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Poetic Voices of the Maritimes: A Selection of Contemporary Poetry

by Allison Mitcham,Theresia Quigley, eds.

With the Canadian penchant for regionalism, organizing the national literature in terms of geography is a natural impulse. The sense of place is such an important aspect of this country’s writing that location often provides the easiest thematic package for editors of anthologies like Poetic Voices of the Maritimes.
Though the collection is not definitive, and therefore not suitable for in-depth study of contemporary East Coast poetry, it is a fine introductory read. The poets included here have been chosen for their connection to the region – based on residence, birth, or influence – and the selections reflect this identification with place. Fortunately, care has been taken to provide enough variety of experience to prevent the book from turning into 250 pages of fog, sea, forest, and pasture.
The region’s best-known poets – Milton Acorn, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Brewster, Fred Cogswell, Alden Nowlan, and Kay Smith – are given good play, alongside other established names like Lesley Choyce and Eric Tretheway. Work by George Elliott Clarke and Maxine Tynes – who write about the experience of black Nova Scotians – is included, although, inexplicably, only two pages are provided for Clarke’s intensely good poetry. Micmac poet Rita Joe provides a strong native voice.
The balance of the collection is made up of lesser-known poets, including generous samplings of the editors’ own work. All of the poetry is technically sound and topically involving. The textile imagery of the Nova Scotian fabric artist and poet Janet Pope, for example, is particularly fresh and interesting. Strangely, though, most of the poets represented here have New Brunswick connections, while writers of equivalent stature from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were omitted.
As well, the brief biographical sketches of the poets are uneven, and the bibliographical and critical references are spotty, making Poetic Voices less useful as a reference. And the arrangement of the poets in alphabetical order, while democratic, denies the reader the opportunity to approach the region’s poetry from a chronological or thematic perspective without a lot of flipping around.