The Answer to Some Things (and not others)

By Vivien Lougheed | January 18, 2022

THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING, by Ken Belford, Edited by Rob Budde, Si Transken, with Jordan Scott; Caitlin Press, Qualicum Beach, B.C., pp., $22


In the foreword to The Answer to Everything, editor Rob Budde says he hopes that his selection of the poems of Ken Belford, “is chosen by future scholars as a representative introduction to his work.” Those future scholars might so choose, but not readers familiar with Ken’s work. This is because Budde and his co-editor Si Transken (Belford’s widow) chose to downplay Belford’s first four books in favour of the last four, at a ratio of about 1:2. The first four were written during what Budde calls Belford’s first two lives, the first while he lived in Vancouver and the second when moved to northwestern BC (roughly from 1966 – 2000), and the last four in a prolific two decades after he retired and moved to Prince George (2000 – 2021)

Budde gives his reason: “Ken hit the pinnacle of his poetic abilities in his last four books.” This is doubtful; more likely, he hit pinnacles regularly through all his books.  Budde Then confides that “Ken . . . admitted to me that he was a little embarrassed by some of the pieces in his early books,” and that “this book was selected with his input.”

Readers have no choice but to take Budde’s word for the last two assertions. If they don’t, they’re in the position of questioning Belford’s decisions about the contents of his last books, and poets rightfully have a certain authority (the authority of “intent”) when it comes to the appraisal of their work. Readers would also be questioning Belford’s widow’s decisions, not to mention the decisions of Budde himself and a “consulting editor,” Jordan Scott. All three editors, we are assured, “respected” Belford.

More about this claim later. Meanwhile, the real reasons for the importance of this book are, first, it is a selection of poems by a great poet. Second, it provides a decent if truncated selection of poems from the first four books of that poet, poems that made Belford into a legend. Third, it provides readers (and scholars) with the basis for a comparative evaluation of the poems in the last four books, books that have not yet been fully processed into the anthologies or analyzed much in reviews and articles. Finally, Budde’s Foreword is a suggestive if not very coherent introduction to one of Belford’s main topics, especially in the later books. That topic is his own poetry. Belford has written more about his “poetics” (the subtitle of his fifth book is “a sequence of poetics), than almost any other poet from the Vancouver scene in the 1960s.

A “vintage” Belford poem is, as various critics have said, dark, brooding, gnomic, cryptic, haunting and imbued with settings and images from life in the logging and mining towns, the farms and ranches, and the wilderness of north-western British Columbia. This is, as Budde says, Belford’s distinctive turf. Poets like George Stanley, Sheila Peters and Simon Thompson have worked the turf too, but less in the wilderness, and Belford works it from the trapper’s, farmer’s, logger’s and hunter’s point-of-view. In this, Belford stands alone.

The “measure,” or the “line,” used by Belford in these poems derives from “free verse,” familiar through Whitman, Pound, Eliot and Williams to the present: stacked parts of speech (words, clauses, phrases, and sentences) with no or irregular syllable counts, butted up against the left margin with few indentations. Belford’s contemporaries in Vancouver (especially the Tish poets, all of whom are listed by Budde as influences) were themselves much into poetics and spoke of this measure as the “new measure” derived from William Carlos Williams. Williams described it as “meaning, as in the best of prose,” with “musical or tuneful emphasis.” In other words, it was a rhetorical measure they were propounding. Each line is like a bar in musical annotation, indicating the equal emphasis to be given to meaning of the phrase, clause, or sentence (eighth, quarter, and half notes) making up that line. Additional emphasis can be added by fracturing the clauses and phrases, leaving a single word hanging (a whole note), or leaving a preposition or conjunction at the end of the line, above its phrase or clause. The latter produces a rushed effect. Williams’ measure gives, as he puts it, “resources to the ear which result in a language which we hear spoken about us every day.”

