reviewed by Nathaniel G. Moore | Monday, May 28th, 2018

Night Work: The Sawchuk PoemsBrick Books, 204 pages, paperback, $20.00

My mind tends to operate based on years. Some 25 years ago, when I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the NHL and in particular, the hockey players from the 1950s and 1960s. Keeping with the theme of years and facts and anniversaries, it’s been nearly 10 years since I first laid eyes on Randall Maggs’s masterwork of hockey poetics Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, a book of poetry which launched at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto with Lord Stanley looking on in delight in the back row.

The book’s 10th anniversary edition comes with an introduction by Angie Abdou and a proud litany of the book’s well-deserved reviews in the back. The book remains an archive of artistic effort and merit, but also captures the spirited obsession readers of sports history can feel on their own. A certain type of loneliness. Taken out of the garrison of nonfiction and into the limitless form that is poetry, a drama unfolds. The line breaks, the rearranged sweat, voice and pain all mixed together in an elixir of death and life is a type of poetic reincarnation. Taking voices from the past, from countless interviews Maggs has conducted for the book, this teeming with ambiance, such as the opening lines from Bay Roberts, (”Strange mix, the low-tide odour in the air/and damp of all our gear we can’t get dry, but nothing’s/what we’re used to since our coming here.”)

This book comes at a time of perennial sadness to Toronto and its Maple Leafs, a team Sawchuk breathed life into more than once over 50 years ago. Just as the Leafs have once again been jettisoned from the playoffs and are rebuilding, sitting alone with an impressive and likely never to be broken record of 51 straight seasons without winning the Stanley Cup, a dreg from that great and last Stanley Cup team is haunting the world once more. And the glory continues, with the official announcement from major media outlets including Variety, that the feature film Goalie is coming out soon and will star Mark O’Brien as the late Terry Sawchuk. From the article in early April, “Goalie is directed by Adriana Maggs from a screenplay by Maggs and her sister Jane Maggs.”

More astonishing perhaps than this tidbit is the finer print in the announcement, a total anomaly in the world of poetry book publishing. “The film is based in part on the book of poetry Night Work by Randall Maggs and Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World’s Greatest Goalie by David Dupuis.” How often do a poet’s daughters write a film script based on their poetry? I’m thinking one time. Maggs offers his thoughts on the news that his work will continue to live on, now in the form of a feature film:

I just watched the rough-cut version of Goalie last night. It took me all the way back to the afternoon my daughters, Adriana and Jane, and Adriana’s two boys crowded into a booth at Gabby’s on Roncesvalles and talked about writing a film script based on Night Work. Last night, hearing their work come to life and hearing some of my own words being spoken by some wonderful actors, including Mark O’Brien in the lead role, was a very moving experience. But, this is her film. Watching that film last night, rough-cut version though it is at this point, and thinking back to my visit to Sudbury seeing her working long hard hours to put the script she and Jane wrote into the scenes that she visualized, I understood that fully. Just as I took the stories that Red Storey and Johnny Bower and Butch Bouchard and Gary Bergman and so many others so unselfishly gave me–“You want a Sawchuk story?” Gary Bergman said to me in a bar in downtown Detroit one chilly afternoon, “I’ll give you a Sawchuk story, but you gotta put that pen down”–in the same way that I took those stories and metamorphosed them into my book of poems, she has taken that book and the script she and Jane worked long and hard at, and made them into her film. So, yes, hearing words I’d written being spoken did feel wonderful, but it was also very humbling. And satisfying, unaccountably so (but who cares about that?) to see what I’d written as a part of this important collaborative process. And who knows, but maybe someone will take her film and make it into something else and we’ll eventually get even closer to the truth of Terry’s complicated story and perhaps some larger truth even more important than that.


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