Archive for Our Times

Description

282 pages
Contains Index
$19.95
ISBN 1-55152-059-1
DDC C811'.54

Publisher

Year

1998

Contributor

Edited by Dean J. Irvine
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.

Review

“Archive” is the operative word—appropriate but also symptomatic.
It comes from the last of almost 200 uncollected or unpublished poems by
Dorothy Livesay, made generally accessible here for the first time.
Poems from seven decades, from the 1920s to the 1980s, are represented.
They therefore illustrate the range of Livesay’s poetic and personal
interests. In her Collected Poems: The Two Seasons, Livesay wrote of her
poems as creating “an autobiography: a psychic if not a literal
autobiography.” That remark applies equally well to this collection.

Clearly, this is a worthwhile undertaking, and the editorial/archival
duties have been carried out in admirably clear and scholarly fashion by
Dean J. Irvine, who has—doubtless wisely—taken the view that the
archivist’s job “is to catalogue the poems, ... not to interpret
them.” Here, then, a substantial addition to the already considerable
Livesay oeuvre has been made available for literary scholars—and
critics.

As a literary critic myself, I am grateful for this edition, but cannot
help taking the matter one step further and asking how this book will
affect posterity’s judgment of Livesay’s contribution to Canadian
poetry. Since Livesay never collected these poems (though she had ample
opportunity to do so), it follows that they do not represent what she
considered her best work. Many of them need revision or reconsideration,
yet a surprising number are recognizable as quintessentially
Livesay’s.

At the same time, her weaknesses are also brought into relief. There is
a sameness and facility about many of them, and the longest, a political
poem called “The Hammer and the Shield,” is weak to the point of
embarrassment. I can’t help suspecting that Livesay, underrated in the
past by a male literary establishment, is now overrated by its female
equivalent. The book contains a celebratory poem by Livesay’s slightly
younger contemporary P.K. Page, and it is surely becoming increasingly
evident that Page’s superior technique and verbal artistry makes her
the Canadian woman poet of the middle of the last half-century. Still,
Livesay’s was a pioneering voice, and this collection is a welcome and
substantial addition to her work.

Citation

Livesay, Dorothy., “Archive for Our Times,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/2983.