Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Margaret Avison (1918 - 2007) - Martin

It saddened an otherwise glorious day for me, when I learned that Margaret Avison had died. She is one of Canada’s most-revered poets, and she leaves a significant literary legacy. Why is sadness our first response when someone of deep faith in our Lord and Saviour goes to her reward? In this case it was on July 31st that she died at the age of 89.

Those who have met her will understand when I say, Margaret Avison had a presence. You somehow knew that she is one of the greats, despite her self-deprecating sense of humour. She had a knowing confidence in her work that couldn’t be undermined. It’s true, her poetry presents challenges for the reader, and yet there’s usually a way in. She gained the respect of the literary elite, and yet without apology her poems often express her faith in Christ.

Although I’d read her poems from time to time, my first in-depth exposure was when I bought No Time (1989) which was soon to win the Governor General’s Award — her second Governor General’s Award. I was later able to interact with her poetry on a deeper level when I began writing reviews. After writing of her Griffin Prize winning collection Concrete and Wild Carrot for Faith Today, I was thankful to be able to meet her at Write! Toronto in November 2003. A year later I interviewed her at the same event. That interview, perhaps the last she ever gave, was adapted for the American journal Image. Since then, I reviewed her final collection, Momentary Dark (2006), for Image as well.

Friends of The Word Guild will be pleased to know that winning the Leslie K. Tarr Award — despite her numerous other honours — was particularly meaningful to Avison, according to her friend and “primary sensitive reader” Joan Eichner.

How might she have seen this change from life to death? She often wrote on the subject. In No Time there’s a cycle of ten poems concerning the death of a friend. In Concrete and Wild Carrot her poem “The Whole Story” looks into the tomb housing the corpse of Christ, before she turns to the glory, the peace and to the “wonder, readiness, simplicity, / given.” Readiness for what?

She concludes a poem in Momentary Dark about her great-great-grandfather,
“My memory is
faulty now and he is
long in the earth, readying for
the final harvest.”

There’s no doubt for those who knew her, or for those who know her work, that she was confident of where she was heading. “Her death was very peaceful,” Joan Eichner told me by e-mail, “and she wanted to be with her Lord”.

We still dwell in the momentary dark, but she has moved on into the light.

D.S. Martin is the author of So The Moon Would Not be Swallowed (Rubicon 2007) which is available through his web site:

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