Marilyn R(uthe) Bowering Bruce Whiteman - Essay

Bruce Whiteman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

On the front cover of Marilyn Bowering's new book of poems there is a photograph of the poet. She is, as the acknowledgements inform us, wearing an expensive dress from Creeds and expensive jewellry designed by Tony Calvetti of Vancouver. If the poet as Vogue model seems an unpromising beginning to a book, the remark of Zsa Zsa Gabor which gives it its title ("I never hated a man enough to give diamonds back") certainly does not instill confidence nor help to dispel the feeling that there is less here than meets the eye. That is too bad, because although the collection overall is rather weak, due largely to the limitations of Bowering's interests and the small range of her voice, Giving Back Diamonds does nevertheless contain some fine poems. "Under the Influence," for example, is a taut and effective poem, perhaps (as Bowering says) "something outside myself is using me to tell you." There is nothing like an instance of spiritual possession to make a poet honest.

Bowering's poems are by and large verbal explorations of her emotional life, and that accounts both for her strengths and weaknesses. Too often her feelings find expression in words which, one can only suspect, come too easily to the tongue and are, at any rate, certainly not good poetry….

There is a dialectic in Bowering's poetry between the self and the outside world of events and other people, but it is a movement which ultimately returns the poem to the writer's ego. Mythic stories and imagery drawn from nature are employed as emblems or object lessons for personal experience, as in "Penelope's Hall."…

[In this poem], as in much of Giving Back Diamonds, the concern is with relations between men and women, an important subject, needless to say, but one which becomes tiresome when it continues as the main point of reference. The lightweight quality of the book's title gives an inadequate indication of the perceptiveness of which Bowering is sometimes capable; but it is, unfortunately, rather accurate in pinpointing the collection's shortcomings.

Bruce Whiteman, "Some Fine Poems," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LXII, No. 726, March, 1983, p. 30.