Marilyn R(uthe) Bowering Douglas Barbour - Essay

Douglas Barbour

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The poems in The Killing Room are often powerful but it is a power of despair, of acceding to death in all its forms without fighting back. 'Death is wide' and 'there were signs / I was not safe' mark the parameters Bowering's imagination works within here. The cover drawing of a starving girl-child seems only too appropriate, for Bowering's people starve from lack of love and friendship…. So the women of 'Married Woman's Complaint' and 'Rose Harbour Whaling Station, 1910' allow the violence their men work upon them, and that is the reason for despair. No doubt Bowering feels that such bitter violent lives are and were lived, but her representation of them is so starkly absolute, so lacking in psychological exploration, that no hope at all remains. Towards the end, there are a few poems which at least begin to work with this deadly material in new, more open ways. The brilliant 'Winter Harbour' is a powerful evocation of frightening yet enticing transcendence through death and is simply the best poem in the book. Marilyn Bowering is a talented writer, but this collection is too bleak for most readers to find enjoyable or even salutary.

Douglas Barbour, in a review of "The Killing Room," in The Dalhousie Review, Vol. 58, No. 3, Autumn, 1978, p. 567.