Poetry as Liturgy: An Anthology of Canadian Poets.


240 pages
ISBN 978-0-9735910-4-0
DDC C811'.60803823




Edited by Margo Swiss
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.


In her thoughtful and informative “Introduction: Poetry as Liturgy,” editor Margo Swiss argues that “Christian poets, in the practice of their art, may be said to perform a liturgical service to God and to their audience.” With this end in view, she invited 13 Canadian poets to join her in presenting a series—often a sequence—of poems that could serve a liturgical function. The experiment also serves as an ecumenical function. As Swiss notes, the contributors belong to Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, United, and Mennonite congregations. All 14 poets are allotted a page to comment briefly on the way in which their poetry relates to liturgy, and are each allowed up to 13 pages in which to display their art.


The poets may be said to lay their offerings on God’s altar, a verbal harvest festival. Their contributions take many forms. Some are meditations, others elaborations of hints from scripture, others still celebrations of the satisfactions of daily living and the beauty of the divine creation. Styles and moods vary widely.


Since a prime function of liturgy is to provide a form of religious participation, and because we are beginning to hear reports of a revival of formalism in contemporary poetic writing, I had expected an emphasis on traditional techniques. In the main, however, these poets prefer the deceptive freedom of free verse. As a result, and perhaps inevitably, the stress falls more on the content than the art. The book fits more comfortably on a devotional shelf than on an artistic one.


Nonetheless, one encounters frequent examples of verbal effectiveness and felicity, like Leif Vaage’s “The Spirit of the Lord / Is upon me, fetid / As new dung.” or Hannah Main-van der Kamp’s “bungie-jumping spider” or John Reibetanz’s “angel wings” that “winked / like traffic lights” from every corner. In more general literary terms, I responded most positively to Sarah Klassen’s unostentatious but constant and admirable control of each free-verse line, and John Terpstra’s delicate moulding of individual insights into carefully crafted poetic wholes.


“Poetry as Liturgy: An Anthology of Canadian Poets.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28015.