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The Essential Anne Wilkinson by Anne Wilkinson and Ingrid Ruthig  

The Essential Anne Wilkinson gives voice to a highly regarded but oft-forgotten poet who introduced a unique female perspective to the Canadian modernist movement.

Anne Wilkinson’s poetic career emerged during a time of few Canadian poets—and even fewer who were women. The Essential Anne Wilkinson showcases the work of her abbreviated but meaningful career, with poems that range from intellectual and symbolic lyrics, to direct, incisive satire. Infused with a woman’s perspective, Wilkinson’s poems reflect her attempts to come to terms with the restrictive world within which she was born and to find her voice amid the expectations of society, gender and class.

The Essential Poets Series presents the works of Canada’s most celebrated poets in a package that is beautiful, accessible, and affordable. The Essential Anne Wilkinson is the 11th volume in the series.

Table of contents


Counterpoint to Sleep (1951)

Summer Acres
The Up and the Down of It
Theme and Variation
After Reading Kafka
To a Psycho-Neurotic

The Hangman Ties The Holly (1955)

"I was born a boy, and a maiden..."
In June and Gentle Oven
The Red and the Green
Topsoil to the Wind
Little Men Slip into Death
Daily the Drum
Boys and Girls
Poem in Three Parts
To a Sleep Addict
Where Cliffs, Reflected, Cower

Heresies and Other Poems (1946 – 1961, manuscript)

Nature Be Damned
A Sorrow of Stones
Variations On A Theme

From the copy-books (1945 – 61)

Letter to My Children
Notes on Suburbia
Roches Point

About Anne Wilkinson

A Bibliography

Review text

With smartly arranged variety, this is a worthy introduction to Wilkinson’s work.

The Essential Anne Wilkinson is an elegant volume featuring Ingrid Ruthig’s selections of the Canadian modernist poet’s work. Against the odds of gaining notice in a field dominated by men, Wilkinson published two respected poetry collections in her lifetime after age forty. Her work deserves a second look for its coiled energy and biting, elemental imagery.

Ruthig gathers signature poems from Counterpoint to Sleep, The Hangman Ties the Holly, and Wilkinson’s manuscripts. The poems span from 1945 to 1961, and subjects include lakeside settings, thoughts on reading Kafka, family, suburbia, the act of writing, and motherhood. Wilkinson enlivens everyday concerns with original perspectives. A talent for strong sounds, apt rhymes, and well-earned conclusions links these poems together.

The choice to meld features of the human body with nature especially resonates. Lines such as "I was a poet then. Boldly I carried my light / Through all the pressure of black water. / My blood was cold with fire for I swam / In the glimmer of a self-ignited lantern" unfold in crisp, controlled scenes that depict powerful emotions.

Other moments expertly braid internal states, such as loss, with external wildness: "My heart is boughed by the cedar / That covers with green limbs the bones of my children." In different poems, a "twig is a nerve," lovers "peel the skin of summer / With their teeth," a speaker finds rosemary to "stitch the leaves / To green hearts on my sleeve; / My new green arteries // Fly streamers [...]." Even when hard realizations define her speakers’ experiences, the poet continually maps the physical world with an attentiveness that suggests prayer. The result is an arresting look at one poet’s consistent vision.

Another intriguing aspect of the poems is the dark sensibility that manifests throughout. The portrayal of womanhood in terms of mystery and the forbidden recurs: "I was witch and I could be / Bird or leaf / Or branch and bark of tree." In "Untitled," "full moons froth with my / And witches’ milk." Sometimes dangerous invitations seep into unexpected poems. In "Lullaby," a gentle opening transforms when the speaker asks, "But if I smother, / Breathe a feather / As a shroud?" Time and time again the poet creates a series of provocative masks; speakers shift almost imperceptibly, their voices confident.

The impression the book leaves is one of painstaking craft. Though a few phrasings turn precious, the majority of the lines remain sharp. With smartly arranged variety, this is a worthy introduction to Wilkinson’s work, and a useful addition to collections on women’s studies as well as modernism.

—Karen Rigby, Foreword Reviews

Review quote

’The strength of the collection is ... in the interplay between its intimate voice and its careful technique, and it rewards a reading that it attentive to both these elements as well. It is a strong addition to the Essential Poets Series and should serve to raise the profile of a Canadian poet who is still too often neglected.’

