The Fabric of Day Reviews

Stanza, October 2017

The Fabric of the Day is the domestic equivalent of the fabric of the cosmos: space, time, and the texture of reality (a text by Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading physicists and the author of the Pulitzer finalist The Elegant Universe.) I am not arguing there is a one-to-one correspondence, only that Campbell’s poetical universe is rapt with as much angst, grief, wonder lust, and awe.

In "New Poems" (pp. 138-174) she dreams about the actor Walter Matthau, a poem is “more open-ended”. The act of leaning leads to more, in a human relationship, than trees. Love is let loose. She revisits anxiety, simply a name for an experience, but seeks what is missing in herself. Sleep welcomes you, when you are too tired to "serve the Lord". (“You are Gone”) A "Memorial" draws on Simone Weill, Nelson Mandala, Wade Davis. "Fecund" (“Taking a Break”) is God’s position, the fallen, “a poem coming on”. (“Real Winter”) The substance may be: matchmaking, the power of the colour blue; love addict, the shaking and the trembling; but memory is a hard bargain. How to live the long haul, (“The Strength”), the seniors complex preoccupied by puzzles. Of migraines, “Manifest is a word”, a body limp with pain. (“The Cross”) In a clean sweep, "Best Before" bar codes as philosophy, it is a gymnastic feat to repaper the shelf, the Lazy Susan. Campbell offers a visionary picture poem with light, perhaps in early spring. As always, swimming, ballerinas, a scent of pine. (“North Memory”). Nowhere is paradoxically everywhere. Rembrandt painted hyper realism. Proust Was a Neuroscientist is a nonfiction book by Jonah Leher. The dark is “she” who whispers. Experience is “Redux” or brought back, revived. She assumes her second skin (“Body Going Home”)

In an Introduction “On Time”, the poet look back (not in anger), or else she suffers the fate of Saul’s wife turning to salt. Poetry is the result of strong feelings recollected in tranquility, according to William Wordsworth. In this instance, with cyber technology, the poet actually performed a word search, “book by book; poem by poem”, in order to arrive at her most recurring image, as prairie and most often appearing word is “time”, indeed “each moment, one after another”. One example is her poem “Prairie”, wind principle of “my heart”. Another is, “A month of Sundays” engrains habit. (“Time Comes to Houses on Sundays”)

No Memory of a Move, which was published in Edmonton, by Longspoon Press, in 1983; by NeWest Press, in 1985, runs from pp. 18-51. “Pine Poems” is a long poem, in eight sections. “This is the beginning”, an account of before the initial “pine scent”, its stirring, “the memory of pine”. Primal sensations are conveyed through scent, poetical transference, as in the olfactory receptor neurons which transmit nerve impulses. The prelapsarian “knowledge before the fall”, of season, and sinning, or experience. “This is perfect/ aware”, as a child. In part 8, "memory of a move", the St. Joseph’s School is now a co-operative model of the Catholic School Board, in order to preserve Indigenous culture (see: Native Survival School, Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre). “Babushka” in Poland and Russia means an old woman or grandmother; it may also be a headscarf tied under the chin, typically worn by them. The poet alludes to “Old Country ways. “Polenta” is a dish of boiled cornmeal, part of the daily round of activities. Chinese acrobats and Heritage Park, in Calgary, are presented in terms of tourism. The landmark Gledhills drugstore, The Burnside Ranch, Ranchman Helge (a volunteer), and the NW Mounted Police Barracks are only some of the amusement attractions. "The Birthmark", a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is retold. The poet puns on “I absent myself// absinthe myself”, as well as “assure myself” and “sure enough”. (“O.K.”, p. 29) The Novia Café, a setting for “Other Man”, is in Regina. The question is assumed, in “The Answer”. The poet, in cap and bells, acts as the court jester, in “Queer Cornered Cap”. Another role is as “The Magician”, like King Solomon, but on Cloud Number Nine. E.J. Pratt was still capable of writing an epic on a grand scale. (“Union”) The poet is the woman who watched. (“The Dancer”) She feels “off centre”, “odd/ [at]an angle”. (“Edging Out”) There are physical and mental illnesses, including migraine headaches, either for “Christ’s sake” or wrestling with the Angel D. (of Death). As a result, she realizes she must look within herself, at Mass. (“The Image”) “The Wiz”, a circus clown, ballet mistress, dancer are all forms of juggling and/or entertainment. Saskatchewan’s “Eco Lake” evokes “This lake is a metaphor”. (p. 47) The middle of the earth is another imagined location.

