Anne Campbell: No Memory of a Move (1983)

sampled by Michael Peverett.

Anne Campbell is (or was?) a Saskatchewan poet, maybe a prairie poet, though I don't really know enough about Canadian literary history to know who qualifies for what generic term. Anyway, she studied at the Saskatchewan School of the Arts along with Lorna Crozier, Robert Kroetsch, Eli Mandel, Anne Szumigalski... Robert Kroetsch described Campbell's poetry as "pressing at the edges of self itself"; Eli Mandel said that No Memory of a Move "represents a fully achieved poetic achievement" - from which you might gather that elegant variation played no large part in the school's poetic. And this is quite true. This was a poetry of spirit and landform, working with the simplest of vocabulary and often making a kind of sculpture of repeated words, as in this poem:

     Occasion      for TW

     I begin
     with the notion:
     a poem as a tribute
     for you
     are the occasion
     of my current
     racing      joy      you are
     the occasion       the

     I am six
     Sister Everesta
     is saying:
     the occasion of sin
     the occasion of
     sin       is a place
     where you are
     to fall


     is red wristed
     a mother
     apron       full of chicks
     tumbling out
     looking not
     ready       we are begun

The metaphor of sculpture perhaps suggests something vertical, like this poem, in a landscape of horizontals; in this case, however, not so much an erection as a plumbing downwards, a well-shaft. Campbell's images often bring these dimensions into apposition:

     She sat on the flat brown ground
     the only shape barely elevated
     on land.

      ("The dancer")

But the two dimensions, the horizontal foray into landform and the vertical plumbing into self, these trajectories get in each other's way; this complication is at the heart of her poetry and is where the spirit is stifled and released. Thus the poem "Echo Lake, Saskatchewan" begins as a planned description -

     I plan to write
     a memory of hot
     Qu'Appelle Valley            sun
     lake sparkling
     one long afternoon

However, this effort at description then hits a wall....

     I'm not       working out       that way
     evening is too tight and
     this lake is crowded       with
     no where to go

In this failure the poem is said to slip out to us, and I think it does:

               This lake is a metaphor     This is not me
     These words are a poem       opening     ground     and

                                I am earth
                        lake is river
                              breaking through me      is resolution
                                   at hand.

Campbell's poetic, being uninterested in wide or recondite vocabulary, is not framed for description. Twice she has a go at catching a memory of sitting on an "English fence":

     in the sun
     on a fence      crossed over
     wide         english style
     no wind  
     ("Pine poems")

     sit on the English wooden fence
     crossed back and forth over itself           see deer

     ("The corduroy road")

The memory nags, but neither of these notations manages to deliver a clear image of this fence and the structural nature of its crossing or crossedness. But does this matter? The "Pine poems" work around a kind of absence. These poems are about fragmentary memories, but they are not made out of the memories. Instead each memory keeps its defining features: it can be referred to in words but it eludes being laid out in words, and it gets detached from causality. How did I come to be here? This is the section that eventually leads up to the book's title.

As for the spirit, its adventures take the form of migraines, relationships, spring runs, and strange midnight encounters; also the adventure of writing poems about them. Nothing feels older than the poems of 25 years ago, but when I read these present participles I think of them only as present:

     that followed her waking
     late that night. The waking itself
           the same as before,
                                             reality shifted
                       sweating, sick at ...
     but I go on too long, you understand.
     Suffice it to say: it was the same.
     Forty years and still
                                     no understanding
     the why of the shaking, the way of it
     but this time (perhaps the 67th)
     in the instant of it
                                 this time
     the giving up
                                           I can't go on alone
     Said, only      that      not
                                           (   this time   )  with
     But what will happen to me.
     I can't go on alone.
     the room      filling with it

     ("The God of encounter") 

Like many another poet not very distant in time, Anne Campbell has deposited only the faintest traces on planet Google. Happily the real world is somewhat more capacious, and No Memory of a Move (published in 1983 by Longspoon Press, out of the University of Alberta in Edmonton) showed up mysteriously in the chuck-out tray of a local bookshop, priced at one pound.

Thank you for writing this review. I was not previously aware of Anne Campbell, but what you quote from her is touching. She seems to be writing nature poetry that, rather than seeing 'nature' as a given, explores her wrestling with specific phenomena of nature. I will get this book!

Jeff Hansen
Greetings: searching Google for information on registering books, I found the insightful review of my first book, No Memory of a Move. My fifth is to be out this fall, 2009, Soul to Touch.

Peace, Anne Campbell
Regina SK Canada
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