Selection of poetry from Iced Water
John Unrau's poetry in a previous issue
Iced Water was published in 2000 by Salmon Publishing Ltd.,
Cliffs of Moher,
County Clare, Ireland
To order visit Salmon Publishing
Iced Water page
Other books available from www.chapters.ca
Balancing of the Clouds
Ruskin and St. Mark's
Poems from John Unrau's Iced Water copyright © by John Unrau. All rights reserved.
By John Unrau
Many of John Unrau's lyrics evoke fleeting moments of joy and grief in a harsh and barren landscape. Empathy with the lives of refugee ancestors on the Canadian prairies inspires many of these poems. Others dealing with historical figures and various contemporary annoyances are enlivened by a quirky offbeat sense of humor. Wordsworth is confronted by the cellphone; a television newsreaders emerges as the priestess of an ancient Greek oracle; Andy Warhol's soupcan becomes an object of lust; a murderous fish converts to New-Age spirituality. This first collection contains poems based on a wide variety of subjects, expressed in many tones and styles.
Review and Comment:
Unrau's book has substantial virtues that make it well worth
reading. Chief among these is the distinctive atmosphere. Many of the
poems refer to his childhood landscapes, the vast spaces of Saskatchewan,
and memories of them passed on by his impoverished refugee forebears.
Ambivalence is the keynote. If he often records his rejection of his
family's fundamentalist religion, there is also admiration for the grit,
conviction and social cohesion their lives exemplify. The same range of
emotion occurs in his descriptions of the prairies, inhospitable but
magnificent, desolate but beautiful, cold but the site of home . . . One
of Unrau's best pieces concerns a monk from Bede's History who mortifies
his flesh by standing all night “in the icy Tweed”. To the poet this grim
ascetic is an “old sensualist", ecstatically immersed in splendours of his
icy northern world. Here as elsewhere, Unrau blends a romantic streak
with wry self-irony. His poems are often funny, though the humour has a
nicely truculent edge. I particularly like his impatience with the
knowingness of postmodernity and the way the advances of technology deny
us solitude, remoteness and the range of Wordworthian pieties. In “To
Wordsworth, from Ontario”, he confronts the great Romantic with
cellphones, a bumper-to-bumper queue and joggers on Westminster Bridge.
—by Clive Wilmer for Times Literary Supplement (U.K.>
Iced Water is a wonderfully understated debut collection by a
Canadian (indeed, a northern Saskatchewan boy) who is breathing new life
into the tired tradition of the lyrical poem. . . . Anecdotal without
being overly sentimental, sincere without being maudlin, John Unrau's
poetry could perhaps have been collected years ago, but is better for not
having been. Patience, in this case, has led to refinement. What's more,
this book works as a book — a claim many messy and uneven first
manuscripts cannot make. John Unrau's Iced Water is an accomplished,
graceful and mature collection that sits comfortably among the
distinguished lists of both Canadian and Irish poets.
—George Murray in the Literary Review of Canada
John Unrau was born in 1941 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, in a Mennonite family. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1962 and received his MA and D.Phil from Oxford in 1969 with a thesis on John Ruskin's architectural writings and drawings. He has published two books on Ruskin: Looking at Architecture with Ruskin (1978) and Ruskin and St. Mark's (1984), both with Thames and Hudson, London. The Balancings of the Clouds: Paintings of Mary Klassen, was published by Windflower Publications, Winnipeg, 1991. He is a Professor at Atkinson College, York University, Toronto, Ontario. This is his first poetry collection.