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This article is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

Cold Clarity: Margaret Avison Peter Campion

Sometime in childhood, those of us who grew up in the northernmost United States had to confront that mysterious land between our homes and the North Pole. This was most often a task for the imagination. Maybe approaching sleep would bring an image of fir forests where wolverines tracked their prey through the snow, or else a glimpse of polar bears stretching out beneath an iced waterfall. But the real shock of the exotic would come, more often then not, when a radio broadcast broke through the static. Here was a voice reading the Blue Jays scores or the winning numbers for something called 'The Ontario Super 7'. It was undeniable: human beings actually lived there.

That scenario may sound exaggerated. But it's hard to overstate American ignorance of Canada. Certainly, surprise waits in store for any American readers of the poems of Margaret Avison. Born in 1918, Avison has lived most of her life in Toronto, where she's worked as a librarian, a social worker and an editor. Her earliest published poem dates from 1932 (she was fourteen!), her latest from two years ago. During these seven decades, her books have been published by the likes of Norton and Routledge. Her work was championed early on by Denise Levertov, who admired its blend of earthly and spiritual commitments. More recently, August Kleinzahler has praised Avison for 'the strangeness and vividness of her poems, both in language and observation'. Now the Ontario publisher, The Porcupine's Quill has ...


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