The Collected Poems of A.M Klein

compiled by Miriam Waddington — McGraw-Hill Ryerson $6.95

     In the total context of the work of A.M. Klein, it is his final book of poetry, The Rocking Chair and Other Poems, and his novel, The Second Scroll, which have established his importune in Canadian literature. These two books have overshadowed much of Klein’s earlier work because of their more consistent excellence. Since the publication of Lee Collected Poems, readers have had the opportunity to assess Klein’s overall poetic accomplishment, as the volume collects not only the work of the last two books but also the poetry of three earlier (now out of print) volumes and the often ignored indi vidual poems which Klein did not include in his own collections. Until the publication of The Collected Poems, many of these poems had been lot in magazines and newspapers of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

     Klein, one of Canada’s most subjective poets, always works from his personal experience. In his earliest poems, those written between 1927 and 1939, he deals with his personal background, extending from his love of Bessie Kozlov, through his knowledge of Judaism, to his perception of Depressionsociety. Hath Not A Jew (1940) belongs in this period, for the poems collected therein were all written before the outbreak of World War II. In his second period (1940-1945), Klein concentrates on the inhumanity evident in World War II. The six radical Marxist satires of the 1930’s lead into this wartime vision of despair, but do not reach the same depths of hopelessness as Poems (1944) or The Hitleriad (1944). Finally, in his last period (1945-1952), Klein returns to his personal environment and begins to discover a oneness among all men in his society. The result is The Rocking Chair and Other Poems (1948), a collection which deals with all Canadians — French and English, native and immigrant — and with the creator of poetry — “the nth Adam” — who names all he encounters.

     Klein is a defender of human integrity and a fighter against all that seeks to negate humanity. Two opposing sets of figures recur throughout this work — those who love like Queen Esther (“Five Characters”) and the philosopher Spinoza (“Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens”) and thosee who want to destroy it — the Nazi (The Hitleriad), the racist (“Political Meeting”) and the golem (“Talisman in Seven Shreds”). These characters present the political, theological, philosphical and poetic cores of Klein’s poetry as he exalts mankind and the creative energy at work within him.

     Klein’s poetry is steeped in Judaic beliefs. He is familiar with past pert cation (“Design for Mediaeval Tapestry”) and the challenge of Zionism (“Greeting on This Day”). Nevertheless, he is also a secular man who is able to celebrate with the law students of the “Universite de Montreal” and to reveal social iniquities in the radical satires. These satires are especially important to the Klein canon as they place him firmly in the midst of his contemporary poets, F.R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith, whose concerns were the condition of mankind in society, yet they also separate Klein from the other as his concern is always the individual rather than the society as a whole.

     The arrangement of poems in Waddington’s edition is essentially chronological, although poems collected by Klein are presented in the context of the individual volumes rather than in chronological order. Only those poems never previously collected have been dated so that no satisfactory method of viewing Klein’s chronological development emits without consulting the original sources of publication for many of the poems. Unfortunately, the book itself is serious marred many typographical errors which, in some cases, do serious harm to the poems. In both her Title Index and in the bibliography to her book, A.M. Klein, Waddington acknowledges the origins date of publication of “Soiree of Velvel Kleinburger” as 1932. In her Introduction to The Collected Poems, she states that she has “reproduced the firs published version” of all save one poem. However, her version of “Soiree o Velvel Kleinburger” differs markedly from that of the 1932 publication, and an entire thirteen-line section of the poem has been misplaced. A similar lack of care is also evident in “Design for Mediaeval Tapestry” wherein divisions between sections of the poems have not been carefully reproduced, ant in the “Two Chanokah Poems” (“These Candle Lights” and “Mattathias” which were originally written as companion sonnets but which Waddington has split and reversed in order. Viewed as a whole, her edition does not do justice to the achievement of Klein as a poet of stature.

Robert Still