Ken Belford, Pathways into the Mountains

Pathways into the Mountains is my third Ken Belford book in the last few months, after he surprised me with an email to ask if I might be interested in reading his newest book, the wonderful and very impressive lan(d)guage. (Answer: "of course! Who wouldn't want to read it?!?") I understand that the rough editing of this 2000 volume may have to do with the ill health of Caitlin Press's editor at that time, Cynthia Wilson, who passed away just five years later. So there's not much to be gained by objecting to the editing of the volume, but there are numerous errors here; I hope that a clean version appears somewhere down the road, when it's time for a Collected Works to appear (and that's maybe not such a strange idea).

Of the three recent Belfords I've read, lan(d)guage stands out as by far the best and most complete volume, but some individual poems here stand up for themselves very well indeed. What I characterized in ecologue as almost a slam poetry feel here comes across as a cranky conversational tone - I prefer that, though you might not. In "The Consumption of the Nass," for example, after demonstrating some credentials to live in that wild perceptively and without making much impact, there's a powerfully clear vision of times to come:
In my lifetime I will
see this valley go
from spirited wildland
to a devegitized slope.

This is the valley where
no one cares. It is the other place,
the place white men don't live,
the valley where the burglars go.

When I'm gone
the next guy
will be selling tires, gasoline,
roadside coffee and live bait.
(pp. 44-45)
The "landpo" approach Belford is working now (linked to the "vispo" approach of visual poetry, I assume) is still in development in Pathways, as many of these poems are clearly beholden to quite traditional perspectives and forms. That's not a bad thing, though, as it makes the book very readable, even if there are some pieces that are quite uneven.

For a book that's not edited at all well, there are some nice links between poems, such as the lines from "Poem for Beginners" reworked and reimagined in "Pathways to the Mountains," much further on in the book. Some of these poems are wonderful, especially the quoted-from "Consumption of the Nass" and "An Appetite for Bread," but as a volume it seems to me to lack focus. It's a collection, not a book, though for other readers this might mean it's got an appealing variety to it. I feel more strongly than I did with ecologue that this book is essential for making sense of lan(d)guage, and in many ways I enjoyed this flawed book more, and found it more personally rewarding for me as a reader, than I did ecologue. Ken Belford is essential BC reading, in my opinion, and of the three volumes since 2000, this one comes second.

And serendipitously, I noticed while a-Googling tonight that the current issue of the online journal It's Still Winter is "The Ken Belford Issue" (vol 7.1). An ironic title to this journal, given my favourite small patch of lines in this volume (from "Waiting for You to Call"):
Spring is within me
and I am pain free
for the moment.


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