open is broken


50 pages
ISBN 0-919285-26-0





Reviewed by Mary Jane Starr

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


In A Gathering Instinct (1981), Betsy Warland wrote angry poetry about male-female relationships. In open is broken, her new book of poetry, she has moved beyond this stage and achieved a degree of liberation. Ms. Warland explains her motivation for this second volume in “untying the tongue.” She agrees that “writing has been run by a libidinal and cultural — hence politically, and typically masculine economy; that this is the locus where the repression of women has been perpetuated.” Ms. Warland seeks freedom from this etymological repression, and succeeds: “the language — my language — broke open.”

open is broken is an attempt at liberation that works on various levels. The first is the etymological evolution from repressive male-dominated language: this is clearly evident in “induction,” whereby “our sexts” become “inhertextuality” by poem’s end. The second level is the expression of lesbian love, which is described candidly and explicitly. This level is the personal liberation, the ability, at last, to write openly about her own relationship, which is documented in the long poem “open is broken.”

This passage to liberation is uneven, tortuous, and less poetic than polemic. The etymological preoccupation, while occasionally interesting in itself, distracts from the poetic statement Warland is trying to make. The verse is caught in the realm of linguistic and political tract rather than transcending to the plane of the very best love poetry.


Warland, Betsy, “open is broken,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 19, 2024,