Featured Poetry: The Essential Travis Lane

I have a genuine admiration for the rogues out there—those who don’t necessarily ‘play the game’ but who make an impression on their own terms. For me, this describes M. Travis Lane to a T. Despite living and working far away from the cultural centre that is Toronto, an eschewing many of the usual paths to success (teaching, editing, grants), Lane has managed not only to build an appreciative though modest audience for her own work, but also to serve the reading and writing community through her astute book reviews.

Shane Neilson has compiled a number of Lane’s early, short poems in The Essential Travis Lane, a handy little volume that also includes a critical introduction and a biography of this under-appreciated poet.

While enjoying this volume, I got the sense that Lane writes to please herself, not just to appeal to whatever poetic themes and trends that happen to be du jour. But it is this quality that adds an appealing honesty and a uniqueness to her work. She’s not necessarily writing as a means to an end—as a commentary, a lesson, an experiment or what have you. The power of her writing is in the precision of the imagery, the ability to play with words and sounds. It’s the language that I appreciate, the gentle lapping of the lines as Lane puzzles through life’s big questions.

If you’re curious about Lane’s work, here are two examples of her wonderful poetry.


This Being the Case

One can not pray for a free thing;
that a gull land twice on the fire-struck tree—
for the different voice, the tongue of rocks,
of a sea spume titans like the motes
a white gull shakes
from brightness—

that more than once only the sun-voice,
the ocean wrapped in a yellow stare,
or, out of the kiln red island,
doom constant—speak—

Free goes the gull, in many tongues ascending,
and leaves me sidewalk foolish, dumb
as yesterday, tomorrow, and next month—
a pole stuck in the ground, dry buoy—
with no such thing
as tongue.


A Stone from Fundy

You, dear, and I,
and the tide shall flow
through the Fundy gate
with the bladder-wrack.
On Hopewell’s strand
the moon shape’s still
what it always is.
I scrawl
moon shapes in quartz,
in shale—long oblongs,
eccentric fish-lines in pale slate
(I and the tide together).
Can only the moon
with her white, salt gaze
myopic with steam, with bladder-wrack,
decipher? The soft waves suck.
The days
slip by. Hold out your hand.
is a small


About the Author

MILLICENT ELIZABETH TRAVIS LANE was born in 1934 in San Antonio, Texas. She moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick in 1960 where to this day she holds the title of Honourary Research Associate for the Department of English at UNB. In addition to having published fourteen books of poetry, Lane’s poetry reviews have appeared in a number of publications over the last fifty years, most notably in The Fiddlehead. Her work has been awarded the Atlantic Poetry Prize, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and the Bliss Carman Award.


About the Editor

SHANE NEILSON is a family physician who published his first trade book of poems, Meniscus, with Biblioasis in 2009. In addition to several collections of poetry, Neilson has published in the genre of memoir, short fiction, biography and literary criticism, and his work has been widely anthologized in poetry, nonfiction, and medical journals. In his medical doctor and writing practices, he focuses on mental illness, pain, and disability. He currently acts as editor for Victoria, B.C. publisher Frog Hollow Press. Though he currently lives in Oakville, Ontario, all of his work is rooted in rural New Brunswick.


portraitIf you haven’t already, I definitely recommend you check out Shane Neilson’s work. If On Shaving Off His Face doesn’t hit you with the feels, I don’t know what will!


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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.