Coming to Canada: Poems


91 pages
ISBN 0-88629-187-9
DDC C811'.54




Reviewed by Thomas M.F. Gerry

Thomas M.F. Gerry is a professor of English at Laurentian University.


This collection includes two sequences of newly published poems, and a
selection of poems previously published in Shields’s earlier volumes,
Others (1972) and Intersect (1974), and in a number of magazines. Best
known for her novels, short stories, and plays, Shields is also an
intriguing poet. By bringing a greater frankness and intensity to bear
on personal concerns, Shields offers readers of the new poems a glimpse
into a world different from the worlds of her novels, stories, and
plays. Nevertheless, one finds in these poems the keen eye, the sense of
humor, the witty and elegant expression readers appreciate in her other

Christopher Levenson’s introduction surveys and appraises Shields’s
writing, relating her prose (though not her plays) to her poems. At
times, his critique becomes absurdly reductionist, as when he remarks
that “[w]hat has changed in the course of the six novels is the
explicitness with which sexual relationships are treated.” After
presenting a few examples to demonstrate how his summation applies,
Levenson concludes that “[n]one of this [sexual material] appears in
the poetry.” Why did he bring it up then?

In general, the poems explore the relationships between consciousness
and time and place. Some are commemorative. “Coming to Canada—Age
Twenty-Two,” for instance, marks a transition that is both spatial
(the poet’s move from her native U.S. to Canada) and temporal (she
notes how long it took for her to start thinking of Canada as her home).
Other poems are occasional, momentary, more involved with time’s
changes than with thinking about them; “Learning to talk,”
“I/Myself,” “Away from Home— 1954,” and “Uncle” fall into
this category. Whether occasional or commemorative, Shields’s poems
reveal life’s fleetingness, and through their artistry make that
knowledge endurable.


Shields, Carol., “Coming to Canada: Poems,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,