In Death is an Anxious Mother (Thistledown Press, 1986) which runs from pp. 54- 85, Death is thus personified. Words turn over stone (“Stone Detour”) much is made of memory. A poem dedicated to poet Fred Wah uses the conceit of a fish hooked by a line. Some men keep too many secrets from women. (“It follows”) A pattern poem appears wind-blown. (“Another Love Poem”) Our basest habits theorized by Marx and Freud. (“Shopping”) Her directional climb depends on time. (“Getting Up”)

Red Earth, Yellow Stone was published by Thistledown, in 1989, and runs from pp. 68-106. She sounds removed: “the person I think of as me” (“Dark Mystery”), while imagining a connection, but fears that loss; so she compares the word or state of marriage as difficult to get right. She questions commitment but feels stunted. (“Pruning”) Her silence is an empty space. (“Coming Home”) For The Franciscan monastery (“Today is Love”), Adam means earth, and visions means risk. A prose poem about a stone cutter (“Deciding”) turns on the meaning of “De” and “Cide”; therefore “Decide is a word filled with undoing, slaughter, killing/ and living.” (p. 77) She examines one, of all the stones she has carried home, to capture “spirit enfleshed”. (“The Beginning”) She believes “Time/ is female, a mother”. (“Another Time”) Fossils are time (“Amber”) but memory of a Tarot sign and suicide intrude. (“Hanged Man”) An offering is wrong. (“Orange”) A man has hooks (“Prey Was Holy”) Language has maternal qualities.

Angel Wings All Over was published by Thistledown Press, in 1994, and runs from pp. 88-105. A poem composed after a watercolour by artist Ken Lochhead is an effective ekphrasistic work The visual art prompts more literary images, as though the poet has been cast in a spell. Absence and emptiness hurt. (“Long Way Home”) A witty physiotherapist prefaces the description of a book cover; the function of stones was as markers, removed from the body by surgery. (“Stones”) A kitchen device holds history, she is thinking of a Tarot card. Some angels appear awkward but bring grace. Elvis Presley has been sighted, as a saint. The salt crust of the earth has hidden a slough. (“Exploration”) The shape is preserved in design. (“Lilac”) Life experiences can be dangerous. (“The Way She Cares”) Birds “tiny breathing graces”, in metonymy, (“Small Fears”), wounds, as synecdoche, may be married. (“Old Friend”) Grace replaces ashes, the grey gone (“Grace”), like ducks. (“Grace 2”) The elements of weather are personified as “not rational”. (“A Good Perspective”) The role of light is restricted by the observer looking up. (“Light Change”) Angel of D. reappears. (“Angels All Over”) The spirit of God is everywhere. (“The Moon”)

Soul to Touch was published by Hagios Press, in Regina, in 2009 and runs from pp. 108-136. The poet announces: “I see this desert as home find in my heart room”. (“Drought Relief”) St. Peter’s Abbey, in Muenster, Saskatchewan, is the oldest Benedictine monastery in Canada. It was founded in 1903. St. Michael’s, a retreat, is associated with the Franciscans. The poet conveys a spiritual connection through nature and awe. Some of these poems remind me of sprung rhythm in God’s grace, by Gerald Manley Hopkins. Poetry is the means of bringing the dead back to the living through the agent of memory. Grief abides in a tiny bee. She prays, God take away everything. (“Giving Up the House”) A few of the poems are centred on the page. Rae Johnson is an artist, who lives and works in Toronto. Her work is in the Canadian data base. (“The Moon Draws”) The poet embraces wildlife, the red fox and the swift fox, nearly extinct, in a poem for poet D.G. Jones. An idea of God remains a mystery, whether metaphor is from nature, for mood, for wild. She adopts some words from Emily Dickenson and makes them her own. (“Falling into the Sky”) Catherine Bush is a Canadian novelist. Migraines offer “that strange land of colour.” (“Bacon Lover Prayer”) Music and song generate vibrations. At Tunnel Mountain, she contemplates the meaning of writing. The view is from her studio. The viola has a special purpose in the orchestra. Her annual birthday poem to herself prompts her to let go. The Butchart Gardens and the Abkhazi are in Victoria. A picture gallery replaces the cathedral for worship. Martha Wainwright is a Canadian-American folk singer and songwriter. Her brother is named Rufus. The poet explores Heidegger and Buddhists for the meanings of detachment and negation. (“Time and Being”) Angels are on the job, Archangel Gabriel. (“The Faces of Love”) She declines what she describes as wild rides. (“Not a Question of Love”) The poet is truly a visual artist who makes marks on a page. (“Commissioning of Words, after the Art Galley of Regina”)

— Anne Burke, Stanza

Saskatoon StarPhoenix, September 16, 2017

Regina poet Anne Campbell’s latest collection features poems selected from five previous books reaching back to 1983, as well as a healthy ration of new work. Besides a refresher on Campbell’s work, this collection affords a look into the development of the poet’s thought and poetic strategy.

In terms of poetics, Campbell prefers mostly the short — almost enigmatic — lyric, with lots of space engineered between words, though the spaces are more a visual cue than a breath cue. You can read straight through the spaces and still receive the meaning of the poem.

