The Collected Poems of Miriam Mandel


326 pages
ISBN 0-919285-23-6





Edited by Sheila Watson
Reviewed by Elizabeth Stieg

Elizabeth Stieg taught English in Toronto.


Miriam Mandel’s Collected Poems is comprised of a series of poetic sequences, three of which have been published previously: Lions at Her Face (1973), Station 14 (1977), and Where Have You Been? (1980). It is, Sheila Watson informs us, “not really a collection of poetry, but something frequently called a long or serial poem.”

In what strikes me as a needlessly convoluted and rather pretentious introduction, Sheila Watson observes that the poem “is not a confession” but “a disclosure, the necessary deconstruction of any comforting evasion.” If it is not a confession, it is, at any rate, an exceedingly personal series of cries from the heart, internal meditations, and, very occasionally, qualified celebrations.

It is not, however, very effective poetry. It utilizes any number of modern poetic devices — the suggestive splitting of words, the stringing of a single sentence over twenty odd lines in clusters of one or two words. But these seem contrived additions for poetic effect rather than organic products arising from the demands of the material itself.

The imagery too seems artificial, something appended rather than the form in which thematic concerns have naturally or even authentically expressed themselves. Compounding this is the hackneyed nature of much of the imagery:

The day begins, looms

a black mountain too high

for any climber. (p.31)


The waters rush, tumbling black

like the trembling black thoughts

racing through my mind. (p.147)

There is no sense of a distinctive poetic voice here, and little clarity or freshness of invention.

The note of self-pity and self-absorption is overwhelming throughout these poems, and it hopelessly trivializes Mandel’s treatment of her subject matter:


that’s what it is

unasked for, unwanted

it hurts down deep

constant repeat

like a knife plunging

rape of my mind (p.5)

While it is not difficult to understand what prompted the writing of the poems, the reasoning behind their publication seems to me incomprehensible.


Mandel, Miriam, “The Collected Poems of Miriam Mandel,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 19, 2024,