Sunday, August 19, 2007

Canadian poet Margaret Avison dies


I just discovered today that the grand dame of Canadian poetry, Margaret Avison, died on July 31st at the age of 89. This brief item on the Word Guild website talks of some of her achievements.
Margaret Avison, to whom The Word Guild presented the Leslie K. Tarr Award in 2005 for outstanding contribution to Christian writing and publishing in Canada, passed away on July 31, 2007, in her 90th year. Avison twice won the Governor General's Award for poetry, and was an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2003, at the age of 85, Avison won the $40,000 Griffin Poetry Prize for her work Concrete and Wild Carrot; the judges called Margaret "a national treasure."


Sue Careless interviewed her in 2003 shortly after she won the Griffin award. In that interview, Margaret tells the story of how she came to faith.

The Griffin Poetry Prize website posts her poem "Rising Dust," which begins:

The physiologist says I am well over
half water.
I feel, look, solid; am
though leaky firm.
Yet I am composed
largely of water.
How the composer turned us out
this way, even the learned few do not
explain. That's life...

That site also has a video clip of her reading the poem.

The Griffin Poetry Prize judges (which in 2003 included Sharon Olds) made the following citation about her work:

“If beauty, as Alfred North Whitehead defines it, is ‘a quality which finds its exemplification in actual occasions,’ and if beauty is more completely exemplified in ‘imperfection and discord’ than in the ‘perfection of harmony,’ then Margaret Avison’s Concrete and Wild Carrot is an occasion of beauty. Avison’s poetry is also alive in its sublimity and its humility: ‘wonder, readiness, simplicity’ – the gifts of perception Avison attributes to her Christian faith – imbue every poem in this book with a rare spirit of disorderly love. Margaret Avison is a national treasure. For many decades she has forged a way to write, against the grain, some of the most humane, sweet and profound poetry of our time.”


More poems of hers are online here and here.

I never did search out her work while she was living. Now I wish I could have met her or sat in the audience at one of her readings. But I can still do the next best thing and buy one or several of her books to read and add to my collection. She sounds like someone worth reading - and studying.

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