Marilyn R(uthe) Bowering Chaviva Hosek - Essay

Chaviva Hosek

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Killing Room by Marilyn Bowering is presided over by the voice of a witchy female, a persona we may recognize from the work of other contemporary poets, most notably Atwood, Musgrave, and MacEwen. At its best this can be a peculiarly compelling kind of poetry; at its worst it can seem like mystification to no apparent purpose. The voice of the witchy female seems to specialize in mysterious narratives which are meant to be highly symbolic, full of secret, inaccessible knowledge about blood and bones. This volume as a whole and many individual poems in it have too much in the way of symbolic events and not enough hints of where interpretation might go, not enough statement in relation to myth. For all their attempt at rich suggestiveness, the poems therefore seem thin…. [In Bowering's poetry] the voice suggests that it possesses ancient and shared knowledge, yet the poems often read like personal mythology.

I fear my response to this volume is rather bad-tempered. Part of the reason for this reaction is that the poems give so little in the way of aural satisfaction. If we are to live in the realm of magic, why can't we get some of the goodies? Poetry is made of words and sounds, not only of potential meanings. Many of the individual sentences in this poetry are flat and almost deliberately bleached. This may be an attempt to make them more suggestive, but instead they seem merely poverty-stricken, and neither narrative nor texture is memorable in many of them. The speakers of the poems seem almost totally self-involved, brooding on some unstated injury or loss…. The most satisfying poems are "Raven II" and "Frog's Woman," which have an almost oriental feeling about them, and "The Origin of Man," which has an intelligible narrative, consistent imagery, and a sound pattern that reinforces the narrative. (pp. 162-63)

Chaviva Hosek, in a review of "The Killing Room," in The Fiddlehead, No. 118, Summer, 1978, pp. 162-63.