“And there was one that wrestled with him until daybreak”
-The Jerusalem Bible, Genesis 32:24
Introduction to Wrestling with Angels (1995). There are few Christian poets and prose writers in BC and Canada that have the visionary breadth and historic depth of Doug Beardsley. Doug was a close friend of Irving Layton for many years, and he has a lengthy (unpublished) correspondence with Layton. Doug has also published two books with Al Purdy: No One Else is Lawrence: A dozen of D.H. Lawrence’s best poems (1998) and The Man Who Outlived Himself: An appreciation of John Donne: a dozen of his best poems (2000). Doug was also a student of the controversial Wiccan-Celtic poet (who taught creative writing for many years at University of Victoria), Robin Skelton. The friendship with Layton and Purdy would make most more than delighted and purr with pleasure. But, there is yet much more. Doug has also become an expert on the great Canadian sport: hockey. Country on Ice (1987) and The Rocket, The Flower, The Hammer And Me (1988) have become minor classics in the genre of hockey literature.
Doug has taught one of the few courses in Canada on the literary side of hockey and the role of hockey, as a metaphor, in defining Canadian identity. The real spine and backbone, heartbeat and visionary insights of Doug can best be felt and absorbed in his poetry, though. More than fifteen books of poetry have been birthed from the womb of Doug’s ever pregnant imagination and sensitive perceptions. The poetic tale unfolds from such missives as Going Down into History (1976) and The Only Country in the World Called Canada (1976) through the probing insights of Kissing the Body of My Lord: The Marie Poems (1982) and A Dancing Star (1988) to the wise and compact reflections in Wrestling with Angels: New and Selected Poems 1960-1995 (1995).
Needless to say, many other fine works of poetry were published between 1976 and 1995. Wrestling with Angels is an excellent primer and introduction to the poetic vision of Doug Beardsley. Many of his earlier poems, including the ‘The Paul Klee Poems’, are in this collection, plus some “Early and Uncollected Poems’ and ‘New Poems’. The ‘New Poems’ reflect Doug’s pondering on the meaning of the Holocaust as a result of teaching a course on the topic for many years at the University of Victoria. There is, obviously, much more to read, ponder, meditate upon and internalize in the poetry of Doug, but Wrestling with Angels offers the interested reader a sense of how Doug wrestles, and who his soul has wrestled with over the decades.
Poetry is essential to read, but when poetry is read by the author, the spirit that is often hidden in the words takes wings and flies. It is a feast and banquet to hear Doug, the bard, read from his many works of poetry. He understands the bardic role of the poet, and in true Homeric style, offers much hope and vision, struggle and insight, to attentive hearers of the word.
I have no doubt that Doug will, in time, be recognized as one of the most important Christian poets in Canada. The sooner he is offered the kudos he so rightly deserves, the quicker Canadians will realize there is yet much gold to mine in our literary seams.