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White Linen Remembered

by Marya Fiamengo

The biographical note to Marya Fiamengo’s latest collection describes the West Vancouver writer as “one of Canada’s truly fine woman poets.” On the basis of , I have to agree, though the adjective “woman” is unnecessary: Fiamengo is one of our finest poets, period.

For 40 years Fiamengo has published work of loving lyrical intensity that nevertheless remains grounded in the socio-political realities of her time. But while her commitment to Canadian nationalism, feminism, and socialism (often leavened by an engaging sense of humour) provides a consistent framework for her writing, her seemingly effortless grasp of the musicality of language, combined with her unflinching and sensitive gaze into the essence of our mortality, makes White Linen Remembered a triumph.

These deeply reflective poems move from childhood memories (“Vinka”) to a series of elegies for intimate friends (“Dorothy,” “Dissolving Mists,” “A Bittern in the Snow,” “Circles and Painted Horses”). Most of these friends, including the poet Ralph Gustafson, shared Fiamengo’s unwavering belief in the power of art to heal and sustain the human spirit. In Fiamengo’s case, this belief rises from a fundamental faith in language; her evident love of words gives her poems an auditory quality that puts most of our sound poets to shame:

“Venial in the intrepid/love of porphyry, the lapis/lazuli hues of luxury” (“Cranberry Flats”) “The red/star rides on the tide/elegiac” (“White Linen Remembered”).

When such a gifted poet reaches an advanced age and turns her vision directly on what it means to be human and facing the inevitables of loss, we would be wise to listen. Indeed, to hear Fiamengo’s strong, clear voice as she repeatedly sings of “the perfect beauty/that comes at dark” is to travel a long way towards a kind of essential and rewarding solace.