The Essential Anne Wilkinson selected by Ingrid Ruthig is a new edition of Anne Wilkinson’s poetry published by Porcupine’s Quill as the eleventh title in their Essential Poets Series. It includes poems from Wilkinson’s two published books of poetry, Counterpoint to Sleep and The Hangman Ties the Holly, as well as from her unpublished manuscript, Heresies and Other Poems, and from her copy-books.
Wilkinson’s poetry reads as an address from poet to reader, most obviously in her frequent use of the first person, where she literally speaks as an “I” to an audience that she sometimes specifies (as in “Letter to My Children”) but most often leaves unnamed as the implied reader. This effect is reinforced by a conversational quality to her verse that is rarely informal but that nevertheless creates an intimacy in the space of the poem. For example, in “After Reading Kafka” she writes,
Here at my door I swing between obsessions:
Hall by day, corridor by night.
I am obsessed with exits, bound
to qualify the latitude of light.
This passage is almost confessional, confiding obsessions to the reader, offering an invitation into the experience of the poet, and this sense that the poem opens the poet to the reader runs throughout the collection.
Wilkinson’s poetry is also technically strong, especially in her command of pace and rhythm, sometimes playing with formal metres, sometimes including them sporadically to highlight otherwise free verse, and sometimes discarding them altogether, but always arriving at the cadence most appropriate to her subject. Her capacity to play with rhythm for effect is remarkable, as when she says,
We shut our eyes and turned once round
And were up borne by our down fall.
Such life was in us on the ground
That while we moved, earth ceased to roll,
And oceans lagged, and all the flames
Except our fire, and we were lost
In province that no settler names.
In this section she positions “up borne” and “down fall” in the second line so that both words in each phrase must be accented, though the rest of the passage keeps a fairly regular iambic rhythm, a wonderful rhythmic tension that the rest of the stanza goes on to resolve.
The strength of the collection is in the combination of these qualities, in the interplay between its intimate voice and its careful technique, and it rewards a reading that it attentive to both these elements as well. It is a strong addition to the Essential Poets Series and should serve to raise the profile of a Canadian poet who is still too often neglected.