Night Work

Night Work

The Sawchuk Poems

Book - 2008
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A hockey saga, wrapping the game's story in the "intense, moody, contradictory" character of Terry Sawchuk, one of its greatest goalies.

Denied the leap and dash up the ice,
what goalies know is side to side, an inwardness of monk
and cell. They scrape. They sweep. Their eyes are elsewhere
as they contemplate their narrow place. Like saints, they pray for nothing,
which brings grace. Off-days, what they want is space. They sit apart
in bars. They know the length of streets in twenty cities.
But it's their saving sense of irony that further
isolates them as it saves.
-- from "One of You"

In compact, conversational poems that build into a narrative long poem, Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems follows the tragic trajectory of the life and work of Terry Sawchuk, dark driven genius of a goalie who survived twenty tough seasons in an era of inadequate upper-body equipment and no player representation. But no summary touches the searching intensity of Maggs's poems. They range from meditations on ancient/modern heroism to dramatic capsules of actual games, in which the mystery of character meets the mystery of transcendent physical performance. Night Work is illustrated with photographs mirroring the text, depicting key moments in the career of Terry Sawchuk, his exploits and his agony.

"Through his marvelous, moving poetry, Randall Maggs gets closer than any biographer to the heart of the darkest, most troubled figure in the history of the national game. This may be the truest hockey book ever written. It reaches a level untouched by conventional sports literature ... His Sawchuk is real." -- Stephen Brunt, Globe and Mail columnist and Canada's premier sportswriter and commentator

Publisher: London, ON : Brick Books, c2008.
ISBN: 9781894078627
Characteristics: 189 p. :,ill. ;,23 cm.


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Aug 22, 2010

Randall Maggs' gritty poetry collection Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems casts a semi-biographical gaze on the life and times of legendary and troubled NHL goalie Terry Sawchuk. Arguably the standard by which hockey goaltenders are still measured today, with many records that have only recently been broken, Sawchuk played most of his 21 seasons in the NHL, spanning the 1950s and 60s, with little of the protective equipment in which modern goalies gird themselves. He also played in an era where backup goalies weren't customary. This foreshadows and explains a lot.

How did Maggs formulate the balance of history, fact and imaginative interpretation to come up with his fierce and wrenching version of the Terry Sawchuk story? As he explains in the closing acknowledgements:

"What appears in the poems is based on stories told to me by those listed gratefully below or on what I have read or on what I brought to the book from my own life and playing days. As far as pure veracity is concerned, I don't know which of the three would be the most unreliable."

(Those listed gratefully include sports greats - players, officials and writers such as Johnny Bower, Carl Brewer, Ken Dryden, Ron Ellis, Trent Frayne, Dick Irvin, Red Storey and Stephen Brunt, as well as poetry greats Don McKay and Karen Solie.)

Maggs takes a varied approach to presenting Sawchuk the man, the figure and the legend, with different variations of dense but absorbing blank verse forms, and with a wide range of perspectives and colourful, often haunting voices. The tales, not just of action on the ice, but in the locker room, facing or avoiding the media, travelling, finding some quiet and solace on a frozen lake, run the gamut from rollicking and down to earth to dark and brooding to lyrical.

Sensitively researched and curated photographs are touchstones for several of the poems and fragments in this collection, and are arresting all on their own. In the mid-1960s, Life Magazine had a makeup artist superimpose scars and stitches on Sawchuk's face to illustrate all of the injuries he'd incurred over his career. That picture concludes the collection, and is a wrenching poem unto itself.

The mounting inventory of Sawchuk's mental and emotional suffering, including alcoholism and depression, is perhaps even longer than the physical injuries that either sparked or exacerbated his ongoing woes. But arching over it all and captured powerfully in Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems was the man's unstinting determination to succeed and triumph and, in his way, transcend the harsh, grinding vocation he'd made his own and in the process, transcend time, even if only one game, one period or one play at a time.


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Aug 27, 2010

Talk's over at the glass, the captains /
waved away. The referee holds four fingers up /
and folds his arms, four seconds he wants put back /
on the clock. Son of a bitch, an old defender /
sags against the boards. Still, imagine the power, /
to kick time's arse like that.

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