It’s hard to describe in the abstract, and the music analogy only half works, but comparisons between poets helps. Of the famous American poets who consciously worked in Williams’ new measure, Robert Creeley is the closest to the other Vancouver poets at the time Belford started writing, and to Belford. Of the Vancouver poets, it’s Pat Lane who is the most similar.

Belford, as Budde says, “had a long correspondence with . . . and . . . visited Creeley in Florida in the late 1990s.” Lane and Belford hung out and worked on manual-labour jobs together — Lane’s Very Stone House cooperated with Talonbooks in producing The Post Electric Cave Man (1970). The cover of that book features a photo of Belford and Lane hunting in an alpine area.

Barry McKinnon, a Prince George poet who worked intimately with Belford through all of his three lives and is credited here with introducing him to Budde, is an example of a poet who began in the new measure but by 1980 had started to move his lines further and geographically across the page. The Tish poets also experimented in this, using Creeley’s friend Charles Olson’s description of “projective verse,” poetry with “multiple margins,” as a guide. That verse was illustrated most famously in Olson’s The Maximus Poems (1960). Belford rarely used multiple margins.

The essential artificiality of the new measure (and of projective verse) — the art of it — is indicated by the fact that every poet-innovator in history has claimed that their poetry sounds natural or like, as Wordsworth put it, “the language of the common man.”

It isn’t the language of the common man, though. Anyone attending a poetry reading can hear right away that the language of poetry, of free verse, is different from everyday speech. Like all poetic forms, the new measure allows room for poets to develop their own music. Ultimately, Belford doesn’t sound at all like Patrick Lane or Creeley, just as Wordsworth and Keats, working with the Shakespearean sonnet, are nothing like Shakespeare or one another.

The artificiality of the new measure is also indicated by the fact that, in Fireweed (1967) Belford added a feature that, for the course of that book only, became another of his signatures: a regular three-line stanza, as in Dante. This came from those “poetry classes” that Budde mentions Belford sitting in on at UBC and SFU in the 1960s. Specifically, they came from the classes at UBC taught by J. Michael Yates. Yates re-configured many of Belford’s poems into those 3-line stanzas, and Belford acceded to the changes, adapting them to the new measure.

Belford’s mastery of his form is attested to by his contemporaries. Creeley walked up to Belford after a reading in Prince George in the 1970s and said “I hear your music, man.” One of the poems Belford read that night was “I come to the meeting / late,” first published by McKinnon in Sign Language (Repository-Gorse, 1979). Atwood, in her New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (1982), said, “Belford is a delight: he has his language under control, and such poems as ‘Carrier Indians,’ ‘Stove,’ and ‘Omega’ read with the kind of inevitability of image and rhythm that makes other poets grit their teeth with envy.”

There are about 30 vintage poems in the first four of Belford’s books that are not represented here. From the last of these four books, Ecologue (2005), the editors have chosen well. Some of the earlier of these vintage poems were identified by Belford’s three anthologists, David Phillips (West Coast Seen —1969), Al Purdy (Storm Warning —1971), and Margaret Atwood (The New Oxford Book of Canadian Poetry — 1982).

So, from Fireweed add “Omega” (Phillips, Purdy, Atwood), “Stove” (Atwood, Phillips), “Odd Horses” (Purdy, Phillips) and “Still Shots Echo” (Purdy).  From The Post Electric Cave Man (1970) add “The Breath Of,” “Losing Weight,” “Well, We Were Laughing,” “4,” “Alan,” “The Highway Crew,” and “Capitals.” These last show Belford’s new life in the north, including the colourful locals that he lived near and worked with. They also show that Belford, for a writer whose poems are haunted, gnomic, etc, can be very funny.

