“Marilyn Bowering’s work has been important to me for years: its questing intelligence, its insistence on the truth of emotion. She is capable of the long look, which sees through time and artifice, to the bottom of the pool.”
—Jan Zwicky, author of Forge and Songs for Relinquishing the Earth
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…. Read [the poems] as an allegory of life itself, however, and they are both powerful and poignant — and indicative of this collection’s reach.
—Barbara Carey, The Toronto Star
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…
—The StarPhoenix and the Montreal Gazette