I’m Alive. I Believe in Everything.
By Lesley Choyce
Breton Books (2012)
An autobiography is probably the most mainstream literary device used by a person to summarize his or her life. However, one can argue that a collection of poems penned over decades may provide even more intimate recollections representative of precise moments in a person's history.
Such is the case with Lesley Choyce’s I’m Alive. I Believe in Everything, a collection of new and previously published poems written over a span of 40 years.
Comparing Choyce’s anthology to an autobiography is by no means suggesting he’s “getting on in years”. In fact, reading his latest published works—that migrate across North America and overseas—I found myself thinking this Lawrencetown-based poet, novelist, professor, publisher and surfer is among those that will far surpass the average human life expectancy.
The Toronto Star once referred to Choyce as “Thoreau in our midst.” This reference stands strong in I’m Alive, as numerous biomes are lyrically explored. An excerpt from “Medicine Walk” is just one example:
…and do not ask how
boulders covered with star moss
wind-bowed apple branches
or the song of a small chanting brook
can salvage you
but they will.
If I may be so bold, some of Choyce’s verse also brings to mind Jack Kerouac’s On the Road—even before the poem “Encounter with an Immortal,” which makes reference to the Beat writer, appears in the book—because of Choyce’s depiction of outside the norm adventures and the idiosyncrasies of individuals momentarily encountered (i.e. the grizzled farmer rolling cigarettes with one hand or the young, chubby sweetheart short-order cook with eyes cut out from magazines in “Saskatoon Bus Depot: 8a.m. Sunday”).
In addition to Choyce’s artistic grouping of words and phrases, I’m Alive showcases the poet’s cleverness with metaphor and word play. (Comparing a saggy pair of pants to an old home’s skeleton in “Tom Gilbert’s Pants” is one example of the former; incorporating terms like howl and sutra in “Best Minds,” a poem dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, is an illustration of the latter.)
The first and title poem of I’m Alive serves as an effective introduction to the rest of the collection; it presents a taste of the varied themes yet to come—from both the natural and man-made worlds, the beings and inanimate objects that occupy these worlds and their interrelationships. But the opening poem does not resonate with me as much as numerous other extracted gems, such as “Bodhisattvas Always Finish Last” (describing a hitchhiker, with nothing but lint in his pocket, feeling ultimate freedom) and “Fog” (following the thick cloud through the light and dark of Halifax):
We are with you, fog,
stalled high up in your forest on the bridge at night
over the harbour heaped with your awful soft foliage.
To jump tonight would be to dissolve slowly to sweat and salt
We’re with you fog
hiding out in the Public Gardens after dark
locked in between the massive Victorian swing gates
we’re with you nibbling at the leaves of trees
planted by English kings and princesses
I suspect that I, and many readers, will revisit I’m Alive again and again, perhaps until Choyce comes out with his next forty-year collection… ~MB