Toronto Star Jan 12, 2003
A playful, renegade Priest
Something irresistible about his fancifulness
Barb Carey, Poetry
New and Selected Poems
There's an early poem in Toronto poet and songwriter Robert Priest's Blue Pyramids that captures the essence of this style, which has changed remarkably little over the 30 years (and 14 books) spanned by this collection. "Slight Exaggeration OF a Childhood Incident" is a tall tale about being given a trumpet at the age of 2 and gleefully disrupting the neighborhood with it ("i bellowed down Thames Street/ leveling buildings, knocking down churches"). This aural rampage is halted only by the police.
It's a perfect microcosm of Priestliness in verse, for the adult poet is also a disturber of the peace -- namely the peace of complacency --- and a noisy adversary of authority, whether in the guise of right-wing ideology or religious orthodoxy. He blows his own horn, exaggerates to the point of absurdity and isn?t always tuneful, yet there's something irresistible about the anarchic fancifulness of his imagination.
Priest is a playful renegade, taking aim at political targets with humor rather than earnestness. His method is often to turn convention upside down. In "Several Other Uses For A Halo," for example, he suggests "use it as the brim of a hat/ the rim of a little wheel... reach for your better self/through the hole in the halo."
Behind the irreverence lurks an idealist, and he's unabashedly a family man. Priest includes plenty of rapturous love poems to his wife and fervent tributes to his children. There's no emotional holding back here, no clever posing. In one poem addressed to an infant son, he writes "your cry is an opening in me.../ in my trumpet-part/your cry is a bell in me/ringing with an awesome/emanation? Blue Pyramids itself is a kind of echo chamber, resounding with impish boisterousness and tender grace notes.
From the Publisher
One of our most readable, challenging, and important poets
From his first book, The Visible Man ("as fine a first volume of poetry as one is ever likely to read" -- the Dalhousie Review), to his most recent, Resurrection In the Cartoon ("passionate, humourous, worldly-wise, kick-ass poetry" -- The Vancouver Sun), Robert Priest's poetry has been the delight of critics and readers alike. Blue Pyramids: New and Selected Poems brings together the best of Robert Priest's six books of lyric poems, spells, psalms, aphorisms, koans, diatribes, and prose poems along with an exciting new group of poems and aphorisms. Also included is a selection of never-before-published song lyrics. Relentless in their assessment of contemporary culture, the mordant irony, brutal honesty, and remarkable sensitivity of Priest's works create a poetic crucible in which the Canadian "melting-pot" is purified of its hypocrisies and reclaimed, ultimately, in the joy of language.
"Poetry full of flashes of insight. Imaginative in a strange way, he takes inordinate chances with logic, countering absurdity with absurdity, and expanding our sense of human emotional possibilities." -- The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature