A Garden of Anchors: Selected Poems


164 pages
ISBN 0-88962-808-4
DDC C811'.54






Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Joy Kogawa is, of course, best known for Obasan (1981), her moving human
document (a better term for this book, I think, than “novel”) about
the sufferings of the Japanese Canadians in British Columbia at the time
of Pearl Harbor. But Kogawa was a published poet long before she turned
to fiction, and her most recent publication is a long poem entitled
Lilith (2000). A Garden of Anchors is a selection from her volumes of
shorter verse from The Splintered Moon (1967) to Woman in the Woods
(1985), plus a few new poems.

Kogawa’s best work can be found in the poems about Japan first
published in A Choice of Dreams (1974) and reprinted as the first
section of this selection under the title “Cedar Incense.” Western
critics have seen these poems as deriving from Japanese haiku, but there
is no attempt to imitate the concentrated form of haiku, and they seem
to me to fit more closely into the tradition of Imagism. They frequently
lack verbs, as in the opening of “Zen Graveyard” (“thick night
mist / mountainside, stone ghosts / graves rising in steps into
trees”), and offer a maximum of description with a minimum of
authorial commentary. They are valuable because Kogawa, a visitor in the
land of her ancestors, not only has a keen eye for particular details
but can notice a shape and meaning in what she sees beyond the capacity
of other foreign observers.

At the same time, it is clear that Kogawa is a decidedly minor poet.
The rest of the book reveals a limited range that verges on monotony.
She has a fine sensibility, but there is little sense of an overriding
poetic vision. Her command of the individual poetic line can be
uncertain, and too many poems leave readers with an uneasy sense that we
have not been given sufficient clues to determine the poet’s meaning.
There is little originality in these later poems, but the delicate
poetic-watercolours of Japan are both unique and valuable.


Kogawa, Joy., “A Garden of Anchors: Selected Poems,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17800.