Miriam Waddington 1917–
Canadian poet, dramatist, and editor.
Waddington's reputation as a poet is well established in Canada. Although she has read widely and expresses special fondness for formal poets such as W. H. Auden and Hart Crane, Waddington has demonstrated considerable eclecticism in her own writing and adheres to no fixed poetic style. For Waddington, poetry is a natural outpouring into the world of the artist's existence, or as she states, "a bridging of the inner and the outer." This view of poetry makes theories of poetic form a secondary consideration to her. Consequently, over the span of nearly forty years of publication, Waddington's work has shown considerable flexibility in form and content.
Waddington's first collection, Green World (1945), contains many of the themes and subjects which dominate her poetry over the next twenty years. As the title of this work suggests, she is extremely conscious of nature, especially its rejuvenative processes. Waddington's lyrics in this volume express faith in the solace provided by nature as opposed to the frustrations caused by modern industrial society. Waddington's experience as a social worker provides much of the subject matter for her poetry. Many of the poems in her second book, The Second Silence (1955), demonstrate her familiarity with social problems and individual suffering. Waddington's poetry also manifests her strong political awareness, which can be traced to her childhood years when she was exposed to many social and political controversies through her intellectual Russian-Jewish parents and their associates.
In her later poetry, Waddington has moved away from social and political subjects. Instead, her recent books The Price of Gold (1976) and The Visitants (1981) include poems which focus on basic human concerns: loss, aging, death, and, ultimately, the primal joy of being alive.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
[Miriam Waddington is a] quiet and unspectacular poet…, but she has a persuasive sincerity that is very winning.
[Her first book, Green World (1945),] established quite clearly the general outlines of her work. The book's dominant theme was the beauty and goodness of the natural world, expressed by recurring images of greenness and growth, and the ugliness and evil of contemporary industrial society, evoked by images of angles, coils, tunnels, walls and "tangles of hot streets". Within human society, the one positive liberating force was seen as love, whether love in the sense of charity or "loving-kindness" or love in the sense of sexual attraction and union. Unlike most of her Canadian contemporaries at that time, Mrs. Waddington did not speak in terms of socialist doctrine, nor indeed of any dogma, and although there were occasional references to the hope for a better social order there was no attempt to be specific about the causes of social chaos or the means of social amelioration. These early poems were simple, colourful, melodic and easy; they had spontaneity and verve, a youthful affirmation and exuberance modified only slightly by twinges of pity, anger or disgust.
In The Second Silence (1955) the themes remained much the same. Nature and love were still the main positive attractions, and the sufferings of modern industrial man the main sources of discontent. A decade of experience had, however, broadened the scope of her poetry. Love, especially sexual love, was given more complex treatment, revealed as a source of frustration and pain as well as of satisfaction and pleasure. The discussion of social evils was more specific, being related frequently to the plight of individuals whom Mrs. Waddington had encountered in the course of her duties as a social worker; and the experience of maternity provided her...
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In a poem entitled Losing Merrygorounds, Miriam Waddington regrets that loss as well as "… the careful prose / of growing up". Indeed, throughout The Glass Trumpet, one feels that Miss Waddington is willing to abandon care entirely to avoid writing "prose". The battle against prose is exhausting, finding its expression in run-on syntax and sentimental attitudes. It includes lots of crying, wishing, dreaming, and singing. Half of everything seems to be blinded or blinding.
None of this would be quite as bothersome if Miss Waddington would exploit the best of the metaphors she so casually picks up, instead of dropping each for abstractions in those places where she is led to significant thought by her materials. The language is not without a talented urgency—quite deserving of care, even at the cost of the infiltration of "prose". As it is, all that this technique allows to be clear is the most general of feelings.
