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Waddington, Miriam
Don Mills (Ont.), Oxford University Press, 1992. 90pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-19-540904-3. CIP


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Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

An avant-guard poet was hyperventilating as he tried to produce a single word. As he collapsed on the floor, one of the observers in the front row stamped crossly out of the room, muttering as she went, "This isn't poetry!" It was Miriam Waddington. A nineteenth-century poet, on reading her book, might toss it aside and mutter crossly, "This isn't poetry!"

We can't debate this question, but Miriam Waddington's poetry is pretty good poetry for the poetry that we read as poetry at this time. It is safely within the confines of what we call "poetry." When we enter and look around, we feel comfortable. The room is dark, but the poet opens little windows. Curtains flutter. We hear stories of the past and of growing old. The voice is low and holds our attention, though it is often bitter. There is no laughter.

Through a window, we glimpse gardens and far-off scenes. It's as if all of this, the parlour, the reminiscences, the vistas, are already passing away into a picture where even unpleasant things, properly arranged, are pleasant to behold. And what's wrong with that? There is little or nothing quotable, memorable, but that is true of most modern poetry.

These are poems of being a woman, alone and growing old, full of complaints and constraints:

The life of a woman
is never in tune
with the times

Her attempts to live a physically successful life are doomed to suffering:

discords, interruptions,
humiliations and
surprise endings.

But she has power. It is a power drawn from basic things the earth, growing things, wind, night. She travels to various places on the earth, but her successful journeys are out of the world. In the tapestry of her spells, her poems, she creates and captures all of the adventures denied to her. She is the blind Penelope in her poem "Ulysses Embroidered," in which Penelope's suffering and skill have woven the adventurer through all of his wanderings into reality. Her reality is sight into another realm.

Waddington's skill and power have woven a wonderful story in "Klara and Lilo," one of three prose pieces included in this book. Here, a journey to a spa in the mountains of Mexico takes her just beyond the earth. She meets two old women, sisters, who are living out their destinies beyond the ends of their lives Klara, healing "little children in a clinic that never closes," and Lilo, swimming "endless lengths in a sunlit pool where the summer never ends."

There is an aura to this book like light escaping around the edges of a central darkness.

Miriam Waddington is a well-known author who has published a number of books. This, her first book of poetry in ten years, is a worthy addition to the Canadian poetry section.

lan Dempsey is a teacher-librarian at Galt Collegiate Institute in Cambridge Ontario

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