Book Review: Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems

Randall Maggs’s Nightwork is an epic obsession and intellectual catalogue of voice and legacy. It’s also a book of poetry whose publishing journey charters passage with the undead sporting press while exploring the rich finesse of good old-fashioned fanaticism. A dead goaltender, (perhaps the greatest of all time) finds himself cast into the odd world of Canadian poetry. Night Work qualifies NHL goaltender Terry Sawchuk as a god of the nets, warts and all. Whether its himself, his rivals such as Jacques Plante, or those who watched him grow old, the collection seems to exhaust itself in detail and passion. One gets a sense of the caustic life the golden era of hockey provided its stars. From “The Famous Crouch” Maggs writes “A fierce moon at the window hunting boys. /An attic room my brother shared with me, the good warmth/ diving under quilts on winter nights, four steps/ from the bucket to the bed.” It’s Sawchuk and all he felt, knew, touched or saw. Maggs takes archival, friend and neighbour findings, but has so diligently transcended the appropriation process of “found poetry” and honed the work so exhaustively that it never sidetracks into trivia or gushing nostalgia. The quotes and sporting press sound bites are fused with stage directions, while anecdotes and time capsule strands are romantically added to the hero’s final resting-place. Hockey may now be filled with cash cows and technicolour bullshit, but Maggs manages to salvage the golden years down to the last clean fedora. For all its minutia and subjectivity, Night Work is as clear and honest as the poor bastards who played hockey before they had a player’s association, guaranteed contracts, and the respect of team owners.

It’s the brash evidence of Magg’s hard work and drive that fuels this extremely personal poetry travelogue to the last page. This is one of the most human collections I’ve ever read, eerily funereal but also celebratory of a life lost, a man remembered. Like his performance in goal throughout his life, Night Work is a detailed, complex Sawchuckian masterpiece. (Nathaniel G. Moore)

by Randall Maggs $20.00, 224 pgs, (Brick Books, 431 Boler Road, Box 20081 London, ON N6K 4G6