The best of Miss Waddington's poems seem to me those which arise from her harshest attitudes…. (p. 326)
Marvin Bell, "Nine Canadian Poets" (© 1968 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry and the author), in Poetry, Vol. CXI, No. 5, February, 1968, pp. 323-28.∗
[Waddington's language in Say Yes is close to the conventional lyric, appears fresh,] surprises with sudden illumination, touches us with her gaiety and convinces us of her gravity. Her language enlivens the dark. Acutely aware of the loss of love, of language, of a familiar world, she confronts it directly and articulates it honestly. With a possible hint from Dr. Williams she has devised a rather baroque, run-on form made up of lines of two to four feet into which the most prosaic sentences may be fitted, in a potentially endless series…. In the country, in the city, in art or in nature, everywhere the dark appears. In "Shakedown" we read:
Time like a raftered roof has shaken us down like grain or brickdust into the lowest bin of the dark world.
One poem is entitled "Swallowing darkness is swallowing dead elm trees." And swallow it Mrs. Waddington does. The dark is not simply an alien dark; it is our own…. The dark is the home of the inarticulate "other." Moving into the dark with affection, she retains her language and enlarges it, rediscovering her world in the bleakest times and the most unpromising places. Iron bridges fold their wings like swans; construction cranes like colourful amphibious animals bring her a breakfast basket of helmeted workers and bricks by the ton…. Despite the strangeness of cities, the "black leather police," empty libraries, empty rooms, Eros survives. It survives to inform the imagination and the control of the language, and with it survives the capacity for song. (pp. 73-4)
D. G. Jones, "Voices in the Dark" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Canadian Literature, No. 45, Summer, 1970, pp. 68-74.∗
I think most of Miriam Waddington's poems in her recent collection of new and selected poems, Driving Home, are boring. But as this collection spans thirty years of work, boredom here is perhaps not entirely her fault: the worst poems reflect the fashions of times they were written in. It is difficult not to be bored with intricate little home-made myths and texts designed to fill up with sentiment the empty prairies or an empty life. And it is difficult now not to be bored with the careful encapsulating into rhyme of the passions and anguish of a social worker in the 40's and 50's, and of the lives of those she was in contact with.
But I wonder if Waddington doesn't share these views. The best of the poems in Driving Home are mostly in the section of new poems (since 1969). Here she is able sometimes to get inside her present life and show it to the reader in a convincing way. (p. 85)
Some hint of the powerful poems Waddington might have written out of her social work in clinics, jails and as a welfare official can be seen in "Investigator" (1942) where she captures for a moment something of the inside of the homes and lives of the poor…. But too often the emotion is lost in the prison of rhyme…. This poem clunks along to the stunning insight of:
I haven't heard much that was new to me
or brought any word that was new to you;
it seems our separate selves must curve
wide from the central pulsing nerve
which ought to unite us, you and me…
Waddington's poems such as this one fail to let any particular emotion break out, to transcend the confines of rhyme in any way so that the poem is more than reporting in verse. Or maybe there was no further emotion? (p. 86)
My lack of complete belief in what Waddington is saying appears even in the new poems of this collection. Something is missing, for me, in a poem like "Transformations" when she says she wants to spend her life in Gimli listening to the silence…. Similarly, in "Dead lakes":
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When Miriam Waddington writes of the exhaustion of language, that inevitable subject for poets, she speaks first of the lost language of nature…. But for Waddington the sense of a lost language is only momentary. She turns again and again to writing of the ineffable wind, and of whatever grows, in a language "light / and quick" through which she makes it possible, in the words of another poem, for "trees [to] yield up their wordless therapy."
Waddington declared this direction for her poetry in her first book, Green World (1945). Its title poem, later called "Green world one," is a good place to begin because it focusses on a subject—the green world—which defines Waddington's outlook,...
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Reading The Visitants, I was struck by the absence of something I couldn't exactly place: some quality, some attitude that these 40 poems simply didn't contain. Anger? Sorrow? Bitterness? No, because in a few public lyrics, a few civil elegies, Miriam Waddington does express these dark emotions. What was it, this absence? It took me a while to realize that I was missing all sense of fear, and that The Visitants is a fearless book. Its main preoccupations are death, old age, and solitude—all of which are usually tackled with regret, unease, or the kind of boisterous swagger that seems a poor disguise for fear. But Waddington is undaunted at the prospect of death, and unafraid of direct feeling. She can,...
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