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34~ LEITERS IN CANADA 1979 Poetry SANDRA DJWA It is always an occasion when Margaret Avison publishes a book. Her third book of poems, sunblue (Lancelot Press, 105, $3.95), covers, with few lapses in chronology, the span of a year from the 'nearly April' of the first poem 'SKETCH: Thaws' to the 'queer April dimness' of the final poem 'Bereaved.' As in her first books, Winter Sun (1960) and The Dumbfounding (1966), Avison's particular poeticlocation is that point at which inner and outer weather intersect. Often, as in the fine early lyric 'The Butterfly : she generates the poem from the trajectory between two points: 'The meaning of the moth ... can't we stab that one angle into the curve of space .. .?' And just as The Dumbfounding describes the experience of religious conversion so sunblue celebrates the Christian year: Resurrection , Incarnation, Crucifixion. These are primarily religious poems, poems in which light is the animating principle, light specifically identified as the sunlSon of God. What most readers will recognize as the sheer joy of being alive The diamond-ice-air is ribbon-laced with brightness. Peaking wafering snowbanks are sun-buttery, stroked by the rosey fingertips of young tree shadows - is for Avison the sheer joy of Being in its religious and sacramental context. Cement workers are anointed by the 'oils of sun' and small boys are sketched as breathing the crocus-fresh breadwarm Beingeasy as breathing. In this world of all-encompassing Being words (like all parts of naturethe seasons, the weather, the landscape) flow together because everything is connected, part of one meaningful universe generated by the sun of God. The title of the book, sunblue, expresses this essential unity, bringing together the two poles of the poet's vision, the Resurrection and the Crucifixion. 'His Being-in-Light, I but stripping, putting on I the altar-animal form ... to, into, death: In Avison's use 'sunblue' is shorthand for 'sunlight' and 'blue sky': by removing 'light' and 'sky' from each pair of terms she stresses the Christian paradox of death and hope, the dark sun that followed the Crucifixion, then the light of the Resurrection. Avison is most convincing when, like Hopkins, she celebrates the sweep and energy of the physical world; she is least successful when celebration is subordinated to doctrine. Many of the poems in the first third of the book are descriptive and the titles are prefixed by 'SKETCH': the pale wintergreen air has straw stuck to it, and then again becomes dimmed in beeswax mist, a visual amplitude so still that you can hear the hidden culvert gurgle. These titles suggest the poet as artist recording a nature where she finds evidences of deSign, of God and Maker. One of the later poems in the book, 'Creative Hour,' rejects the Romantic concept of the poet as maker and compares the universe to a colouring book, a pre-existing design, approached by a child (the poet?): 'nothing is made / except by the only unpretentious, Jesus Christ, the Lord.' This is a devastating denial of the human for a poet of the stature of Margaret Avison; it leads one to believe that she has dedicated, perhaps subordinated, her poetry to her faith. Several of the poems in this collection read as aids to the spiritual life. There are meditations on biblical passages - the one occasioned by Psalm 80, for example, is clearly a hymn and meant to be sung. Another, her retelling of Luke's story of the unjust steward, emphasizes the difference between the children of light, the converted, and the children of this world. Like Milton's sonnet 'On His Blindness,' this series of linked poems becomes a consideration on the use of one's God-given talents. Few of these reflections evoke the intensity of the early nature poems; it may be that the struggle to find religious certitude is more conducive to poetry than its achievement. Even so, Avison's lesser poems are superior to many poets' best. At least a half dozen of these poems, including 'SKETCH: Train Window,' 'Released Thaw,' and 'March Morning' express a genuine vision, palpable even to the non-believer. Robert Kroetsch's The Sad Phoenician...


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pp. 348-359
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