Pathways into the Mountains (2000) seems, considering its size, the least represented of Belford’s books in the selection of Budde and Transken. They took poems from only the first half this book, selecting from selections (made by Belford, with Barry McKinnon and George Stanley) from two chapbooks published by McKinnon, Sign Language (Repository-Gorse Press, 1979) and Holding Land (Gorse Press 1981). Selections from Sign Language are sparse, only two poems — but one of these, “I come to the meeting late” (the poem Creeley responded to), is definitely vintage. Missing from this book would be, from the original chapbooks, “I might come over,” “Heat and light make,” and “Over this wood.” The selection from Holding Land is representative, but “Ron’s Stew,” a comic poem, a bacchanalia of meat-eating, should have been included, along with “Poem for Alice” and “The Transplant” (about his parents’ farm).

The third, title section of the book is unrepresented in The Answer to Everything. “Pathway into the Mountains” includes poems about Belford’s crucial move from farming and odd jobs, to building up and running the Nass River fishing camp. “Runoff” and “Understory” are for and about Belford’s daughter Hannah, about a spring that she made (opened up and maintained), and about a “summer friend” who would run around with Hannah on the roof of the family cabin. Here is seen a softer Belford, Belford the father, totally engaged in his daughter’s life, missing her when she leaves the camp for school.  This Belford ought to be represented. There is another beautiful tribute to Alice, and other tributes to friends Matthew, David, Wendel, Bryan and Myron Kozak who, in the Kispiox, helped “building trails . . . pathways into the mountains.”

Time will tell what readers would want added to (or removed from) Budde’s selection from the last four books. It depends on what they make of them. Reviewers Donna Kane (Lan(d)guage), John Harris (Decomposition) and Brian Fawcett (Slick Reckoning) identified some of their favorites. Almost all are in this book. Budde has included too a generous selection of poems that provide continuity from the early to the late Belford. These are vintage Belford, appearing in the new measure. Poems like “I slept beside a grizzly” (p. 59), “All but broke” (p. 91), and “In a small body of slowly moving water,” (p. 92) are among Belford’s most beautiful poems. The latter is in his Wordsworthian mode — and it is especially notable for its more scientifically informed anthropomorphism than Wordsworth ever attempted.

These poems, with all the poems in the first three of Belford’s last four books, are written in fairly long, complex, grammatical, and conventionally punctuated sentences. The lines are made up of roughly counted syllables — the stanzas appear on the page as rectangular blocks, like sonnets (10 syllables wide) but usually longer than 14 lines. Sentences, clauses and phrases may end at line ends (the sense of finality) or in the middle of lines (the sense of continuity), and the complexity of the sentences and the distances covered before the end-of-line punctuation gives a sense of hurry, or breathlessness.

Budde seems to be talking about the new measure evident in these poems when he says of Belford, “He tied the rhythms and codes of poetry to the unroaded mountain country, from the perspective of out there.” Presumably this can’t apply to the earlier poems that talk about the roaded country around Hazelton, or the streets of Vancouver, so there’s some confusion over whether or not Budde thinks Belford has one or two poetics.

But either way his statement is uninformative — the usual assertion every poet makes that the measure fits the subject matter. Budde also talks of “semantic slippage” and “disjunctive other-than-lyric ‘gaps’,” Semantics is the study of the meanings of words, and Belford does use slippage occasionally, as in “In every theory” (p. 111). What non-lyric gaps are supposed to do is anyone’s guess; logically, the term adds up to “non-nothing.” The slippage and gaps may tie in with Transken’s simile in her Afterword comparing Belford’s poems to mobiles: “His poetry was more like thoughts, images, feelings that floated near each other and were strung lightly on threads.”

Not much of this describes what most critics hear in the last four books, which is, as Donna Kane put it in a review of Lan(d)guage, “forceful assertion.” This a feature of Belford’s in his early poems, but one that dominates the last four books — though slightly less so in the last one, Slick Reckoning, where Belford is more into poems about poetry and moves back towards the new measure. “Forceful assertion” means, as Kane says, “the structure of a rational hypothesis.” This means conventional sentences (logic) and, mostly, dictionary denotations. By suggesting that Belford’s measure is playful, Budde and Transken seem to be implying that the poems can mean anything the reader comes up with. Actually, Transken says this explicitly: “He wished that different readers would take away different meanings.” Only a writer of nonsense poetry would want this. A poem with as many meanings as there are readers is a poem with no meaning at all.

