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Always Now by Margaret Avison  

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. Volume One extends from the uncollected poems to Avison’s translations of Hungarian poems, and includes Winter Sun and The Dumbfounding. Besides the uncollected surprises, two of them dating to high school days and first published in Hermes, Toronto’s Humberside Collegiate literary magazine, there are the loved and familiar early poems, just as fresh now as they were then, from which certain wonderful lines still jump out: ‘Nobody stuffs the world in at your eyes./ The optic heart must venture’; ‘In the mathematics of God/ there are percentages beyond one hundred.’ Margaret Avison’s poems have warmed the hearts and enlarged the thinking of two generations of Canadian readers.

Table of contents

Volume One


From Elsewhere

The Prairie
Open Window
The Butterfly
The Valiant Vacationist
Song but Oblique to ’47
The Iconoclasts
The Local and the Lakefront
The Typographer’s Ornate Symbol at the End of a Chapter or a Story
A Parallels Poem: Hearing
Letter to David Solway re his ‘The Piano in the House in the Woods’
Almost All Bogged Down
A Thief in the Night
Continued Story

Winter Sun

The Apex Animal
All Fools’ Eve
Dispersed Titles
Not the Sweet Cicely of Gerardes Herball
Civility a Bogey or Two Centuries of Canadian Cities
Unbroken Lineage
Butterfly Bones: Sonnet against Sonnets
Jonathan, O Jonathan
Meeting Together of Poles and Latitudes (in Prospect)
The Fallen, Fallen World
Grammarian on a Lakefront Park Bench
Atlantis and the Department Store
The World Still Needs
New Year’s Poem
From a Provincial
November 23
To Professor X, Year Y
The Swimmer’s Moment
Unfinished After-Portrait or Stages of Mourning
The Artist
Mordent for a Melody
Rich Boy’s Birthday through a Window
Our Working Day May Be Menaced
Stray Dog, near Ecully
Rigor Viris
Rondeau Redouble
Voluptuaries and Others
R. I. P.
On the Death of France Darte Scott (Upon the Birth of Twin Sons Who Later Died)
Jael’s Part
A Conversation
The Mirrored Man
Birth Day
A Friend’s Friend
Far Off from University
September Street
The Agnes Cleves Papers

The Dumbfounding

Old ... Young....
Two Mayday Selves
Black-White under Green: May 18, 1965
Riding and Waves
In Time
Until Silenced: To I. A.
The Mourner
Many As Two
July Man
Psalm 19
A Story
The Store Seeds
A Child: Marginalia on an Epigraph
The Absorbed
For Tinkers Who Travel on Foot
The Earth That Falls Away
Miniature Biography of One of My Father’s Friends
Who Died a Generation Ago
In Truth
... Person or A Hymn on and to the Holy Ghost
Five Breaks
The Word
The Dumbfounding
Searching and Sounding
A Prayer Answered by Prayer
For Dr. and Mrs. Dresser
The Christian’s Year in Miniature
Report from the Pedestrians’ Outpost
A Sad Song
Lonely Lover
Janitor Working on Threshold
Canadian / Inverted
Walking Behind, en Route, in Morning, in December
Hot June
Natural / Unnatural
In a Season of Unemployment
Simon: finis
Christmas: Anticipation
And Around
A Nameless One
Urban Tree


Ode to Bartok
Of Tyranny, in One Breath
Farm, at Dark, on the Great Plain

Review quote

‘It is instructive again to see in the arc of Avison’s career how we move from the crystal clarities of wintry seeing to spiritual revelations beyond seasonal flux, from a plain winter sun to an otherworldly dumbfounding. If it is true that major poets revolve around a single idea as around a multi-faceted crystal, then Avison would qualify for the honour. Consider a survey of recurrent motifs in this volume: snow, sun, magic, the inner eye, the shielded interior space, and particularly, I noticed this time through, the waterdrop. These latter two recall our hortus conclusus theme, the minutest of gardens, the mind’s eye as a clear, globed, magnifying refraction of light that contains all space within it (look closely at the beautiful colour photograph and you’ll get the idea).’

—Jeffery Donaldson, UofT Quarterly

Review quote

‘The design and layout of this work is up to the usual high standards of The Porcupine’s Quill. Margaret Avison deserves no less for her beautifully crafted and profound work. Her artistic integrity and spiritual depth are everywhere apparent in her poetry.’

—Bert Almon, Canadian Book Review Annual

Review quote

‘The poetic genius of cold weather is Toronto poet Margaret Avison, whose work hooked me in my thirties and has never let go. Poems like Snow, New Year’s Poem, Thaw, Banff and Death, which first appeared in Winter Sun (University of Toronto Press, 1960), have now happily reappeared in Always Now, the first volume of her collected poems (Porcupine’s Quill, 2003).

‘Avison gives us the full array of physical and spiritual possibilities from lock-up to thaw. The feast and famine that ruled John Hornby’s life has echoes in her poetry, where tiny physical phenomena are seen with the ‘‘hallucinatory intensity’’ of a last meal. On a window ledge lies a lost pearl in ‘‘the suety, snow-luminous plainness / of morning.’’ At the end of the day, under a snow-laden sky, ‘‘Madame night’’ appears in ‘‘prune and mottled plumes.’’

‘George Whalley wrote about the unknowable in human and natural form, Margaret Avison writes about the unknowable in all its forms. In her poetry, weather is a portent, a visible sign of the invisible, evidence of God made flesh. Our lives, she suggests, are held by the weather, penetrated by ‘‘precious terrible coldness’’ and enlarged by looking upward. When ‘‘the soul’s gates’’ unseal, snow turns into ‘‘asters of tumbled quietness.’’ ’

—Elizabeth Hay, Globe & Mail

Review quote

‘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

Review quote

‘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

Author comments

‘Collected Poems sounds like a ‘‘closing of the books,’’ of my books, after a lifetime of writing, although nobody holds me to that. The process has been good: odds and ends tided up and the lot put in order. Re-reading has helped put all these years’ output into perspective for me. If any reader wonders about certain trees or their place in this forest, my survey may serve him as well.’

-- from Margaret Avison’s ‘Foreword’

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.

Unpublished endorsement

‘At the heart of Avison’s work lies the pull between earth and ether, between the mundane moment and the entire sweep of mythical time. She wants both to give her subjects their unvarnished individuality and to see them in the light of higher truth. For Avison is perpetually concerned with accountina for others. This is the ethical imperative that informs all of her work. Perhaps the urge comes across strongest in the opening poem of Winter Sun, a tour-de-force called ‘‘The Apex Animal’’. The mysterious horse of the title, looking down from ‘‘a patch of altitude’’, acts as a kind of spiritual intermediary in the poem, a nearly angelic guardian. At the odd yet affecting ending, the horse’s gaze follows an anonymous clerk through the administrative wing of his office building moments after, we gather, the clerk has attempted suicide.’

—Peter Campion

Unpublished endorsement

‘Margaret Avison is the best poet we have had.... ‘‘Searching and Sounding’’ and the poem that rhymes with it, ‘‘The Dumbfounding,’’ are not likely to be bettered by any work that any poet will ever publish.’

—Poet Laureate George Bowering

Unpublished endorsement

‘[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.’

—Stephen Scobie


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.

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.

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POETRY / Canadian

POETRY / Inspirational & Religious

ISBN-13: 9780889842625

Publication Date: 2003-05-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 256

Price: $19.95