – Poet Laureate of the city of Brantford in perpetuity – Poet Laureate of Norfolk County for life