Always Now by Margaret Avison
‘These are poems steeped in the Bible, but always imbued with genuine emotion and insight into contemporary life and without a tinge of self-righteousness.’
Always Now: Collected Poems of Margaret Avison, encompasses in three volumes all of the published books, from Winter Sun (1960) to Concrete and Wild Carrot (2002), and is framed by a gathering of uncollected and new poems respectively. When complete, Always Now will present all of the poems, up to 2002, that Margaret Avison wishes to preserve. sunblue and No Time, the two books collected here, are growth rings; the poems are rings within rings of reflection on the creation and the Creator. In these poems, Margaret Avison’s faith, now constant, is dynamic, challenging her as well as her reader (‘from the namby-pams / of the cloaking faith I wear / deliver me’).
2005—Globe Top 100,
‘From the serene, leaf-fringed branch on its cover, Always Now may not seem like a book that provides a seismic shock to expectations. But the surprise of reading Margaret Avison’s poetry is, in large part, predicated on the extent to which we have underestimated it. Awarding her poems with canonical respectability has allowed us to tune out everything that is disquieting about them.
‘Today, those untapped revolutionary properties wait like the insides of a shaken bottle of bubbly. So while you may appreciate her as the doyenne of our poetic past, Margaret Avison, at the age of 96, represents nothing less than the future of Canadian poetry: a future sympathetic to originality and the quirks of the individual imagination; a future sympathetic to intellect and vocabulary’s rich vocal palette.’
—Carmine Starnino, Globe & Mail
‘Margaret Avison is the best poet we have had.... ‘‘Searching and Sounding’’ and the poem that rimes with it, ‘‘The Dumbfounding,’’ are not likely to be bettered by any work that any poet will ever publish.’
—Poet Laureate George Bowering
‘It is also hard to contest Avison’s ability to find great poems while searching through the demands of everyday life. [...] Margaret Avison rules now -- and always.’
—James Reaney, London Free Press
‘It is Avison’s unique accomplishment to write, in and for a secular world, about faith and God, with intelligence and without becoming either sentimental or preachy. Her faith is foundational to her writing. In speaking about the forces that shaped her earlier writing, she relates how she resisted commitment to Christianity because she feared it would mean an end to writing poetry. As it turned out, ‘‘new surges of vitality came with new Christian faith, and poetry lost its status as my first priority’’.’
—Sarah Klassen, Prairie Fire
‘Margaret Avison is a national treasure. For many decades she has forged a way to write, against the grain, some of the most humane, sweet and profound poetry of our time.’
—Griffin Prize Judges’ Citation
‘Elements of play and whole-hearted response to the natural world for me remained a constant thread throughout. In time the mood tilted towards a conviction that an ultimate purpose prevailed, and is good. Working out the theological implications of that faith conviction made the final quarter of No Time more memoir than poetry, I suspect.’
-- from Margaret Avison’s foreword to Always Now, Volume One.
Description for reader
The three volumes of Always Now contain all of Margaret Avison’s published books of poetry. The author has removed a very few poems: ‘Public Address’ (from Winter Sun), ‘The Two Selves’ and ‘In Eporphyrial Harness’ (from The Dumbfounding), ‘Highway in April’, ‘The Evader’s Meditation’, and ‘Until Christmas’ (from sunblue), ‘Living the Shadow’, ‘Insomnia’ and ‘Beginning Praise’ (from No Time), ‘Having Stopped Smoking’ and ‘Point of Entry’ (from Selected Poems). The opening section of volume one, ‘From Elsewhere’, is arranged according to date of publication, from 1932 to 1991, the date of Selected Poems. ‘From Elsewhere’ includes the ‘Uncollected’ and ‘New Poems’ of that book, except for the two noted above and ‘The Butterfly’, which is here in its original form. All of the poems in Always Now having been considered and reconsidered, and small corrections having been made, the book contains definitively all of the published poems up to 2002 that Margaret Avison wishes to preserve.
‘However long it may take for their work to gain recognition, Canadian poets seem to be doing land office business these days. The signs keep coming in over the wires. The Griffin Prize for Poetry, both more generous and more responsible than any comparable award in America, has started to generate real excitement. Avison’s contemporary P.K. Page has just published an impressive selection of her poems. Then there are those, like Michael Ondatjee and Anne Carson, who are already widely read outside of Canada. You also have southern transplants, poets like Robert Bringhurst and A.F. Moritz, whose strong recent work deserves attention. But the best writing has never followed trends, and whatever momentum Canadian poetry may have right now, the real significance lies in the solitary pleasure of reading the verse itself. With her technical deftness, her ethical commitment, and her meditative intensity, Margaret Avison offers as deep a pleasure as any poet now writing. Recognition will surely gather around this work. But serious readers don’t have to wait for the anthologists.’
‘[Avison] is both abstract and concrete; she combines metaphysical speculation with acute observation; she sees things in their everyday detail and also in the context of eternity. She works at and teases the language, like a tangled skein of wool, to render these paradoxes in all the complexity of their ramifications.’
One of Canada’s most respected poets, Margaret Avison was born in Galt, Ontario, lived in Western Canada in her childhood, and then in Toronto. In a productive career that stretched back to the 1940s, she produced seven books of poems, including her first collection, Winter Sun (1960), which she assembled in Chicago while she was there on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and which won the Governor General’s Award. No Time (Lancelot Press), a work that focussed on her interest in spiritual discovery and moral and religious values, also won the Governor General’s Award for 1990. Avison’s published poetry up to 2002 was gathered into Always Now: the Collected Poems (Porcupine’s Quill, 2003), including Concrete and Wild Carrot which won the 2003 Griffin Prize. Her most recent book, Listening, Last Poems, was published in 2009 by McClelland & Stewart.
Margaret Avison was the recipient of many awards including the Order of Canada and three honorary doctorates.