The title of An Oak Hunch comes from one of the sequences in this five-sequence book of poems: Phil Hall's homage to a poetic mentor, Al Purdy. Its subtitle is "Essay on Purdy," and these highly original, highly personal takes on the poetry and the life of Al Purdy "essay" in the root sense of the word: attempt or probe. The other four sequences, "The Interview," "Mucked Rushes," "Gang Pluck" and "Index of First Lines" are also probes, each of a different sort, written in a language that stretches the denotative values of words. Phil Hall is as leftist as he ever was, but his recent books like Trouble Sleeping have also been adventures in language. His writing shines with a new economy reminiscent of that of some of the so-called "language poets." Sometimes the poems of An Oak Hunch carry a narrative, sometimes they are leaping and lyrical, but they are all composed of word-music that connects the ear and the heart.
Saying the old, chipped words, I liked to think I was helping them pray too-words don't know how to read, books don't know how to read-they need my weak eyes-I thought, like some missionary to island lepers-but I was the one banished to an island-and the words were the missionaries-I am the one with these stinking wounds in the palms of my hands-these gifts?-my articulate hands that can not make straight arrows.
From "Index of First Lines," Section V of An Oak Hunch
"There's much to treasure in An Oak Hunch, with its inspired oddities of expression and piercingly evocative images ... Hall's poems move haltingly and snag on the rough surfaces of memory, which must be worked over in order to reveal their hard-won truths ... It's a challenging read, but a rewarding one."--Barbara Carey, The Toronto Star
"An Oak Hunch draws heavily on non-traditional and non-poetic forms, retrofitting genres like the essay and the interview into experimental — and effective — poems ... firmly in Al Purdy's salt-of-the earth tradition ... its creative risk-taking simultaneously sets him apart."--Robert J. Wiersema, Quill and Quire
"An Oak Hunch boasts beautiful end papers — and also zinging, singing poems ... The work is luminous."--George Elliott Clarke, The Halifax Chronicle-Herald