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The Essential Travis Lane by Travis Lane and Shane Neilson  

The Essential Travis Lane presents a selection of poems by a Canadian poet who combines exquisite observations of the natural world with profound thoughts about time and mortality.

Inspired by nature, science, topics in the news, art and music, New Brunswick poet M. Travis Lane is prolific yet eschews the spotlight. She has won the Atlantic Poetry Prize, the Alden Nowlan Prize for Excellence and the Banff Centre Bliss Carmen Poetry Award, among a host of others. The Essential Travis Lane celebrates her lilting, insightful work by bringing to the fore a selection of her shorter poems—many of them out of print—that demonstrate her signature clear-eyed perceptiveness and rhythmic formal technique. These poems are fine examples of her linguistic mastery, as well as the wisdom and heart that characterize her voice.

The Essential Poets Series presents the works of Canada’s most celebrated poets in a package that is beautiful, accessible and affordable. The Essential Travis Lane is the 13th volume in the series.


2016—ForeWord IndieFab Book of the Year Award,

Table of contents

  • Foreword
  • An Inch Or So Of Garden
    • A Dream for Margaret
    • The Master Builder
    • Introduction to Caribou City
  • Poems 1968-1972
    • Pleasant Things
    • This Being the Case
    • Spring Break-up
    • The Hayman
    • The Statue
    • Plain Stars
    • The Song of Lot’s Wife
    • What Moves is Held
    • At Night Up Here The Road is Different
    • Mirrorings
    • I’ve Been to My Sweetheart’s
    • The Grindstone
    • Astronomical
    • Spring Sours
    • A Stone From Fundy
  • Divinations and Shorter Poems 1973-1978
    • The Grand Mirrors at Versailles
    • Matins
    • Last Picnic
    • That Eye
    • Colonial
    • The Healed Child
    • Ready To Sleep
    • Sleeping Children
  • Reckonings Poems 1979-85
    • "Only Connect"
    • Your Other Word
    • Six Poems Looking at a Sculpture By Ulker Ozerdem
  • About M. Travis Lane
  • Travis Lane: A Bibliography

Review text

A sustained voice of unapologetic intellect holds this book of poetry together.

The Essential Travis Lane features selections from the work of an American-born Canadian poet whose talent has remained—according to fellow poet and literary critic Shane Neilson—underappreciated, despite her fifteen published collections and later placement on the shortlist for the Governor General’s Award for poetry. Neilson gathers brief, out-of-print poems from Lane’s early books, published between 1969 and 1988, that evince a refined ecopoetics alongside spiritual concerns.

Far from idyllic, these poems layer observations of mystery, damaged beauty, and seasonal change with darkness. In Lane’s vision, animal imagery contains the potency of omens. A bird’s bones hang ‘like a ruined leaf,’ while a ‘crows’ wheel’ flying overhead brings rain. In a later poem, ravens stand on a shore ‘like black chess.’ A porcupine ‘records the bones.’ Water reveals human impact, from rivers that are ‘greasy’ to a ‘chemical marsh’ that is inhospitable. Austerity reigns on ‘a beach / rubbed clear of diamonds,’ with ‘frost / cracking the gravestones,’ building a portrait of the environment that is at once unforgiving and filled with cold brilliancy. At their best, these poems reveal the complex drama between a wild earth and its inhabitants, folding history and memory into meticulous scenes.

Some language has less edge. Phrases such as ‘stairs of marble moonlight’ and silent contemplations, including one of children, whose bodies are illuminated by a street light that ‘angels them / with sleep,’ reveal a painterly approach. Read as the beginning of a larger body of work, however, these moments underscore the poet’s willingness to risk the romantic, descriptive turn. When Lane walks the line between graceful and wrought, sheer sonic pleasure often wins out: ‘The pale sea quakes / in the lime-belled snares’ is especially memorable for its placement of ‘quakes’ to disrupt the smoothness of the image.

Whether writing on subjects as luxurious as "The Grand Mirrors at Versailles" or as intimate as a single stone, classical biblical figures, or rural memories, a sustained voice of unapologetic intellect holds the work together. It is this quality, more than any specific artistic mode, that distinguishes The Essential Travis Lane. Neilson considers the poet as an outsider in Canadian letters; it may well be the freedom from expectation that has lent these pieces an original, vibrant stance.

—Karen Rigby, Foreword Reviews

Review quote

‘From the outset Lane’s verse is musical, sensitive, and difficult. She has never adapted the kind of open and forceful personas so evident in the work of Alden Nowlan, Al Purdy, Susan Musgrave, and Margaret Atwood. Such reserve, such apparent inaccessibility, has cost her a wide readership. One might argue that many excellent poets from the Maritimes have been ignored in the broad national context, but even in that company, Lane’s brilliance has tended to be undervalued. If her voice is sometimes distant and even cryptic, her determination to efface herself and foreground the language, the music, and the imagery of her work, means that readers are given an unusally wide scope to move and interpret. Shane Neilson and Porcupine’s Quill are to be congratulated for coming as close as they have to reproducing what might be the essence of Lane’s work.’

—David Creelman, Canadian Poetry

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‘. . . the most successful writer of the long poems in the Maritimes.’

—Quill and Quire

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‘. . . A poet of vigorous intelligence and close perception, unafraid to say what she sees.

—Jan Zwicky

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‘Travis Lane’s poetry has a sly sense of humour that steps through your mind like a cat; it is sleek and nimble, leaving subtle impressions that remind you that she is deadly serious, and you’d better not forget it.’

—Ross Leckie

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‘. . . her lines are suffused with a music scored by a feeling intellect, one attuned to nature.’

—George Elliott Clarke

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‘M. Travis Lane has existed somewhat apart from the major impulses within Canadian poetry—a positioning which has, in all likelihood, enhanced her poetic vision. She writes like no other poets I know.’

—Jeanette Lynes

Excerpt from book

A Dream for Margaret

Look, there are lights in the lemon trees.
The pale sea quakes
in the lime-bellied snares. The orchard floats.
And see—where the lighted ocean flakes,
the long drowned palace quivering
in shadows there.
(Bells nod, chink softly in the foam.)

Where was out scented mansion? There— where stairs of marble moonlight drift,
the feathered shade
streaks darkness on the foamy steps;
where fireflies come,
slight flakes of meaning touch the air.
The cool lights shaking in the groves
(pale moons of childhood, whispering,)
toll prisoned seas; the meanings fade.
The flecked mermaidens are ourselves,
O Margaret. Pluck not the lime.
Lights in the orchard drown all time.

"Only Connect"

A lavish hand for little us, God’s— or perhaps that hydrogen
that trims the mind’s circumference,
lavish, and always distanter.
So close at home
we feel the waning of the heart.
The edges of the universe, the Word,
retire. The friends die off.
The child sets out on labyrinths.
Goodbye. Goodbye.
What hand can reach out towards us from that dark?

But do we want a motion from the dead?
A hand that rises from the sea,
shakes, and, its fingers numbing,
    It slips against our gunnels, sinks.
The boat bobs on the inky waves.
I grab the oars. They thump and rap,
a vulgar spirit ouija-ing, not real,
not real. We all escape, grow separate.

More room, more room, the March Hare cried,
space head.


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.


Shane Neilson is a poet and physician who, in addition to several collections of poetry, has published in the genres of memoir, short fiction, biography and literary criticism. He is currently a fellow of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, a Vanier Scholar at McMaster University and editor for Victoria, B.C. publisher Frog Hollow Press. Though he lives in Oakville, Ontario, all of his work is rooted in rural New Brunswick.

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: 9780889843882

Publication Date: 2015-09-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 64

Price: $14.95