The Square Root of Female


54 pages
ISBN 0-920304-35-4





Reviewed by Nora Drutz

Nora Drutz was a Toronto-based freelance writer.


Gillean Chase was born in Alberta in 1946. She obtained a degree in education from the University of Alberta in 1969 and has worked as teacher, counsellor, fund raiser, and freelance writer in various Canadian cities. A “practising feminist,” she now lives in Vancouver and works as an arts administrator. She has published a previous volume of poems, The Distress of Harvest, and at present is at work on a novel called The Immigrants, modelled upon the lives of her progenitors.

Gillean Chase tries to humble us, to topple us from the pedestal on which we have so complacently placed ourselves. One by one, she ironically demolishes the myths we have constructed over the centuries, beginning with the myth of man’s noble beginnings, springing fully formed in the Garden of Eden. “i am recent /history dredged me gulping /from the amniotic ocean /mutant lungs /struggling to expand /in this frog’s element.” She exposes our religions, whether pagan or Christian, as hypocritical, and humanity as unable to give up its false gods. “great isis you shall not let us go /although all the gods of earth /struggle to keep us from your womb. /we are drawn always /to the lures: /after birth the umbilical cord /curves like a hook in our bellies.”

Other poems in the book, less symbolic than these, deal with descriptions of her predecessors, who came to Canada from France, to settle in a harsh, unsympathetic land; others treat her feelings about nature and love. A few poems deal specifically with the position of women (some deal with lesbianism).

Water imagery pervades the text, serving as a metaphor for a number of themes: the setting for man’s lowly evolution from primitive water creature; the horrors of modern civilization (“There is in man /an amazing desire /to defecate: /(the oceans run with effluvient...”); love (“This morning your face in sleep /gentles and excites: /I reach for your thighs /as though I am waves /lapping /lapping /and you under water”); and a philosophical musing on man’s mortality (“what other world is there /besides the dread tide which is Now /bearing us forward — ”).

Gillean Chase is honest in feeling and in imagery. She is not afraid to use words like “bowels” and “shitting” to express her feelings about humanity. A challenging and worthwhile book.


Chase, Gillean, “The Square Root of Female,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 22, 2024,