canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Poems for the Luminous World
by Pamela Paige Porter
Frog Hollow Press, 2002

Moving Small Stones
Edited by Patrick Lane
Frog Hollow Press, 2003

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

In Poems for the Luminous World, Pamela Paige Porter writes for a luminous world but only occasionally does she illuminate it herself. There are brief flashes of light in the twelve poems presented in this chapbook and clear signs of promise as in 'Plaza de Mayo' which stands out for its description of the women who wait, trying to get answers about los desparacidos:

In walking so long
the grandmothers have become

the turning world -

their shoes slap rhythmic as waves;

they set islands in memory's far sea.

Light is certainly used in the poems, as candle, moon, sun, or traffic lights, but the images are incidental to the poems, as in 'Telepathic' where the focus is a girl's perspective of a horse, but the closing lines return to light: 'the sky rose,/ balancing the floating moon'. In 'How to love the fractured world': 'you peer through/ onto a swirl of light' where it is again the person who is important, not the light.

Porter's use of imagery is confusing. In 'Early spring in a dark time' she speaks of the 'pacifier resting upon your chest, you sleep, another exhausted tourist./ Those mares that all your life/ ...Wounded from birth,/ your are victim,/ you are priest.' There is no indication of the kind of wound and no connection made between the child, tourism and priesthood. The child is understood only from the dedication to be one-year-old or less and the dark time of the title revealed in a footnote to be 'missles (sic) ...buried in underground silos'.

In 'Uprising', the boy '...flashes sudden/ as traffic lights the soles of his feet/ passing in the sand after his cows' correct grammar is sadly lacking.

It is also unfortunate that Porter has renamed Fish on Fifth in Sidney B.C., calling it the Fish House, where 'Tulips clink like wine goblets/ in the wind and ...we wait for fish,/ battered and fried. ... guppies/ litter the blender.' Tulips may look like wine goblets but they are unlikely to clink. And, while one understands that Porter refers to the batter in which the fish is dipped before frying, one hopes the fish weren't beaten to a pulp, as the guppies apparently expired in the blender.

There are moments of insight in the book, but overall Porter would be wise to spend time with a writing group or an editor.


There are twelve poems and twelve voices in Moving Small Stones, edited by Patrick Lane, yet there is an underlying thematic unity which provides real pleasure.

'Nothing prepares you' like the first poem, with this title, for the depth of vision and cohesive insights given: 'not your books,/ not your laundry,/ not your life.' From Robert Gore's poem, the first, to Rob Zimmerman's 'A hand rolled Cigarette' at the end, the anthology intertwines birds, people, death, and the ordinariness of life with controlled rhythms and explored metaphors. The title, from Patrick Lane's poem 'The Mallard Thought', is linked to Kope's 'Forecast' by small stones.

While for Robert Gore the birds are distant, flying north, for Eve Joseph they have to be heard 'If one were to interpret the language of birds.' The reader must explore the place of birds - high up; the freedom of birds to the sky; and understand the 'one true song' they sing. Beth Kope says that, in order to forecast the future, we must 'Ask the geese./ Count the number of crows in the sky./ ' While Kit Pepper-Smith 'looks to birds, in the beginning/ cormorants …' and then geese, heron, swans and gulls to explore 'Variations on Sleep'.

Life and death are the themes of McIntosh's 'When his Body Became the Poem I Always Wanted to Write': '… how little time there was/ to say goodbye, so little that now he can't leave the bedside/ … - my husband's face a blank page/…'. Isa Milman, in 'For Enrica', writes 'After the living have let her go,/ I will remember how we greeted each other/ with poems,…' and this is picked up by Wendy Morton in her poem, 'After the living let me go,/ my father, Robert, …./ took me for a stranger./ I showed him my poems,/ …how sometimes I spoke in his voice'. Images move like pieces on a mobile in the light shone on them by the poets, and life becomes a little clearer.

No less that five poems repeat a line as first and final line of each stanza, which can be an irritant until seen as a motif in the chapbook. Beyond that, the continuity discovered by each poet's use of related images, as with birds, makes for fascination and interest. An illuminating chapbook.

JOANNA M. WESTON, M.A., married, 3 sons, two cats. A chocaholic writer. Has had poetry published in anthologies and journals, and a middle-reader THE WILLOW TREE GIRL online and in print, 2003. 

THE WILLOW-TREE GIRL for ages 7-11 







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