Pulled from the Pages: The Essential Dorothy Roberts

Anyone who’s ever gone away to school or moved across the country knows the feeling of homesickness, whether it’s the slight, fleeting feeling of nostalgia for the familiar environs of your childhood or the bone-deep longing for the place you once called home. For Dorothy Roberts, I sort of think it was the latter.

The Essential Dorothy Roberts

Dorothy Roberts was born in New Brunswick, and though she spent much of her life living in the United States, she never forgot the beauty and sense of belonging that she felt in her native land. In The Essential Dorothy Roberts, selected by Brian Bartlett, her poetry is unsurprisingly rife with her impressions of the landscape she called home, but most interesting for me is the way in which themes of memory and the passage of time blend together with this preoccupation with the natural world to create a feeling of great fondness and nostalgia. To me it is a very Canadian concern, and it reveals the deep roots we Canadians feel even when we venture abroad.

I find Roberts’ poetry to be of the quietly powerful sort. Her concerns are not overly lofty. You don’t need to keep a dictionary next to you to get the full meaning of her work. Reading this book was a very introspective experience for me, and I hope that you’ll find the same.

Read on for an excerpt that will be sure to pique your interest!


Excerpt from the Book


My sister and I when we were close together
Clear to each other
Used to slide down beneath the river surface
And in a twist of current see the race
Of water break us from our sunny grace.

Wavering, shattered, glimmering each saw
No happy girl she knew
But underwater strangeness, shift and flaw,
Until the bubbles of our laughter drew
Us bursting up to the air.

Then we lay bare
And sure and shapely in each other’s eyes—
We who no more to certainty can rise

But caught submerged in current of the years
See, wavering, each a shape that never clears.


Moon Piece

A piece of the moon sits on a pedestal
and turns around to our gaze as the moon never has
in the blaze of light upon it to make it ours—
this silvery fist-sized portion of the ultimate moon,
a kind of anchor to pull it out of its usual position,
heavy, they say, though you can’t tell with the glass on.

We are now the more ethereal and the moon less so
except that she leaves what we have in our hands and goes on
rolling around in our conception of how she should be
shining profound over the nature of the city
and over the country—we are used to ourselves in her distance,
it is almost as though the fingers had slipped.

The moon still trusts only what is left
and moves about our earth at her due distance
and says she’d rather be visited by a silvery path
she lets down over the fields heavily frosted.

And the piece remains a bit withdrawn in its closeness
a bit frosty and alone on its turning pedestal
a bit sophisticated and lost for the gaze of children.

So each goes differently on its own course
with components more than we knew hitherto, perhaps
a waiting wealth of moon for a cold night.


PortraitSo, what do you think? Adding it to your to-read list yet? If so, you can get your copy here. And don’t forget—if you like this book, consider checking out the rest of the Essential Poets series to add to your collection!


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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.