Woman in the Dust: Poems and Drawings


58 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-88962-224-8






Reviewed by Andrew Brooks

Andrew Brooks was Assistant Editor of Ethos magazine.


The best poems in Patrick Lane’s Woman in the Dust are possessed of that classic elegance that is Lane’s true voice. I am thinking of poems like “Bunkhouse North” and “The Return”. No excess baggage here; these and some of the other poems in the book are spare, effective, economical in their use of language. Unfortunately, a good many poems in Woman in the Dust bear the marks of a failure to achieve this style. In these pieces language is put through its paces but the soul is not there. Poems like “Five Years” or “Testaments” are examples, dissolving into mysticism without impact.

The poems and drawings in Woman in the Dust are an attempt by the author to understand his relationships with and attitudes toward women — in short, to arrive at a mythology of personal experiences. The danger in having Woman take on a mythic quality in poetry — as in life — is that while she is being mythologized she remains human, and the world she enters on the mythic level can depersonalize her, abstract her from the human. The elegance of the best of Lane’s work is well suited to direct relation of the super-human, but in the weaker poems, and especially in the illustrations, Lane seems to get into trouble. Technically, he is a very accomplished artist, but the sensibility inhabiting the visual pieces in Woman in the Dust is of the heavy metal order, preoccupied with a violence and sexual explicitness so depersonalized that, graphic as it is, it can barely affect the viewer as true violence might. There are images of pain, it is true, but it doesn’t seem to be a pain that anybody feels. That the drawings attempt to parallel the concerns of the poetry is obvious, but they fail to realize Lane’s mythology as effectively as even the weaker poems. While I understand Mosaic Press’s desire to showcase Lane’s accomplished drawing with his poetry, they would have done better to stick to the poetry in this case.


Lane, Patrick, “Woman in the Dust: Poems and Drawings,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37408.