- Marilyn Bowering (Author)
Human Bodies: New and Collected Poems 1987-1999. Beach Holme Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Susan Musgrave (Author)
What the Small Day Cannot Hold. Beach Holme Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Renate Eigenbrod
"Kinetic creations are taking on / my personality" is a line from Songs of the Sea-Witch, the first re-published book in Susan Musgrave’s Collected Poems 1970-1985 entitled What the Small Day Cannot Hold. The Songs are followed by Entrance of the Celebrant, Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries, The Impstone, Becky Swan’s Book, A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury, and Cocktails at the Mausoleum. There is a certain irony in the fact that the "subversive," "unteachable" poetry of Susan Musgrave, acclaimed as such by Sean Virgo in his introduction, is collected in the Canadian Classics Series, complete with the image of the maple leaf. On the other hand, the context for the publication of her earlier work would not likely concern Musgrave, who recently confessed on a University of Toronto website: "The poem or novel I am working on at the moment is what means most to me.... Books that are published,
strangely, have very little meaning to me
It’s almost as if someone else had written it." This commentary echoes the shape-shifting theme in her poetry but also raises the question of accountability. By endorsing transformations of her (human) persona into an animal, a plant, a stone, a lover, an outlaw, or the ancestral spirit of Native people, she uses "the other." It is therefore noteworthy that the title of this collection is taken from the title of a poem in which the speaker wants "to give back"—love, the moon, the clouds, the sun.
Musgrave’s desire for communion and community, poetically realized in meta-morphic images of her "shamanic mode" in texts like The Impstone and Kiskatinaw Songs (co-written with Virgo), offsets her awareness of fragmentation, separation, and loss ("there is danger / in not understanding loss") as shown, for example, in "Requiem for Talunkwun Island":
My eyes had seen
the rivers full of fish but now the eyes were older and, like the rivers, empty. The salmon have gone elsewhere to find their origins. Like the ghosts of my people, they have no country.
Musgrave’s oft-confessed love for the West Coast landscape (affirmed in her compilation Clear-Cut Words: Writers for Clayoquot) speaks to the genuineness of the poem’s tone; however, her appropriation of Haida ancestry is problematic. I wonder if, after the experience with the Kiskatinaw Songs (which were only successful after they had been published under an Aboriginal pseudonym), Musgrave saw the need for another Grey Owl move. Her poem becomes particularly problematic in the context of this publication, not only because it is now a "Canadian Classic," but also because of Sean Virgo’s praise of the composition in his introduction as "the most eloquent threnody ever composed in Canada, both heartbreaking and cathartic." Inadvertently, maybe, he dismisses similarly powerful laments composed by Aboriginal writers themselves, for example in the poem "Waking Up" by Inuk author Alootok Ipellie.
Marilyn Bowering’s Human Bodies comprises Anyone Can See I Love You, Grandfather Was A Soldier, Calling All The World, Love As It Is, Autobiography, and the new collection When I Am Dead And My Heart Is Weighed. Each section has to be "savoured" on its own, as Dave Godfrey advises readers in his introduction. Chronologically, this work continues where Musgrave’s ends. Both authors are connected by friendship and joint projects (like the above-mentioned Clear-Cut Words to which Marilyn Bowering contributed a modified version of a poem from Calling All The World); both present different per-sonae in their "kinetic creations" (Marilyn Bowering to the extent of creating dramatic performances), and both evoke themes of the other side of love—loss, regrets, futility, death. Because of her interest in historical events and characters and human bodies, Bowering does not follow the "shamanic mode" of connecting with nature quite as much as Susan Musgrave; however, she also celebrates ecological relations as in her poem "The Mind’s Road to Love": "... and I flew / to the top of the tree as a bird / I entered into every species." In the same section of the volume, Autobiography, Bowering honours the Aboriginal poet Sarain Stump, whose work she featured in Many Voices, the anthology of Aboriginal literature she co-edited. In "She Goes Away for P.K. Page, and in memory of Sarain Stump," Bowering connects P.K. Page with Stump in an adaptation of Stump’s shamanic imagery.
Throughout Bowering’s collection we find links between different human bodies, like the relations between Stump and Page or the links among Marilyn Monroe’s three husbands in Anyone Can See I Love You, as well as connections between dead and living bodies. The section Love As It Is contains "Native Land," in which the dead bodies of soldiers create a feeling of belonging, of being "native": "the dead appear / like sea anemones behind shop windows I... I This is the picture to step in: / now we are part of the land." The theme of war is most evident in the long poem Grandfather Was A Soldier. Here, living and dead, present and past, are blended in an association of images that uncover history in a landscape that has been "disguised" by the plough and Nature. With images of images (the war photographs in a museum), writings about writings (with Bowering’s documentation in the notes at the end of the book), and a mix of imagined and "real" personae, Bowering creates a texture rather than a text compensating for the limitations of language: "Language fails, as you knew it would, lacks evidence of touch."
Bowering ends the epigraph to her first book of poetry Anyone Can See I Love You, in which she tells the story of picking up a seemingly grey stone which, when held up to the light "glowed like something alive," by affirming that "It was like everything in the world was that way, and all you had to do was pick it up, touch it." Both collections of poetry pick up and touch differently shaped bodies, making them come to life in spite of the cerebral leanings of language.
- A Barnyard Romance by Robert Stacey
Books reviewed: A Suit of Nettles by James Reaney
- The Natural History of Language and Literature by Rebecca Raglon
Books reviewed: The Tree of Meaning: Thirteen Talks by Robert Bringhurst and Wild Language by Robert Bringhurst
- Poésie en trombes, mode majeur by Élise Lepage
Books reviewed: Trombes by Pierre Ouellet and Les Verbes Majeurs by Pierre Nepveu
- Art of Sinking in Poetry by Jon Kertzer
Books reviewed: Iridium Seeds by Sylvia Legris, Queen Rat: New and Selected Poems by Lynn Crosbie, and Poems Selected and New by Heather Spears
- Mapping and Way-making by Erin Wunker
Books reviewed: Fierce Departures: The Poetry of Dionne Brand by Dionne Brand and Leslie Sanders, Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke by Jon Paul Fiorentino, and Lousy Explorers by Laisha Rosnau
MLA: Eigenbrod, Renate. Kinetic Creations. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #180 (Spring 2004), (Montgomery, Carson, Bissoondath, Goodridge). (pg. 166 - 167)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.