The Words of Margaret Avison | Review of “The Essential Margaret Avison” selected by Robyn Sarah (2010) The Porcupine’s Quill

I always believed that the human condition needed to be better examined but it wasn’t until recently that I discover how well a medium poetry is for doing just that. I have started reading older published works of poetry and feeling overwhelmed by the process. There is a lot that is being recommended for me to read. However one book has brought older works recently to my attention and that is The Essential Margaret Avison .

The World Still Needs (Excerpt) page 9

Frivolity is out of season.

Yet, in this poetry, let it be admitted

The world still needs piano-turners

And has fewer, and more of these

Grey fellows prone to liquor

On an unlikely Tuesday, gritty with wind,

When somewhere, behind windows,

A housewife stays for him until

Hour of the uneasy bridge-club cocktails

And the office rush at the groceteria

And the vesper-bell and the lit-up buses passing

And the supper trays along the hospital from


Suffering from

Sore throat and dusty curtains

Avison’s words here have a clear a descriptive quality. They are easy to understand and the imagery becomes apparent to the mind’s eye while reading.

Hid Life (Page 39)

Red apples hang frozen

in  a stick-dry, snow dusty

network of branches,

against lamb’s wool and pastelblue of sky,

a crooked woodenness, a wizening red.


Are these iron stems? or is

this tree in a lee out of the

clattering winds?


Heavily in my heart

the frost-bruised fruit, the sombre tree,

this unvisted room off winter’s endless corridors

weigh down



even this fruit’s flesh

will sodden down at last.


Botanist, does the seed

so long up held

still somehow inform

petal and apple-spring-perfume

for sure, from so far?


Is the weight only

a waiting?

Robyn Sarah has provided a interesting introduction to the life and work of Avison at the beginning of the book.

Forward – Page 8

Avison’s poems exhibit a range of forms and styles, yet in every mode a voice comes through that is uniquely recognizable as hers – a response to the world that seamlessly blends the cerebral, the sensory, and the emotive. She broaches the metaphysical, the social and the human, delineating these with almost hallucinatory attention to detail. A wide-ranging allusiveness reflects eclectic reading, but equal attention is given to the unmediated ‘real world’ (primarily an urban world, rendered with haunting vividness through changes of season and times of day). The simplest poems about weather today, or the view out the window, easily yield a metaphoric reading, yet can also satisfy as poems about the weather or the view out the window.


It was a pleasure to read Avison’s work here. No doubt I will be exploring more of her work in the future.

Power (page 45)

Master of his first tricycle,

pedalling furiously towards the singing

lethal traffic

he – double elation – meets

his father fresh afoot from that main thoroughfare –

to circle and

come too? No – a palaver

in reasonable terms he mutinously

waits out, stubbed between land and father’s foot,

all dammed-up and high voltage

with all ear for where he’ll go


At last dad hoists him, waist under one arm

trike dangled from the other hand

and heads home


DON’T PICK ME UP! the scarlet

struggling sobbing adventurer

wails (after the fact).


One is so powerful.

One is so small.


How can power know

not to make helplessness

what is decisive?


The Essential Margaret Avison was an enlightening introduction into the works of a brilliant poet. A must read for any poetry fan.

Link to The Porcupine’s Quill page for The Essential Margaret Avison


7 thoughts on “The Words of Margaret Avison | Review of “The Essential Margaret Avison” selected by Robyn Sarah (2010) The Porcupine’s Quill

  1. I haven’t read anything since Concrete and Wild Carrot, but I should remedy that: thanks for the nudge in her direction once more. Collected Works volumes are just terrific, though perhaps not as easy to slip into a bag to read on a whim.


    1. This was my first exposure to a series from The Porcupine’s Quill dealing with collected works. They are very slim and printed on a fantastic stock that “Quill” usually uses on their books. I am going to look at other books in this series for sure.


      1. They are a true publisher! I really want to have a tour of their operation some time to see the old time printer at work. (I think it is a Heidelburg.)


      2. I’d like to visit Gaspereau too, but I should probably save that comment until you’re chatting about one of their lovelies instead. Enjoy whatever you’re reading over this coming long weekend!


      3. I think I’ll finish Heather O’Neill’s novel and start the new Terry Fallis…but I haven’t gotten further than that. And it’s long enough of a weekend to think I’ll need to make more plans. Let us know what you pack!


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