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The Hunt on the Lagoon

The Hunt on the Lagoon

Sheldon Zitner summed up his career in a seven-word poem: "Here lies, as usual, a Jew d'esprit." The genial wit of "Trial Epithet" informs the whole of this deeply moving collection by a poet and scholar whom A.F. Moritz describes as "a man of the world in the best sense."

Whether he is celebrating life's infinite creativity, recognizing the joy imprisoned in a wheelchair-bound man, or affirming art's mission to outlast atrocity, Zitner unswervingly follows Rilke's injunction to join "work of the eyes" with "heart-work." In the collection's title poem, Zitner states that "we invent the world we love, /and like the painter's eyes, our own /persuade the hard discrete details /. . . to surrender to a luminous belonging."

Throughout this wonderful collection, many such revelatory moments are caught and many details rendered with equal luminosity. Writing completely without sentimentality, Zitner nonetheless composed his poems with an underlying tenderness and a sadness always held in check by his characteristic urbanity and his epigrammatic wit.

The Hunt on the Lagoon is Zitner's final work. These last poems, and all his poems, are things into which he breathed his spirit, and where he can still be met. A poet to the last, The Hunt on the Lagoon is a fitting monument, an inspired book about absence and loss, about the transience of bliss.


S.P. Zitner was born in New York City on April 20, 1924, and spent over three years with the US Army during World War II, two of them in the South Pacific. Upon his discharge, he took his BA at Brooklyn College, his MA at City College of New York and his PhD at Duke University. He taught English Literature at Hampton Institute, Virginia, and Grinnell College, Iowa, before coming to Canada to teach at Trinity College, University of Toronto. He remained at Trinity College from 1969 until his retirement 20 years later, and for exemplary teaching he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Sacred Letters. He died in Toronto on April 26, 2005 at the age of 81. Sheldon Zitner's academic work includes six books — critical studies, editions and collections — and numerous articles, most of them on Shakespeare and other Renaissance dramatists. His poetry has appeared in many American and Canadian journals, including the Nation, Poetry, the Antigonish Review, and Queen's Quarterly. Two earlier collections of poetry, The Asparagus Feast (1999) and Before We Had Words (2002), were published by McGill-Queen's University Press, and a chapbook, Missing Persons, was published by Junction Books in 2003.

"Sheldon Zitner claims that we all 'invent the world we love' and gather the details of existence into 'a luminous belonging.' This was certainly his own gift, one which he calls 'a forbidden breathing of spirit into things.' In the poems of The Hunt on the Lagoon, he shows us how much he invested in common yet elemental experiences. A witty and mordant realist, a man of the world in the best sense, Zitner's engagement with life was so complete that his work became as visionary as it was hard-headed. Now we can never again run into him on a corner and get lost in an hour of talk, but these last poems, and all his poems, are things into which he breathed his spirit, and where he can still be met." — A.F. Moritz

"Whether Sheldon Zitner is celebrating life's infinitely prolific creativity ("The Maternity Dress"), lamenting the intimacy and joy imprisoned in a wheelchair-bound hospital patient ("The Transfer);;, or affirming art's mission to outlast atrocity ("Return from School after the Storm"), these deep-seeing poems show him unswervingly following Rilke's injunction to join 'work of the eyes' with 'heart-work.' Zitner's poems leave us feeling how lucky our hearts are to be touched by him — so widely knowing, so profoundly sensitive." — John Reibetanz

102 pages
Pub date: September 30, 2005