Cathy Matyas was a librarian in Toronto.
Diane Dawber’s Cankerville is a series of poems that begins simply as a description of small-town life. But as the poems progress, they grow in complexity and meaning. Cankerville is divided into five sections, and the secret and not-so-secret lives of the characters Dawber describes reach a powerful conclusion in the penultimate section, “Repercussions,” and in the final section, “The Breakaway.” At this point, the poems coalesce around the character of Lily, who commits suicide and leaves her husband and two children to fend for themselves in Cankerville. Lily was a city girl who married a small-town boy, and her children, her husband, and her neighbours present a collage of perspectives that affirm Lily as a complex contemporary woman. In the end, Dawber maintains that “There is no safe place /not Cankerville,” and that “we must make our lives in pieces /safe and unsafe /never knowing /which is which /paper and wood /metal and blood.” Cankerville is a unique poetic sequence, and one that should find a place on the shelves of most public libraries.