Not surprisingly, nature is often portrayed as life giving, something to aspire towards, in Marilyn Bowering’s Green. As well as Lorca, PK Page, Nicole Brossard and others she acknowledges, there are hints of both Frost (for instance, “Stopping by woods and hills” (73) is a tiny gem of a poem) and Thoreau to reinforce the American imagist flavour of the collection, as well as a fundamentally Canadian ironic perspective on nature.
“What wouldn’t I give for a life in the woods!” she exclaims (75) and then follows it up by realizing, “Wait a minute, I live in the woods,” and suggests that the jungle is encroaching on her home: “the forest leans against my windows;” “My hair straggles over my neck: my car needs washing.”
In “Coda: Good morning fellow travelers,” Bowering’s strongest, most unforgettable verses evoke the essential goodness and wholeness of the world:
The air of the wood is vivid
with bird song:
life’s work continues–
a making according to form,
square, level, honest,
of good material, and sound. (92)
Nonetheless, life in a woods “deeply hidden from myself” (65) also means the loss of family, lovers, and children, a pervasive absence or destruction that extends into her own body:
My body’s a mess,
I’ve missed everyone I’ve loved,
nonetheless, their love piles up
like a car wreck… (72)
The brutality of nature and perhaps God is evident, though sometimes subtle, and often directed towards women. …[but] Bowering moves towards an acceptance that might be transformative: “Like the destruction of selfhood enables / a real self to come into being”
(29). One of the poet’s prayers is, in fact, that “God help me to bury my ego in flowers, /or in the two rivers that run near my house” (64).
…We are heartened by the discovery Bowering brings to light here: a green optimism that shows the world is ever able to become new and brilliant: “a collision of awakening // that might be a conversation with paradise” (30).
Jo-Anne Elder, St. Thomas University, in Atlantis 34: 1
Green is an appropriate title for Marilyn Bowering’s latest poetic success, as the book is lush with new exploration and growth. Through imagery and language laid bare, she voices earned wisdom with the humble touch of an ingénue. Bowering sorts through death and remembrance with an eye for moving on, while slipping in wisps of life and wit. Her poems march through the personal, political and topical with a direct confidence.
Though it’s one collection, Green is spliced neatly into sections. In “metaphysics,” Bowering digs into miracles and impossibilities with a questioning confidence. In “coats,” she toys with symbolism, exploring all the connotations of outerwear, from seasonality to identity. “Stopping by” impresses with quick shifts and outlandishly sensible assertions. Bowering has a brave-faced joviality in many of these poems, and the courage of her enthusiasm makes her repeated use of the exclamation mark remarkably unobtrusive. With lines clear and coupled, she dissects grief, nature and everything in between with an expert and steadfast hand. These are boy-scout poems, honest in everything.
In a collection so centred on the personal, Bowering’s escape from censorship is admirable. The poems have the flow of brilliant first drafts, as if no line was ever crossed out. As she explores her environment, history and beliefs, Bowering concludes much about her connection to what she has and what she’s lost. She asks herself gaping questions and gives straight answers when she has them (and unapologetic shrugs when she doesn’t). She converses with the reader like a brave acquaintance and she never buries a deep idea between too many heavy layers.
What marks Bowering as a poet in this collection is an ability to deal with all kinds of death with a mature acceptance and a young hope that keeps the dark from being dreary, and the light from looking empty.
Monday Magazine Review of Green