Steve Luxton’s In the Vision of Birds explores countryside without sentimentality

Steve LuxtonAt February’s end, with daylight increasing excruciatingly slowly by a mere second or two each day, in many of us a familiar longing sets in—for colour, for warmth, for the simple joy of being outside, feeling the sun. We all love the earth, seeing the sky, looking at flowers, watching butterflies.

But who but a poet would perceive and communicate the sheer childlike joy of being seen by bird?

Steve Luxton’s In the Vision of Birds, a selection of his nature poems over the last 25 years, explores the sounds, sights, secrets and ephemeral quality of the countryside without a hint of sentimentality. “There is nothing that is unpoetic to me,” Luxton says. “I try to include everything there is.”

Luxton stares at an “insomniac star” and evokes the crazy excitement creatures feel at the coming of spring as if he is one of them. He writes about dope hidden in the corn, and about the Jones boys, poachers who betray their human and animal neighbours.

“I don’t want to become somebody who escapes from what’s there into some form of idealism. You can’t turn your back or you become irrelevant,” he says.

Harvested from his many wanderings in the countryside, Luxton’s poems engage the reader on a multi-sensory and also spiritual level as its images and music unfold. In this animistic world, everything is alive, everything is perpetually becoming and there is no filter between observer and observed.

“I’m not Buddhist, but I am influenced by the notion of Buddhist detachment,” Luxton says. “I think that poetry is a subtle combination of attachment and detachment and certainly the detachment has a Buddhist Zen element. Like most poets, I am acutely sensitive to the rapidity of time, how it passes and the way I deal with this emotionally is to step away.”

Having taught creative writing at Concordia for 25 years, Luxton thinks the seeds of the poetic impulse are in everyone. “A lot of people have a secret stack of poems in the drawer. Poetry has been described as expressions of wonder and praise. A lot of people experience those feelings, they are enchanted by something that moves them to words. You have to start discovering and training yourself in the craft. It’s a personal decision.”

Luxton continues to edit for DC books, although he has retired from its helm as editor in chief to pursue his own writing. During his 25 years as a publisher, he has acquired a reputation of nurturing new Canadian voices. Dimitri Nasrallah and Heather O’Neill are two of several writers whose first works he published. Last year Luxton was awarded the QWF Community Award for his longstanding dedication and contribution to English-language literature in Quebec.

He says he will miss his vocations as teacher and publisher, though he is grateful for the chance to focus on his own work.

“In terms of my understanding an appreciation of poetry and the creative impulse, my role as teacher helped me clarify things for myself and other people, and I enjoyed expressing my enthusiasm.” Though he barely broke even in publishing, that role gave Luxton a sense of belonging to the literary community. “Writing is a lonely world. Publishing has put me in touch with a milieu I like. I was part of something. Also I liked publishing people’s work and enjoyed the pleasure it gave them.”

When accepting the Quebec Writer’s Federation’s Community Award last year for his contribution to English-language literature in Quebec, poet Steve Luxton quoted his mentor Louis Dudek: “Publishing and writing is the best cause to which one can give one’s energies; it offers support to humane and civilized values in a time when these are being undermined and attacked from all quarters.”

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