`Everything flows; nothing remains.' With this trenchant quotation from Heraklitos, Kenneth Sherman introduces the theme and the mood of this collection of poems linked by the association of each with a river, the Black, a meandering stream near Sutton, Ontario. With an inspired and wide-ranging mix of history, personal reminiscence and social comment, all of it delivered with frequent allusion and affecting imagery, Sherman draws us into a complex and compelling world.
Alexander Pope has described poetry as: `What oft' was thought but ne'er so well expressed.' Succinctness and eloquence: these are the qualities that mark the best poetry. Somehow Kenneth Sherman achieves the near impossible task of blending tragedy with comic irony, the Holocaust and the decimation of Canada's First Nations with the posturing of politicians and that of certain literary impresarios.
Sherman's wry look at Canada lightens the mood at times --
We're left with a bumpkin nation
fanatics of the Brewery
devotees of Hockey
The recurring river images evoke echoes of Margaret Laurence's Diviners, though her river flowed `both ways' while Sherman's is a one-way journey. Allusions to death by water, Virginia Woolf and the local ice vendor compound the classical references to Lethe and the Rivers of Babylon to enhance the prevailing mood of sadness and loss. Finishing the work, one is moved to reflect on the complex fabric of ancestry, experience and chance that determine our fates, and one's impulse is to read Black River again, and again.
Kenneth Sherman was born in Toronto in 1950. He has a BA from York University, where he studied with Eli Mandel and Irving Layton, and an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. While a student at York, Sherman co-founded and edited the literary journal Waves. From 1974--1975 he travelled extensively through Asia. He is a full-time faculty member at Sheridan College where he teaches Communications; he also teaches a course in creative writing at the University of Toronto.
In 1982, Sherman was writer-in-residence at Trent University. In 1986 he was invited by the Chinese government to lecture on contemporary Canadian literature at universities and government institutions in Beijing. In 1988, he received a Canada Council grant to travel through Poland and Russia. This experience inspired several of the essays in his book Void and Voice (1998). Sherman, author of the acclaimed Words for Elephant Man, and The Well: New and Selected Poems, lives in Toronto with his wife, Marie, an artist.