Writing Right: Poetry by Canadian Women


192 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-919285-14-7





Edited by Douglas Barbour and Marni L. Stanley
Reviewed by Jenifer Lepiano

Jenifer Lepiano was a writer and drama teacher in Toronto.


Of the sixteen poets represented in this attractively designed anthology none is based east of Kingston. But although the poets are not regionally representative, their material is drawn from widely varying backgrounds; it is easy to see why the editors have resorted to a title that focuses on the writing itself rather than on some more dubious bond of content. It is the act of writing, simply, that these women have in common.

In the first poem, from her series “piecework,” Mary Howes asks, “Why do women keep diaries?” Her answer follows:

the form has been an

important outlet for

women partly because it is

an analogue to their lives:

emotional /fragmentary /

interrupted /modest /not to

be taken seriously /private /

restricted /daily /trivial /

formless /concerned with self /

as endless as their tasks

The works in this collection are not diary jottings. But they are on the whole “concerned with self” and their forms grow out of this inwardness. Claire Harris’s “Policeman cleared in jaywalking case” is an internal commentary on a newspaper article. In “color of her speech,” Lola Lemire-Tostevin’s study of alienation from her mother tongue, French, the phrases disintegrate into emotionally charged vocabulary. Yet for all the writers, reaching in is preliminary to reaching out; self-knowledge becomes a basis for potential relationship. Candas Jane Dorsey writes:

we can step back and forth

between what we’ve made

to touch each other. that’s good


that’s something we’ve made together

worth doing


Here the anthology’s somewhat graceless title makes sense: the rightness of the writing comes from its honesty, from a will to “get it right.” Sometimes the resulting absence of sentimentality is shocking, as in Leona Gom’s “Case study # 42” and the cancer poems of Lela Parlow. In the last of her “Seven rail poems” Erin Mouré writes:

I’m proud of my optimism,

it’s mean not gratuitous —

I came to it arguing, breath punched thru my lung.

The hole it left, is like

a red flower in the railway ditch

seen fleetingly, a few seconds from the passing train;

Occasionally insight fuses with image, without compromise from either side — a rightness worth working towards.


“Writing Right: Poetry by Canadian Women,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38586.