Belford’s late vocabulary is often technical — readers of the later poems will make heavy use of a dictionary. Kane explains: “His lines are often rife with scientific references ranging from the emission of light rays to string theory to computer and cognitive science.” Add to these, references to forestry technology, multivariable calculus, geology, digital half-toning, land-management technology, genetic engineering, and postmodernist theory. These references, Kane says, “have the effect of authority (and sometimes humour).”

Strengthening this voice of “ontological certainty,” as McKinnon calls it, are a lot of lists, or parallel structures, as there are in technical writing. Belford actually numbers his list of 11 objections to cattle ranching (“(1) The land slides,” p. 116). In the comic, “Poetry hinders sleep,” other “facts” about poetry are listed (some in numerical terms). There are even footnotes (in APA format), in the serious poem “Primarily about the Distribution of Light” (p. 80).

If the editors are sketchy in their opinions of Belford’s measure, they say clearly what they think are Belford’s new themes in that measure. Both editors posit a new poetics resulting from a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion that they believe happened to Belford sometime when or just after he retired to Prince George. By poetics, the editors seem to mean technical mannerisms, characteristic subject matter, and personal values, a complete new theory about what poetry should say and how it should say it.

Budde says that this new poetics is, “something I don’t think compares easily to anything else in Canadian poetics.” He’s wrong about this. This sort of non-Aristotelian, non-structuralist, poetics is very common everywhere. In the context of B.C. poetry, it is the final poetics of Tish, Vancouver’s first and most influential little magazine, put out by (mainly) George Bowering, Frank Davey, and Fred Wah from September 1961 – March 1963. Bowering, Davey and Wah explicitly connected poetics to values, tying themselves to a new method of poetic interpretation called postmodernism, about which all of them have written copiously right into the present time.

The connection between poetry and values is crucial to understanding and evaluating what Budde and Transken are saying about Belford’s transformation when he retired to Prince George, and to understanding what Belford was doing in his later books. The Tish poets spoke of margins and marginality, of themselves as writing in the voice of the victim, the rebel, the iconoclast, not in the structured, symbolic, traditional modes of centralized power and control. Budde believes this of Belford, and Belford does write with this attitude.

The marginalized, the victims, claim special knowledge and superior values, as Belford late work emphatically does. The Tish poets were rural, not urban; Vancouver, not Toronto; poor, not rich; dedicated to American models, not English; internationalist, not nationalist; self-published, not connected to the big publishers of Toronto; postmodernist, not modernist; phenomenological, not mythy. Much of this applies to Belford.

Of course, very little of this was actually true, especially about the Tish poets, and the list includes contradictions that were pointed out by prominent figures like Margaret Atwood. She was the big enemy, in the minds of the Tish poets. She was Eastern, tied into the Toronto (WASP) poetry scene, published by the big presses. She should have been their friend, Davey especially asserted, since she was a poet using the new measure and a woman, one of the marginalized sexes. But (a) she continually pointed out that they were phonies — privileged, middle-class, urban and members of the (male) English-department priesthood bound for (and soon in possession of) tenure, (b) she made fun of them as such, and (c) she outwrote nearly all of them.

