This Flesh These Words


88 pages
ISBN 0-894800-06-0
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by Allison Sivak

Allison Sivak is a librarian in the Science and Technology Library at
the University of Alberta.


Nelson is a poet highly concerned with how language forms reality. This
is evident not only in the ways she uses extended metaphors of
gardening, water, and religion, but also in how she addresses her
frustration with the theoretical without solidity. The book is divided
into two sections: “Season for the Naming of Flowers” and

“Season for the Naming of Flowers” refers to the power involved in
naming something in order to conjure it or make it real. This section
includes poems addressing grief, the work and lives of writers A.M.
Klein and Anne Marriott, as well as more political poems on AIDS and
Christianity. The last poem in this section—one of the volume’s
strongest—attacks the idea of Christ as a passive carrier of
humanity’s sins, presenting him instead as a political activist: “I
think of him / raging in the courtyards / [ ... ] burning with a bright,
clear light / [ ... ] a man whose mouth burns with rage, / whose tongue
is a match / to set the world on fire.”

“Catechisms” presents themes of language, power, and spirituality
through highly personal poems. These pieces read like the poet’s
statements to lovers and other family, using their relationships to
illustrate questions of gender, sexuality, and inequality. “With the
Words of Our Mouth in the Time of Our Deliberation” states the
poet’s concerns most plainly: “woman : man / straight : gay / what /
do these words / mean / to people / engaged passionately / in acts / of

Nelson’s language can be too distanced from the physical. Her use of
the vernacular integrated with biblical quotations attempts to anchor
and revisit phrasing and myth. Still (as the poet writes in “Marks of
Our Single Species”), “however clear the logic, / honed the
argument, / it is the poem’s music / that remains with us.” Nelson
appears to rely more heavily on her quotations than her own writing for
that music; the result is a book that, although thoughtful and
exploratory, could use another edit.


Nelson, Sharon H., “This Flesh These Words,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,