The Optic Heart


Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-920428-82-5





Reviewed by Mary Jane Starr

Mary Jane Starr was with the National Library of Canada in Ottawa.


Diane Keating’s third book of poetry follows In Dark Places (1978) and No Birds or Flowers (1982).This volume, while physically larger than its predecessors, contains fewer poems — under 20 in all. It is distinguished by the presence of pen-and-ink drawings by Ingrid Style, which alternate with Ms. Keating’s poems.

The poetry deals with a variety of personal experiences which are not thematically linked but which are all emotionally based, as the title of the book would imply. The tone is meditative, with only occasional catharsis (as in the upbeat “For the Fisher of Fantasies,” with its incantation, “May an octopus in high heels / pace your spine”). Ms. Keating has devised titles that are both inventive and intriguing: for example, “Sweet-Ass Sue,” “It’s vain to look for defence against lightning,” “Because the mock became a doom,” and “Longing for absolutes.” The poetry is metaphorical and imagistic, successfully evoking a mystical atmosphere — lots of moons, wolves, and the four elements. There is very little movement, though, and terrific images such as “the yellowing town sunk into the riverbank / like a skeleton of a deer” do not properly adorn a comprehensible narrative flow.

The black-and-white illustrations are anachronistic — vestiges of the Age of Aquarius — with psychedelic visions of clawed females and grasping males. They neither complement nor detract from the poetry, sitting as they do in rigid juxtaposition.

The book is beautifully produced by Exile. A table of contents listing the poems in order would be a welcome addition. A list of the drawings does appear at the end, but with unnumbered leaves it is difficult to identify each work correctly.


Keating, Diane, and Ingrid Style, “The Optic Heart,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,