Today's book of poetry: The Essential Tom Marshall. Tom Marshall. Selected by David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje. Porcupine's Quill. Erin, Ontario. 2012.
Twenty years ago this month, April, Tom Marshall died of a heart attack.
Over the course of my life as a poet I have heard dozens of people, in all seriousness, say to me "well, you'll be famous when you are dead." As though that was in any way likely or reassuring. It makes me laugh and it breaks my heart.
Here is a short list off of the top of my head of fine Canadian poets I knew who died young, before their time: Louis Fagan, Linda Pyke, Dennis Tourbin, Martin Singleton, Riley Tench. You most likely never heard of them when they were alive and the odds of hearing anything about now are slim and none.
Tom Marshall, on the other hand, has a body of work and friends who remember him well. They want us to remember him too. The Essential Tom Marshall is a slim primer to remind us that Marshall had a distinctive voice. Tom Marshall published fiction and criticism, he did graduate work on the poetry of A.M. Klein and then D.H. Lawrence. The following is a list of Marshall's published poetry.
The Beast With Three Backs (with Tom Eadie and Colin Norman). Kingston: Quarry Press, 1965
The Silences of Fire. Toronto: Macmillan, 1969.
Magic Water. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1971.
The Earth Book. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1974.
The White City. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1976.
The Elements. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1980.
Playing with Fire. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1984.
Dance of the Particles. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1984.
Ghost Safari. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1991.
Some Impossible Heaven of the Senses. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1994.
Tom Marshall's poetry puts his Kingston as the center of his universe (and it is where his heart resides). But his poems are as big as the whole wide world. Marshall was a Canadian historian and isn't reluctant to bring history alive in his poems. In his poem Politics, Louis Riel, MacKenzie and Montgomery all struggle to make it out alive, unlike the unlucky Pierre Laporte.
This selection of Marshall's work by David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje is the work of dear friends. They recognized in Marshall, that his plea "give me the whole fire of your heart" from his poem Astrology, was also a promise, a dramatic stake of claim, a declaration of Marshall's intention to give the whole of his heart.
Marshall quotes his hero D.H. Lawrence's poem The Ship of Fools for the title of his own poem "we are dying, dying, we are all of us dying". In this poem Marshall prophetically proclaims "we have our moment and then become the past". David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje are doing what they can to prove this false. Marshall's poetry, as strongly demonstrated here, will endure.
We should all be so lucky to have such friends.
(flat feet, the odd sprained ankle, recurrent flu
running nose, a share of sexual failure
loneliness, boorishness, malice
melancholia, alcoholic shakes
at times, inexplicable black fatigue
of soul, absence of feeling or caring
for days, months of vacancy, nobody home
at the shit-and-blood machine, last seen
asleep, functioning, nobody home but me