Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs

Winner of the 2008 Winterset Award

Winner of the 2009 E.J. Pratt Poetry Prize

Winner of the 2010 Kobzar Literary Award

Shortlisted for the 2009 Heritage and History Book Award

Longlisted for the 2009 Relit Award for Poetry

A Globe and Mail Best Book ~ 2008

I need to start this review off by prefacing it with the confession that I am not a hockey fan; it is not that I dislike hockey, I am just not a follower and really know very little about it. So, that being said, I was surprised how interested and excited I was to read Night Work and I was even more amazed by how much I enjoyed it. Even being the hockey ignoramus that I am I still had somewhat of an idea of who Terry Sawchuk was and his stature in the sport. This collection joins a Canadian tradition of poetic historical revision; Randall Maggs has taken a historical figure and molded this person into one of the great literary characters of the last 20 years, much the same way Michael Ondaatje transformed Billy the Kid decades ago. This book is a masterpiece. Period.

The star hockey player in our contemporary setting has a bit of the rock star personae. Maggs closely examines what life was like day-in and day-out for these gritty workhorses; the title says it all, Night Work. Sawchuk’s life as portrayed in this book felt like an unrealistic marathon. The punishment both physically and psychologically that hockey professionals of this generation took is just mind boggling. One scene in particular that I loved was when Sawchuk’s coach was arguing with him about how detrimental goaltenders wearing masks would be. Most of the poems in this collection are told from “characters” with personal and intimate knowledge of Sawchuk, as opposed to being told from Sawchuk’s; I really like this technique, it helps maintain that sense of the goalie being an unknowable legend, it keeps that sense of detachment yet provides insight into the man in an almost intense fashion.

This collection of poetry read like a novel. There were very defined characters and they developed in much the same way they would be in a great piece of fiction. I also felt there was a very defined story arc as well. The poems were all highly narrative and detailed in the style of Al Purdy. Through Maggs’ examination of Terry Sawchuk we also get something else, Night Work is a chronicle of hockey in general during this period, its role in the public consciousness, and ultimately its importance in the culture of Canada and the northern US.

Supplemented by beautiful original photography of Sawchuk’s time and prefaced by an excerpt from his autopsy report, Randall Maggs has truly captured one great man’s short life in this fitting poetic tribute. Night Work is still one of the most recognizable books of poetry on the shelves of Canadian book stores two years after initial publication. This book is complex, detailed, beautiful, well researched, and a must read for all Canadians. Below is a short clip of a game from the 1964 Stanley Cup finals where Sawchuk played goal for Detroit so you can see a tiny bit of his on-ice genius.


5 responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by A Books Blog. A Books Blog said: RT @BrickBooks: Review of Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs – "This book is… […]

  2. Hey there! You might get a kick out a podcasting project I’m doing with Brick Books, the publisher of Night Work. Got a chance to sit with Randall and record him reading, a real treat. And you’ll see you can actually embed the readings on a blog if you’d like to include any with this post. For your enjoyment:

    1. That’s great. Thank you very much.

  3. I loved this book and the way it takes us into the belly of one player’s very difficult life, and an entire sport, all at the same time.

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