Friday, November 21, 2008

Hockey Literature -- Randall Maggs' Night Work

After I wrote about Randall Maggs' captivating collection of hockey poems, Night Work, the other day, I asked his publisher, Kitty Lewis (who had left a gracious thank-you comment at the post) if I might include this poem on my blog. I think it illustrates well the richness of these poems, why even a non-hockey enthusiast like me might find them compelling. Within days, I was tickled to get a very warm e-mail from Professor Maggs (he teaches at Memorial University in Newfoundland) giving me permission to post the poem, and this morning I had an e-mail from Kitty Lewis with the poem already copied out for me, saving me the need to type it.

If you enjoy it as much as I did, do let me know -- in fact, if you know a hockey fan who is also a reader, consider picking up a copy of the book to slip in her/his Christmas stocking. (You can order it directly from Brick Books or ask your bookseller to get it for you.) I haven't yet shared it with Pater, but will soon begin reading bits and pieces aloud -- I know the sections representing conversations with hockey ref Red Storey will engage him thoroughly.

"One of You"

Catchers in baseball, closest to cousins
in your differentness, the safe-guarding home, the healing bones,
the serious gear (which ought to indicate the possibilities),
and only one of you.

Denied the leap and dash up the ice,
what goalies know is side to side, an inwardness of monk
and cell. They scrape. They sweep. Their eyes are elsewhere
as they contemplate their narrow place. Like saints, they pray for nothing,
which brings grace. Off-days, what they want is space. They sit apart
in bars. They know the length of streets in twenty cities.
But it’s their saving sense of irony that further
isolates them as it saves.

Percy H. LeSueur, for one, in a fitful sleep,
flinching at rising shots in a bad light, rubbers flung
out of the crowd, insults in two languages, finally got out of bed
in a moment of bleak insight, went down and burnt a motto
onto his stick, Haec est manus quae ictum deflecit
"This is the hand that turns away the blow."

Or Lorne Chabot, in 1928, when someone asked
him why he took the trouble to shave before every game,
angled out a leg to check a strap and answered in a quiet voice,
"I stitch better when my skin is smooth."

Or dapper Charlie Rayner, who stops a bullet
with his chin, another couple of teeth and some hasty
work to close an ugly cut. Back the next night, he takes another,
full in the face. A second night in a row, he’s down, spitting
bits of tooth to the ice. "It’s a wonder," he mutters,
"why somebody doesn’t get hurt in this game."

Copyright Randall Maggs from Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, Brick Books, 2008


  1. What an interesting and lovely poem, if a poem about hockey can be lovely....I am not sure it is a word a hockey fan would choose.

    I am familiar with the workings of the sport, but am not a follower, and yet the poem makes me want to know more. The poet turns the sport into a microcosm of the world.

    The second stanza especially seems to strike me as being all-encompassing. I need to read it again later, and perhaps pursue more. I know nothing of this poet.

  2. Mardel: Yes, through hockey and in hockey, Maggs examines the world. I'm sure someone who knows the sport better would find much more to enjoy in these poems, but I'm loving the sense of discovery -- I'd never have recognized such connections, depths, analogies. So many of the metaphors arrest me -- and for me, it's the imagery of that second stanza that sticks most as well. But I love the following three stanzas for the glimpse behind the masks of the male athlete -- I'm always interested in work that complicates representations of masculinity and these poems take me beyond my own dismissive stereotyping.

  3. Materfam, do you know Richard Harrison's Hero of the Play? More hockey poetry from a great Can. poet. Check it out.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Skeezix. I don't know this collection, but I Googled it and it looks like something I should track down and read.