Tish poetics evolved through postmodernism (Davey, Bowering) into postcolonialism (Wah). Budde has written copiously about his postcolonialism, and was, unsurprisingly, a student of Wah’s at Calgary. He connects Belford’s poetics to ethics, and ethics to ethnicity, in accordance with Wah’s precept: “To write (or live) ethnically is also to write (or live) ethically, in pursuit of right value, right place, right home, right otherness.” Budde’s account of the later Ken Belford focuses on the influence of the traditional wisdom and practices of the area’s indigenous peoples, and pits the virtues of those practices against the evils of White people — racial ethics, in other words:

Ken’s ethics, his anti-racism (borne out of the treaty process), his feminism (informed in part by his partner Si Transken), and his resistance to most conventional poetics modes, all contributed to his remote place in the poetics landscape. [In Gitxsan territory], Ken learned the old names (T’amtuuts’whl’ax) and developed deep relationships with chiefs (Walter Blackwater and Neil Sterritt most notably). With Alice and their new daughter Hannah, Ken hosted wealthy American democrats to experience the lake, rivers, and forest. At first it was fly-in fishing expeditions, but then Ken transitioned to a form of ecotourism (before the word existed) that was low impact and did not kill fish or animals . . . . By boat and on the ancient trails still visible in the region, Ken spent time with these holders of knowledge that transcended the colonial books and ways of seeing . . . . As a white man, Ken knew not to make any claims to this knowledge, knew not to recolonize by taking that knowledge as a possession or accolade, but it did change his world view, and is an indispensable lens when looking at his poetry.

Transken similarly describes the later Belford as a “new” man, in her case attributing the change to his readings of Ecofeminist theory:

As he matured he came to deeply regret the ways animals had been treated under his watch, and even how fish had been treated under his watch . . . . At Blackwater he was dependent on what nature could provide. He had hunted and eaten moose and taken and consumed other lives . . . . He became a vegetarian and then almost a vegan . . . . As Ken read more Ecofeminist theory and practice he lived his day-to-day differently . . . . When I met him he was independently on his way to stop drinking, stop using cannabis, and rejecting being involved in any way in violent enterprises or practices (including the emotional violence of classism, sexism, racism, homophobia etc). Some of the folks he had shared these activities with earlier in his life felt judged or exiled from his life.

As previously stated, the editors are correct in pointing out that a lot of what Belford wrote in Prince George protested the sexist, colonialist and environmental deprivations of white men, and connected those deprivations to an opposing poetics — a white, male, colonialist poetics:

I’m English but not English,
i never liked the white man.
all my life I have been
sketchy around them. Many
i knew were abusive drunks.
Many were violent, the poets
too. I’m an English carrier
but other than that I didn’t
know what I was back then.

 Belford sees himself as a “Carrier,” but not as he did in the early poem (p. 26), admiring their customs and relating to them as outcasts:

A band of thieves and liars.
Stunted, inter-related.
People with large eyes.
Having nowhere to go:
I am one of them.

Now Belford wants to be Carrier because he doesn’t like white men. Since he is a white man, Belford is expressing a hatred of his own culture. He’s also expressing a hatred of himself, since he was confessedly one of those violent and drunk (but not abusive) white poets:

I used to drink myself stupid
and wander through the towns looking lost . . . .

(This poem, not in this book, is from Lan(d)guage (p. 30).

In poem after poem, the later Belford attacks the poetics (the cultural features) of white men. In “The poetry that adheres to” ( p. 103), poems written by men are “the basso profundo” (i.e., pompous), “the prick song,” (i.e., macho) and “the song of himself” (i.e., egotistical). The white male poet is committed to borders, abstractions, rationality, and denotative meaning:

By inclination I’m not
a white man. I handle
objects differently because
I know the importance of the body” (p. 136).

If Belford did definitely take up the themes and express the values that the editors describe, the difficulty comes with their idea that these themes and values are the expression of a man whose deeper knowledge of aboriginal wisdom and postcolonialist theory has made him a man “of calm gentleness and generosity.” The poetry contracts this. The poems in the last four books are increasingly strident, obsessive and angry, the poems in the last book, Slick Reckoning rising to a crescendo of complaint. As Brian Fawcett pointed out in his analysis of this book: “I got the sense that Belford wasn’t talking to the ‘reader of good faith’ but rather to an authority that he somehow feared might disapprove of him, and particularly, might disapprove of his past. There was also a rising volume of ideological shrieking . . . .  I began to grow irritable at all the things this new universe loathed and found inferior or incorrect”

