Once again I must thank Mark Woods of wood s lot for introducing me to wonderful poetry, in this case that of Margaret Avison. If I were Canadian I would presumably have known her work long ago, but it’s all too true that things Canadian don’t get their due south of the border; I’m just glad I finally caught on. The first poem Mark quoted was “This Day,” short and unassuming but full of hidden pleasures; then he linked to Eight poems (from Jacket magazine, which I should read on a regular basis), and I was hooked. I read all eight, with increasing excitement and deep pleasure: here was a poet who used the past without imitating it, who felt deeply but let her feelings enrich her poems from within rather than pouring them over it like a sauce, who loved words so much she dared to use them in unfamiliar ways and even make them up, which might put a reader off if the context weren’t so convincing. But enough babbling from me; here’s “Christmas Approaches, Highway 401”:
Seed of snow
on cement, ditch-rut, rink-steel, salted where
grass straws thinly scrape against lowering
daydark in the rise of the earth-crust there
(and beyond, the scavenging birds
flitter and skim)
unto earth’s thirsting,
Roadwork, earthwork, pits in hillsides,
desolation, abandoned roadside shacks
and dwelt in,
unkilned pottery broken and strawed about,
coming and going always
by day all lump and ache
is sown tonight with the beauty
of light and moving lights, light travelling, light
shining from beyond farthestness.
Farthestness! But before I could even begin to balk, I heard the word repeated in my ear and realized it was shapely, with a nice Old English feel, and worked perfectly here. And note the way she uses the noun straw in the third line, and then slips in the much rarer verb (a variant of strew) in “unkilned pottery broken and strawed about.” I went on to “The Hid, Here”:
Big birds fly past the window
trailing strings or vines
out in the big blue.
Big trees become designs
of delicate floral tracery
in golden green.
The Milky Way
end over end like a football
lobs, towards that still
that is hid within bud and nest-stuff and bright air
where the big birds flew
past the now waiting window.
Listen to those rhymes, feel the subtle rhythms and the perfect flow of “that is hid within bud and nest-stuff and bright air” (and the way it makes sense of the initially opaque title): this is the kind of poetry that is not only attractive at first sight but carries within it the promise of further riches on each rereading. I was so smitten I immediately ordered the second and third volumes of Always Now, her collected poems, and I suspect I’ll wind up getting the first as well.
Oh, and I don’t want to finish without quoting that first little poem, “This Day“; Songdog, this one’s for you and James:
This morning was all
iced sunshine after a
grey and gusty week.
So blue a sky!
walking with a patient
parent, on the shadow-
tracings of a winter tree, a young
tree and so graceful,
danced into its design
on the dazzling sidewalk.
paused, curbing impatience with
stirrings of memory.