The early poems focus on memory, particularly those of childhood and of various prairie locales. By her third collection a major thematic concern that carries on through the rest of her work becomes desire, a longing for a companion — romantic, sexual, emotional, spiritual — to fill the lonely rooms, hours, and arms. See, for instance, Dark Mystery and A Friend I Can Touch. By the time of her second-last collection, Soul to Touch, Campbell leans heavily on seeing herself as a writer, as someone whose occupation is taking the time to record what it is she does, thinks, and understands.

This meta-poetry, the poet watching the poet write, is a post-modern impulse that can become a little tiresome — like rock stars singing about being rock stars. Campbell is at her best, and there are many such moments, when she simply gives “this pleasure … its own small praise,” as she does in the charming Bacon Lover Prayer. Other such gems include Time Away and How I Almost Married Leonard Cohen, from the new poems, and Shopping, Get it Right, and the short and amazing Giving Up the House. That poem, with its eschatological shadow, prefigures much of Campbell’s new poems where she tries, “one way or another,” to locate herself in time and space, sensing her end coming all too soon.

Two other people who understand the precious nature of life are New Mexico poet Jim Harris and his Saskatoon pal and longtime poet Glen Sorestad. In Water and Rock these men return to a loving channel of their desire, Jan Lake and its environs. Sorestad has been here in verse before, with his Jan Lake Poems (1984), but unlike that visit, in his half of Water and Rock, Sorestad keeps his poems on the minimalist edge, some poems no longer than six or seven lines.

He offers nothing but unqualified praise for the chance to fish, his close friends, and the wild creatures that surround them on their excursions. In Awareness he speaks of his contentment and in Around the Table looks closely at his friends at hand, being sure to “Hold them close” because “nothing lasts.”

Sorestad’s friend Jim Harris employs a much more rigid structure, going with 16-line poems of four quatrains in all but one in his group. Where Sorestad lets his obvious love of nature do his philosophizing for him, Harris spells things out, addressing himself directly to time and its passing, the white men’s fishing camp in time and space — particularly that of First Nations’ peoples — the balance of fishing fun and the seriousness of possibly dying by drowning or hypothermia, and the changes wrought by the cellphone and the Internet on the men’s so-called wilderness excursion.

Occasionally, Harris’s syntax goes verb-less too long, or his quatrains are more for show than meaning, but all in all both men’s work conveys their devotion to a piece of country that has nourished their souls and how tender in their later years they are with one another.

— Bill Robertson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix


I do love “New and Selected” poetry collections, and so it was with delight that I opened The Fabric of Day: New and Selected Poems by Regina’s Anne Campbell, who has been making poetry and sharing it with appreciative readers since her first book, No Memory of a Move, was released in 1983. In a retrospective such as this readers can track a poet’s evolution, and I was interested to read the new work: what’s in Campbell’s poetic gaze now?

In the book’s introduction Campbell explains that the prairies and “time” have been her major concentrations across the decades. In the newest poems I see that the trials of aging – the poet was born in 1938 – are also receiving attention on the page, and always, there is the undertone of love that’s missed, or love that might have been.

In the poem “Retiring, Gone Missing,” she writes “It’s a puzzle at this late stage, a nuisance,/really, feeling the self, one used to be/ gone” and later in this poem, “it’s odd/being with the stranger I am/ becoming”. Certainly aging is a hard business, but juxtaposed against poems with titles including “Anxiety,” “Ennui” and “The Dark Side, Redux,” we see the poet celebrating life’s lighter moments. One piece begins with the great line “I’m considering getting to know Walter Matthau,” and in another, Campbell recounts visiting her mother’s seniors’ complex and, noting the resident women doing jigsaw puzzles, the poet says to her sister: “‘Shoot me if you see me doing that.'” Then, after a minor surgery, she finds herself doing a jigsaw puzzle.

From her first book we’ve seen Campbell control her poems’ tempo via indentations, white space, one or two-line stanzas, and, often, one-word lines, and this has been a stylistic constant for her, though she also includes occasional prose poems, including “The Beginning,” which starts with this lovely line: “I picked up a stone that day walking in the hills, it wasn’t the first.” This ability to slow the reader and give certain words or phrases extra attention complements the “zen” feeling of much of her work. The meditative quality is particularly apparent in short poems like “More Slowly Evolved,” which begins with the image of the poet at her kitchen window, viewing birds “ferret for the tiniest seeds” to “find whatever’s fallen”. I also appreciate how Campbell writes about everyday subjects, like “reheated bacon on thin crisp toast,” or tacking shelf-paper in a Lazy Susan.

I enjoyed these quiet, introspective poems, perhaps because, like me, Campbell lives in perpetual awe “at the mystery in which we find ourselves”. Yes, it’s all about the awe, whether it’s the memory of pine scents, amber around one’s neck, valley hills, “green and shining grasses,” deer like ballerinas, philosophy, or the work of angels and artists. Time “gentles down” for all of us, but few have the talent or courage to effectively document how that feels in the heart. Campbell succinctly and eloquently delivers “the fabric” of these days.

— Shelley A. Leedahl, SaskBooks