The snowflow
nearly-April releases    melting bright.

Then a darkdown
       needles and shells the pools.

Swepth of suncoursing sky
steeps us in
           rhubarb-coloured shrub-tips:

everything waits for the
lilacs, heaped tumbling — and their warm
licorice perfume.

–Margaret Avison

My Avison volumes came today (isn’t the internet wonderful?), and to celebrate I’m quoting the first poem in Always Now, Volume Two (from her 1978 book sunblue, reviewed here). It’s quite timely: we too are waiting for the lilacs.

In case you’re wondering, suncoursing is a hapax as far as Google knows, snowflow and darkdown get a fair number of hits although they are not actual words, and swepth is such a frequent typo Google isn’t much help. But Heather Pyrcz, in a brief discussion of Avison here, calls it a “neologism,” which sounds right to me. (Pyrcz also mentions that Avison studied with the Black Mountain poets, which helps explain why she uses words so strikingly.)


  1. Suzanne McCarthy says

    Thanks for this. She was a good friend of my husband’s family.

  2. Really! Lucky them. (I trust your past tense refers to the friendship having faded; as far as I know, she’s still alive and writing.)

  3. Suzanne McCarthy says

    She was closest friends with a member of his family who died, hence the past tense.

  4. Oh!

  5. more margaret avison! ~ thanks for introducing me to this poet,
    and for the interesting link to the Black Mountain poets – that was an aha moment for me

  6. Beautiful…

  7. I wonder what month it might be: March?
    When do lilacs bloom over there? In April, judging by the “nearly-April” feeling and LH’s remarks, but is this timing uniform across North America?

  8. Our lilacs, here in western Mass., bloom (all too briefly) in May. (Don’t know why it took me 13 years to answer that perfectly simple question.)

  9. Rodger C says

    Whitman’s lilacs, of course, bloomed in April, reminding him of the murder of Lincoln.

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