The Difficult was at first a footnote to an essay on Lisa Moore's novel, February. I was defending that novel against an absurd charge that it was anti-feminist. That quite accessible novel had been so superficially and insensitively read that I began to wonder how any such reader could begin to cope with more challenging books. From the essay on February, that was too great a detour, certainly for the book (Strangers & Others: Newfoundland Essays) it appeared in, so I cut it. I let the subject of reading and writing about difficult texts lie for a few years, went on to other projects, until I found myself talking to Jack Davis, a former student and Pedlar Press poet, about hatchet reviewing in this country. I mentioned to Jack that I had written something on the subject of reviewing and could send it to him, if he was interested. He was. To refresh myself on what I'd said, I read it over, began to revise and expand. That's how I got back into the subject. Many interesting things happened while writing this book. My friend Phil Hall sent me a poem, for example. That got me thinking back over my long readership of his work, which led me to write a new section of what was now becoming a book. This section includes ruminations on the career of Red Skelton, the televangelism of Joel Osteen, the journalism of Andrew O'Hagan and other things. In other words, the section swings widely (as do other sections) between disparate but related subjects. Thinking about my "method" caused me to coin the word "meanderthal" for what I do. Other chance encounters with various texts provoked like meanders.
Bricoleur. Bricklayer. The play on words is intentional. After all, the author is arguably CanLit's hardest-working mason, having founded both an important literary press and a magazine called Brick. What's more, in addition to penning ten books of his own, for almost thirty years, Stan Dragland thrived (or at least survived) in academia. "Maverick" scholar or not, you can't do that kind of work without some periods of dogged application. Bricoleur--the collagist, lover of fragments and random accidents. Bricklayer--the methodical builder. Are these, in fact, so antithetical?That is just one of the questions this fascinating assemblage raised for me. Do these sentences tell a story or state an argument? If they do, it is an oblique one. No matter. There's something magical in the age-old classification of tropes and schemes, something magical in the way these sentences jostle up against each other. There's fun in finding Christopher Smart in bed with Gertrude Stein; Warren Zevon wedged between Margaret Avison and Seamus Heaney; Ken Babstock on the same park bench as E. B. White. "It's a lonely activity, writing. Even the most successful of us, doing what we feel called to do, may feel like orphans unless we chance to happen upon our spiritual family." How to read a person? the book begins. Chart what he accumulates, say Ondaatje, Oliver, McKay. Reading this bricoleur's accumulation of sentences, I felt companioned. I'd wander with him anywhere in the fields of language. Erudite, yet earthy. Confidential, yet not confessional. Part commonplace book, part essay, part memoir, part literary appreciation, The Bricoleur & His Sentences is as playful, perceptive, and profound as the spirit that animates it.--Susan Olding