Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

John Lent's Aesthetic

Craig McLuckie & Ross Tyner, Okanagan University College

I don't use an outline. . . . I think I get an idea, an image. I sort of almost see characters moving around and doing something. That starts you writing and it gets bigger and bigger. In fact, that will be all I need to keep going--to imagine the end. . . . It's the rewriting that takes self-discipline. `It's hard, but it's the most important part, because you start getting it right, making it smooth. That part is the most professional. I like it sometimes, but by the end of the process you're pretty tired.' (Langerak 1992, 7)
As a writer I am committed to exploring certain aspects of the 'truth' about what it means to be a human being, alive and thinking in this century. (Lent, 1989)
What is so frightening about Rushdie's situation . . . is the spectacle of thousands of people demanding simplicity from art--the one area of human life that does not intend to sell us short on that level. (Lent, 1989)
John Lent's creative writing pursuits are interdisciplinary--he has recorded and published songs, most notably, in concert with his brothers on Thicker Than Water. He has taught song writing and poetry workshops in Saskatoon, Vancouver, Kelowna and Penticton. His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of national and some international journals: for example, White Pelican, NeWest Review, Matrix and so on. He was a finalist in Event's 1988 creative non-fiction contest. A founding member of the Kalamalka New Writers Society, Lent has been a contributing editor to each of that group's national poetry competition winners: Nancy Holmes' Valancy and the New World, Karen Connelly's The Small Words in My Body, Su Croll's Worlda Mirth, and Sue Wheeler's Solstice on the Anacortes Ferry. The New Writers Society has also had a selection of its work published in the volume Fat Moon. He has also translated French poetry (the Swiss poet Nicolas Bouvier and the French poet Sarge Safron) into English.

 Lent is also a scholar of some note, concentrating, as the titles of his essays indicate, on the relationship between human subjectivity and literary form. His academic writing has appeared in the United States, France, and ../. Of Thomas De Quincey, Lent notes a characteristic of his own literary hybrids:

In the way in which he realized a combination of the `discursive talent' and the `intuitive genius' in his narratives . . . De Quincey offered a method to accommodate the release of subjectivity by the invention of a prose `field' built upon a confluence of flux and [stasis]. This confluence is rhetorical on the one hand--accommodating the reader's resistance to denuded or overt symbolism--and substantive on the other--supporting symbolic visions by a playful and manipulative discursiveness which is fascinating by itself. (53)
 With Kristjana Gunnars, the Icelandic-Canadian, there is an appreciation of subjectivity's recuperative powers in society, as well as an intimation of the writer's detailed understanding of blues, jazz, and their influence: "Pushing art into this difficult landscape of subjectivity might save us in the long run. Aside from its demanding, unconventional form, The Prowler is inclusive, almost communal in its intimate struggle with the reader. It seems to me that in the end, like certain passages of jazz music, it says what it cannot say." (114) On the South African poet, Dennis Brutus, as with his comments elsewhere on Salman Rushdie, Lent reiterates the social nature of literary language, emphasizing the writer's responsibility to the betterment of society, but not at the expense of his/her art: "By manipulating us into psychological realities through such vivid images of landscape . . . I believe Brutus succeeds in forcing the love and horror in his homeland out into the relief of our own consciousness, and this, more than simplicity or rhetoric, is the real political achievement in this volume of poetry." (110) And, Lowry, the Anglo-Canadian writer, is the subject of detailed research and investigation by Lent. In a way, Lowry is Lent's literary master, a point of reference, an echo of the path traveled to the experiments and landscapes of today. Lent's commentary on that literary chain of influence (Lewis to Lowry to Lent) is an apposite comment on what is most forceful and humane about John Lent's writing; that is, the desire to create, to exceed the past, and to be skeptical of the designs and deliberations used to achieve those goals:
Lowry's life and his fiction suggest Lewis's cynical assessment of popular social and political contexts in the thirties. . . . Lowry was always participating in Lewis's type of cynicism in these matters. He was continually seeing his own attempts to become a man of action in perspective, was continually being deromanticized and disillusioned by people and events, and repeatedly building self-deprecating versions of these attempts in his fiction. (74)

Works Cited

Langerak, Joyce. "Writer Lent Leads a Life of Ledgers," Okanagan Sunday October 18, 1992: 6-7.

Lent, John. "Letters to the Editor," The Morning Star March 9, 1989 [On censorship and the Rushdie affair].

----. "Staring into Snow: Subjectivity and Design in Kristjana Gunnars' The Prowler," RANAM: Recherches Anglaises et Nord-Americaines 24 (1991): 103-115.

----. "Thomas De Quincey, Subjectivity, and Modern Literature: a Consideration of the Release of Vision in Confessions of an English Opium Eater and Suspiria de Profundis," The Sphinx #9 n.d.: 36-58.

----. "`Turning Stones into Trees': The Transformation of Political Experience in Strains," in Critical Perspectives on Dennis Brutus. Eds. Craig W. McLuckie and Patrick J. Colbert. Colorado Springs: Three Continents Press, 1995: 99-112.

----. "Wyndham Lewis and Malcolm Lowry: Contexts of Style and Subject Matter in the Modern Novel," Figures in a Ground: Canadian Essays on Modern Literature. Eds. Diane Bessai and David Jackel. Saskatoon: Prairie Books, 1978: 61-75.

----. with the Kalamalka Writers Collective. Fat Moon. Ed. Glen Sorestad. Vernon: Kalamalka Press, 1991. [Includes Lent's "Strasbourg Suite" and "Green Eclipse".]

Postcolonial Web Canada  John Lent