What is Long Past Occurs in Full Light

Marilyn Bowering’s new book of poems, What Is Long Past Occurs in Full Light, weaves beautiful meditations on absences and loss with personal, local and cultural memories that reveal the continuity of the past and present. The poems flourish with transformative interconnections between literature, ecology, civilization, history and personal critique. A story of acknowledgment and restoration is being told from various points of view and identities, including that of a missing dog, vanished figures from a Victoria childhood, and authors such as Gogol, Akhmatova and a Gaelic bard in their roles as inhabitants of the museum of the poet’s mind. In line with Marilyn Bowering’s interest in culture as ecology, the poems are also acts of propitiation from the present to the natural world and the old voices that form the mythopoeic connections between people and their surroundings.

Marilyn Bowering
Poetry (Mother Tongue Publishing Inc.)
Beautiful meditations on absences and cultural memories
978-1-89694972-7 | 110 pages | $19.95




The poems in What is Long Past Occurs in Full Light: New Poetry, Marilyn Bowering’s most recent poetry collection, wrap with care around the tender pairings of presence and absence, the present and the past. In each of the book’s three parts—“Missing,” “Woof –at the Door – Woof,” and “The Writers’ Museum”—Bowering meditates on a present marked by past relationships, events, and impressions, all the while shifting the contours ever so slightly under the full light of her recollecting.

The book begins with “Night Heat,” a three-part poem that grounds seemingly everyday events in a gravity of language. Consider the proximity described in the gorgeous lines “… your body so beautifully planed and scarred / I have to stay to count its blessings, …” (2) juxtaposed against the shadow of absence: “I think the rain woke me: / no letter from you, …” (3) and, “I hear your voice in the night because you are far away. …” (4) The play between presence and absence that so marks this poem sets the stage for memoir—and indeed, Bowering goes on to relate the sensory and complicated contexts of lived experience. In “All Harm Played into the Earth,” she writes about a place she can only recall through fragmented memories and associated adult gossip, a transitory place. She writes: “I cannot return to the grasslands with their giant insect derricks / as I first saw them. That place is overgrown with wild strawberries / and weeds, the rigs rusted and mute. …, (9) and “Then the grasslands continued their journey, / the car stopping to change a tyre, the passengers needing / a drink. …” (9) This folding over of time/place, so cued to connections and to the essential moments that signify a turn, both intensifies and illuminates the life journey at the heart of this collection.

In section two, “Woof–at the Door–Woof,” we came to know the gentle border collie Tessa, the family’s longtime canine companion. Reflecting on their long relationship and the emptiness that settles in after her death, Bowering writes: “Is it you, your presence pooled in the house / like water? / Is it the trees in the moonlight, and the footfalls apparent / in their
shadows? / Is it the sea at the foot of the road, at ease / in deep shelter? / I want it to be you, …” (52) These lovely poems, so tinged with loss, honour a beloved familiar whose calm affirming presence is deeply missed.

What is Long Past Occurs in Full Light is filled with images that lay out a lifetime linked to places, time, and the people—and animals—who shared each hard or cherished moment. In this sense, it is a very personal book, and lines like “I lay down on the moss, / and listened to all they had to say—/ because nothing could ever extinguish / the art of this green Earth, / as long as I did.” (90) arrive as gifts that draw us into the writerly process at the heart of Bowering’s work. In the final poem, “Basho,” we too are encouraged to attend, reflect, and allow imagination to take us to a place where we might better understand and know ourselves, our world. She writes: “I am with Plato. Nothing less than truth is what’s required. / I am with Basho, ‘Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the wise; / seek what they sought’ … (103)

Marilyn Bowering is a Canadian poet, novelist, playwright and teacher whose work has been awarded the National Magazine Award for Poetry, the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, the Pat Lowther Award for Poetry, and the Ethel Wilson Prize. For further insight into her writing process, read her essay “Out of the Shadows” in Prairie Fire’s Winter 2020-2021 issue (41.4).

By Jody Baltessen 



Can there be any doubt that Marilyn Bowering is one of British Columbia’s, no Canada’s, strongest poetic voices? Her latest collection — entitled What is Long Past Occurs in Full Light — is full of her emblematic chiaroscuro. So much texture, so much subtlety, so much insight. To read P.W.’s review of What is Long Past in The Ormsby Review, click here

By P.W. Bridgman


A new collection from Marilyn Bowering, especially in the exquisite and respectful presentation the publisher has provided, is cause for quiet gratitude. “Quiet,” simply because the work needs no overblown hyperbole to get our attention or demand our respect. Readers in the know will recognize Bowering for the exceptionally gifted poet she is, with at least 17 previous collections dating back to the early 1970s, as well as numerous novels and dramatic works.

From the opening stanza of the first poem we’re drawn into an atmospheric, delicately observed scene: “The windows open to the night heat, / a mat of moths powdering      the screen, / the heat an extra body / intimate between us” (“Night Heat”). There is, throughout the book, an almost magical quality, suggested by how delicately—almost transiently—objects, both man-made and natural, inhabit their places. Bowering’s masterful touch can conjure a sort of surface tension that hints at movements that may  or may not have happened yet. In “After,” for example, a clock “remains on the counter,” suggesting it could move if it chose to. Elsewhere, milk bottles on the porch “prepare themselves,” a wedding dress “irons itself,” and a trestle “braces the canyon.” We believe it all, ready for wondrous possibilities.

A gentle nostalgia is at play in this collection. The poet reaches back to memories of childhood, family, friends, and domestic life as well as worldly travels. Some poems may feel a bit inclusive in their references, but an extensive “Notes” section at the book’s end is helpful. I would recommend reading through without notes the first time, just for the sweet wash of language and mystery, but subsequent readings would be enhanced armed with the background and the glimpses into the poems’ geneses the notes provide.

Images from the natural world feature prominently, especially otters. These can seem almost human, as in “Otters,” where the poet segues from mention of an early boyfriend to “[B]y then I was at ease with these animals, although they are not / to be taken         for granted.” Swans and other birds also appear as touchstones, whether in local or distant locales. Most crucially, the current environmental emergency is at the forefront, although never in a strident or hysterical way. “The Trees and Forests” is perhaps the most forthright manifesto—a gentle, yet urgent, litany of all the earth has given us and all we stand to lose. “Your arms are full, you must set these gatherings aside / if you are to know the nature of your good fortune, / and what it is you owe.”

Central to the book is the illustrated section “Woof—at the Door—Woof,” a heartbreaking yet life-affirming paean to the author’s departed border collie, Tessa, whose essence     is tenderly, vividly recalled in 16 poems and an afterword. I defy anyone, pet owner     or not, to read this section without tears. But finally, what makes this collection so remarkable is the proof it provides that poetry can make a difference. It can shine full light on things past, present, and yet to be. It is a gathering place. From the beautiful “The Writers’ Museum” these words: “Imagine a door in the writers’ museum / through which everything lost / is recovered.”

Rhonda Batchelor