Poetry and Spiritual Practice: Selections from Contemporary Canadian Poets


152 pages
ISBN 0-9685339-7-3
DDC C811'.54080382




Edited by Susan McCaslin
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Between 1996 and 2000, the St. Thomas Poetry Series, originating in a
poetry group from the St. Thomas Anglican Church in downtown Toronto,
published 15 volumes of poems by poets who, to quote their dust-jackets,
“share a perspective on human life that emphasizes its metaphysical
and philosophical dimensions.” The poets were not necessarily
Christian (let alone Anglican), but they took the spiritual life

One of these was Susan McCaslin, who has produced this anthology of 15
poets, including herself, whose poetry is notable for a spiritual
concern. In her foreword, she defines spiritual practice as
“cultivation of the interior life through prayer, meditation and
contemplation, as well as through the more public forms of worship.”
Each poet was asked: “How does a longstanding spiritual discipline
connect to the practice of writing poetry?” Each in turn contributed a
short personal essay as preface to an appropriate selection of his or
her work.

The best-known poets represented here are probably Joy Kogawa, author
of Obasan; John Terpstra, whose moving poem “The Little Towns of
Bethlehem” (included here) has been regularly read over the CBC at
Christmas in recent years; and George Whipple. The rest, though they are
likely to be new to many readers, are established, published poets.

Almost by definition, these are quiet, thoughtful, inward-turned poems,
but what they lack in vigor and panache, they make up for in an
impressive seriousness—by which I do not mean solemnity. They remind
us that poetry is traditionally a mode of personal discovery. The
British poet Cecil Day-Lewis once remarked that poets do not write to be
understood but to understand. The poets in this anthology not only come
to a fuller awareness of themselves and their relation to the world in
which they find themselves, but also communicate a sense of this
awareness to their readers. A book not for the trend-conscious but for
those who are genuinely concerned with spiritual things.


“Poetry and Spiritual Practice: Selections from Contemporary Canadian Poets,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9694.