It’s understandable that Transken portrays an absolutely saintly Belford, a perfect husband, who fed her seven cats, watered her plants, cared tenderly for her garden, worried incessantly about the poor (white, heterosexual, male?) people who walked past their house in their humble neighbourhood, and attracted and coached poetic acolytes: “He was sensitive and tender about how his poetry relationships had added so much to his life . . . . He felt fortunate to have known so many Indigenous people. He sincerely wanted to learn from them and offer them his help or kindness . . . .”  On his part, Budde affirms the calmness and generosity of his “best friend forever,” and attests to his “genuine love for the life of all creatures,” and of course his close relationship to Indigenous “holders of knowledge that transcended the colonial books and ways of seeing.”

But how does this saintly Belford jibe with the increasingly polemical, stentorian, petulant Belford of the later poems, the Belford seen by Fawcett? This Belford comes to dominate the book as the editors select half again as many poems from it as from the previous three, and because the last poem in the book, the title of which provides the book’s title, is a barely coherent (but metaphorically colourful) rant about how poetry is not made or read properly, causing a lot of inconvenience for Belford:

I’m writing about
the declining aristocracy of poetry

& those cradled poems
that come in under 100 lines,
poets that aren’t moved by passion.

Much of the time it isn’t funny.
The thing about them is
they can sing the national anthem
in less than a minute.

It’s not what I want.

The answer to all this is the answer to everything: “there’s always something wrong / with everything.”

Budde describes this poem as “written with determination, clarity and generosity” through “the pain and exhaustion cancer imposes on the body.”  The poem may be a clear expression of postcolonialist poetics, but generous it is not.

It’s pretty evident in the book’s apparatus that attributing Belford’s change to the influences of Ecofeminist theory and Gitxsan wisdom involves a lot of logical and semantic shiftiness. For example, at the fishing camp where “Ken hosted wealthy American democrats.” What does this mean? It’s a lower-case “d” so one assumes “liberals.” Did Belford screen his customers, before booking them on a fishing trip, for their ideological values? Or, “Ken’s ‘land knowledge’ . . . came to be in stark contrast to the representation of ‘nature’ in Canadian lyric poetry.” Looking at such representations by those lyric poets who Budde says influenced Belford, like Lane, Bowering and Purdy, there seems to be little contrast, except that Ken played the familiar Wordsworthian, anthropomorphic stop on his oaten flute much more often.

Readers might wonder what happened to Barry McKinnon. He’s all over Belford’s story, as friend, editor, commentator, biographer. He was published alongside Belford in the Phillips, Purdy, and Atwood anthologies. Yet he’s not on the long list of poets that Belford built “stronger and continuing relationshps with” in Prince George, and Transken implies that McKinnon is one of those who kept on being racist, sexist, classist and homophobic after Belford quit these bad habits.

Budde traces Belford’s anti-racism to what he calls “the treaty process.” This implies that, before Belford got involved in the process (probably around the mid 1980s) he was a racist. But there is no indication of racism (nor of sexism) in any of Belford’s pre-Prince George poems — although the poem “Carrier” features a sort of reverse racism as an attempt (not considered appropriate now) to identify with the Carrier peoples. There seems to be an attempt to force not just the new Belford but the old one too into a preconceived ideology.

Budde’s description of Belford’s relationship to Gitxsan locals is outright inappropriate. He comes close to depicting Belford as a sort of Grey Owl and his Gitxsan mentors as Rousseauian “noble savages,” — though Belford is said to be smart enough not to actually “make any claims to” this knowledge but just to let it “change his world view.” Transken’s remark about how her husband wanted to “offer them his help or kindness” is condescending.