—Jeremy Luke Hill

Review quote

‘Beautifully contextualized and lovingly presented, this collection of twenty-five poems is a most pleasing way to experience the work of Anne Wilkinson. The carefully selected poems are nerve-like and do indeed very often set the heart to pounding.... One of the measures of success for any selected or ‘essential’ anthology, must be whether the collection has stirred a desire in the reader to seek out more of the work, and this one most certainly does.’

—Shawna Lemay, Canadian Poetries

Review quote

The Essential Anne Wilkinson is for lovers, of both poetry and books. In fact, like almost everything published by Porcupine’s Quill, and especially their Essential series, it’s the kind of book that makes people love books. Beautifully designed and printed, the aesthetic pleasures it offers as an object are aptly matched by the intellectual flourish of the poems selected by Ingrid Ruthig, reminding us of how and why the experience of the book has never been at risk of yielding to the limited dimensionality of the digital. Like the Laurier Poetry Series, the Essential books offer a contextual introduction, a short author bio, and a brief sampling from a poet’s larger oeuvre (here, twenty-five poems) designed to showcase favourites and perhaps whet the appetite for more.’

—Owen Percy, Canadian Literature

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‘The strength of The Essential Anne Wilkinson is its editor’s ability to distil the best examples of Wilkinson’s ludic humour, polished lines, intimate voice, wide-ranging allusion, and ability without sacrificing the reader’s immersion into a mythic, green world that is both rich and strange. Ruthig’s collection is an excellent introduction to the work of a gifted and often forgotten poet, and the fresh take on Wilkinson will, I hope, bring this poet to a wider audience.’

—Melissa Dalgleish, The Bull Calf

Excerpt from book



The poet’s daily chore
Is my long duty;
To keep and cherish my good lens
For love and war
And wasps about the lilies
And mutiny within.

My woman’s eye is weak
And veiled with milk;
My working eye is muscled
With a curious tension,
Stretched and open
As the eyes of children;
Trusting in its vision
Even should it see
The holy holy spirit gambol
Lithe and warm as any animal.

My woman’s iris circles
A blind pupil;
The poet’s eye is crystal,
Polished to accept the negative,
The contradictions in a proof
And the accidental
Candour of the shadows;

The shutter, oiled and smooth
Clicks on the grace of heroes
Or on some bestial act
When lit with radiance
The afterwords the actors speak
Give depths to violence,

Or if the bull is great
And the matador
And the sword
Itself the metaphor.


In my dark room the years
Lie in solution,
Develop film by film.
Slow at first and dim
Their shadows bite
On the fine white pulp of paper.

An early snap of fire
Licking the arms of air
I hold against the light, compare
The details with a prehistoric view
Of land and sea
And cradles of mud that rocked
The wet and sloth of infancy.

A stripe of tiger, curled
And sleeping on the ribs of reason
Prints as clear
As Eve and Adam, pearled
With sweat, staring at an apple core;

And death, in black and white
Or politic in green and Easter film,
Lands on steely points, a dancer
Disciplined to the foolscap stage,
The property of poets
Who command his robes, expose
His moving likeness on the page.


Anne Wilkinson (21 September 1910 – 10 May 1961) was one of Canada’s few female modernist poets writing during the 1940s and 50s. Born into a wealthy family in Toronto, she grew up there and in London, Ontario, and travelled extensively over the course of her private education. She published her first collection of poetry, Counterpoint to Sleep, in 1951 at the age of 40, followed by her second, The Hangman Ties the Holly, in 1955. Though she considered herself an outsider in Canadian poetry circles, Wilkinson was highly regarded by her peers, and contributed greatly to the Canadian writing community, as a poet, the author of two books of prose, and as a founding editor of The Tamarack Review.


Credit: Greg Tjepkema

Ingrid Ruthig, writer, poet, visual artist, and former architect, is the author of This Being (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2016), winner of the League of Canadian Poets 2017 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her work has appeared most recently in Resisting Canada (Véhicule Press, 2019) and Am, Be: The Poetry of Wayne Clifford (Frog Hollow Press, 2018). A 2018 Hawthornden Fellow, she is the editor of several books, including David Helwig: Essays on His Works (Guernica Editions, 2018) and The Essential Anne Wilkinson (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2014). She lives near Toronto with her family.

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 / General

ISBN-13: 9780889843769

Publication Date: 2014-11-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 64

Price: $14.95