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Soul Mouth Reviews

The Toronto Star

B.C. writer Marilyn Bowering is perhaps better known for her fiction (her novels have been nominated for the Governor General’s Award and the Orange Prize, among others) but she has also published more than a dozen collections of poetry.
The most striking aspect of Soul Mouth is Bowering’s ability to shift seamlessly from a scene of the commonplace into a mystical realm. Thus, a poem depicting a family picnic features exact, homey details (“from the trunk of one of the Chevys, the cousins brought out/rope, and we ran to take sides”). But the tug-of-war takes a mythic turn: “the moon, the planets, the stars doubled in water/and pulled hard too,/through the uncoiling sea,/the dead along with us,/in their too tight good clothes.”
The continuity between the living and the dead comes up repeatedly, not only with respect to loved ones the poet has lost but also, in a collective sense, our connection to antiquity (elements of fairy tales, folklore and mythology echo throughout the collection). Doors are another recurring motif, perhaps as a symbolic reminder that the ordinary can serve as a threshold onto another reality.
There’s a crisp, luminous clarity to Bowering’s language, whether she’s describing birds “small as pull knobs” or a dreamlike vision in which desire takes the shape of a fish, “like a small cache of silver.” But there’s also depth to that beguiling simplicity. On one level, the following lines describe setting off on a journey. Read them as an allegory of life itself, however, and they are both powerful and poignant — and indicative of this collection’s reach:
I must put on my shoes,
pick up the bag by my side;
I must remember who I have to meet
and when; time is passing.

Toronto writer Barbara Carey is The Star’s poetry columnist.


Soul Mouth a journey of body and soul
The StarPhoenix April 27, 2013 also in the Montreal Gazette April 27

Sooke, B.C., poet Marilyn Bowering’s latest collection, Soul Mouth, is divided into three sections: Body, Soul, and The Storytellers on their Carpets. The last unit contains the collection’s title poem and also many references to the soul (and sole).
The Body section is full of numerous lovely little poems about both the life of a young girl – a happy girl by the sounds of Banff, 1953, and the wonderful Tug – and that troubled, transitional life of a teenager and young woman.
In Connection she begins, “I was never a dealer -,” but ends the poem staring at some pills and hating her boyfriend. And in Hotel, “[t]hat was the year of hotel rooms,/ bad judgment, some salesman and a model contract/ in Prince George.” Uh oh.
She begins the Soul section, “I have to be still and the water/ has to be quiet,” before speaking of the gentleness of horses, the Greek poets and their “tinkling unattainable light,” little birds in the trees – “these small marriages … the restless hearts/ that survive,” and being open, as she says in Satin Flower, “open to whatever comes.” But it’s in the Storyteller section that she really strikes sparks.
In Soul Mouth a child bargains with imagined death or evil: “What can they want/ with my small soul?” When the soul mouth breathes in, “loveliness goes” and when it breathes out, “Blossoms/ arc the walls.” And where does the poetic voice exist in this balancing act? “I rest in the pause between -/ never awake, never asleep.”
In Prayer Room, “In the night, when the sky holes open/ and flights of crows dismember the planets -/ when everyone is gone -/ I know what death is.” But she also knows her “dear ones … want my soul to be saved.”
Then, amid talking of Scheherazade the storyteller, Plato the teacher, and the precursor to Adam who had to name all the creatures in the “Time of Reptiles,” Bowering makes frequent mention of the futility of poetry. In Space Talk she asks, “Is it poetry to talk/ when nobody listens?” and in How many times, King Midas, remarks, “Everyone knows a poem has no intrinsic worth.” But, in Why are you here, my students? she urges them to throw themselves into creation so strongly that they can ignore the deprivations of the body as they make art. But understand, she closes in another poem, “We are safe, dear ones, as long as we know/ the world is an experiment/ in which no one is sure of the outcome.”
What a marvellous journey of both body and soul is this book. … Bowering’s soul bounces across millenniums….

To All Appearances A Lady Reviews

Audacious and very impressive. It is the struggle for self-knowledge and moral awareness that makes this a remarkable book. Alan Massie, The Scotsman Marilyn Bowering has written a whale of a yarn! She takes history, adventure, mystery and romance and fuses all of the elements into a fascinating whole. Chattanooga Times A  many layered and […]

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Visible Worlds Reviews

  “…a vast, sprawling feast of a book.  You finish reading it glad of the experience, aware that some of the ingredients were fabulous, even astonishing…dazzling language and poetic imagery…abound.”  The New York Times Book Review  “…vividly imagined….. Bowering maps the overlapping territory between science and spiritualism, love and madness.  Her family melodrama, reminiscent of John […]

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Cat’s Pilgrimmage Reviews

“A thing of beauty, a rich act of the imagination that alternately dazzles, puzzles and thrills. To read it, her first novel since her Orange Prize shortlisted bestseller Visible Worlds, is to be reminded both of the sheer power of fiction, and of just how pedestrian so much of contemporary fiction has become. When was […]

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“Green, is a beautiful book! The sensory affection of Marilyn Bowering’s words make each poem glow. The intelligence of heart, mind and body are merged throughout with emotional depth and a rare meditative sensibility. This is wise, tenderly cadenced work, exquisitely drawn and evocative. The linguistic grace of these poems simmers with the authority of […]

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What it Takes to be Human – Reviews

“…The material is dramatic and at times lyrical, the story rich and strange. Sandy is a kind of Everyman… his fine intelligence beaten down in the name of Christian obedience. The irony of his incarceration at a time of global bloodshed is abundantly clear… this is no ordinary thriller… and the euphoria and optimism of […]

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