Belford did participate in the negotiations leading up to the Nisga’a Treaty, in the early stages when, as Budde says, the Gitxsan and Nisga’a were trying to sort out their overlapping claims to land. Belford would have gone to these negotiations for about two years, every couple of months or so. Neil Sterritt’s book Mapping My Way Home (2017) is about these talks. But there’s nothing in Sterritt’s book like Budde’s claim “that the government,” represented by “affluent white men,” had “mistakenly (or deliberately, in order to create discord)” proposed [Gitxsan lands] as Nisga’a territory.” Sterritt describes the discord as having been there for a couple of hundred years — by implication, many thousands of years.

Also, it’s extremely unlikely that Belford developed a “deep relationship” with Neil Sterritt. Sterritt was a mixed-race (Irish – Gitxsan) band-council member (1981-), born in Hazleton, who had been hired (1977) by the council as land-claims director. His expertise in mapping was needed, and he was an ardent amateur historian. He was educated at Gladstone High in Vancouver, UBC, and BCIT (at exactly the same time Belford was learning poetry in Vancouver) emerging as a geology technologist and working as a project manager for Amax from 1966 – 1973 in Manitoba, Ireland, and Arizona. Were he not an indigenous person, this career alone, which Sterritt was proud of and loved, would be enough to cause both Budde and Belford, Budde especially, to hate him.

While he did spend years fighting systemic racism in the Indian Act and other government legislation, Sterritt says nothing about white colonialism in his book. He is focused on how his ancestors assimilated — working with great success as trappers, packers, loggers, farmers and miners, participating in local church, school and government activities, fighting in WW II, etc. He himself may have had knowledge that “transcended the colonial books and ways of seeing,” but he was well trained, as a geologist, politician and farmer in those “ways of seeing,” and he worked hard for a safe and honourable assimilation of aboriginal and settler cultures. Likely, Sterritt’s family would be somewhat embarrassed by Budde’s claim that Belford was such an ardent groupie, and had such a “deep relationship” with him.

Because there are so many false notes in The Answer to Everything’s apparatus, it seems that there are other explanations for Belford’s new subject matter and new attitude. In his review of Slick Reckoning, Fawcett suggests that, rather than a conversion to a new poetics, it was Belford’s having to move off and sell his camp to his wife and daughter because he was ill and couldn’t do the work, or his being disoriented by illness and painkillers, that turned Belford into a “surreal and apocalyptic paranoiac.” Most of Belford’s later poetry, Fawcett says, “raises the question of whether or not Belford has forgotten that most men are assholes, and that no one, male or female or all the gradations between, gets through life without behaving like an asshole. This is not, as Belford appears to now see it, a theological or political matter. It’s simple common sense and our existential burden.”

Taking The Answer to Everything’s apparatus with a grain of salt is made easier by a couple of the book’s other odd features. Budde includes two of his own poems, seemingly wanting to take the opportunity to appear in front of a larger-than-normal audience—Belford’s audience—as a kind of opening act. Second, there are three large, clear pictures of the two editors and the associate editor in the very back of the book, a glaring contrast to the back cover photo of Ken that is so small and grainy as to be unrecognizable.

The  thorough inappropriateness of this, though, along with the narrow ideological perspective that the editors deploy on Belford’s poetry, should not be allowed to detract from what there is of useful information in the apparatus. The editors’ currently fashionable postcolonialist perspective is one that other readers will argue against, and both Budde and Transken provide many details about Belford’s life, about his publication history, and about his influences, that will be useful to future scholarly interpretation. Overall, this is a timely book, one that will keep Belford, now that he is gone, fresh in the minds of readers and scholars.,

5110 words, posted January, 19, 2022


  • Vivien Lougheed

    Vivien Lougheed is a world traveler and the author of numerous travel books, including Central America by Chicken Bus, Forbidden Mountains and Understanding Bolivia. She lives in Prince George, BC.

  • John Harris

    John Harris is the author of 'Small Rain," "Other Art" and "Tungsten John." He lives in Prince George, B.C.

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