Phyllis Gotlieb Mary Keyes - Essay

Mary Keyes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

How on earth to talk about Phyllis Gotlieb's Ordinary, Moving? The comparative approach won't really do, because although there is the chilling underneath-it-all-horror of Sylvia Plath in some lines, the honest immediacy of Al Purdy in others, and even some flip translations of Villon in the manner of Richmond Lattimore's Greek Anthology, none of these suggest the gripping, involving tone of the book.

She writes like a witch torn between the fairy godmother magic of songs of child-innocence and wonder … and the fascination of playing with the deep down misery of the flesh…. Black and white magic conflict over a spirit ultimately un-available to both because of an incredible determination to exist on its own terms. This is what I like about Ordinary, Moving. The book is about heritage …; and on into a family via its jargon…. And it's about the old, and about grown-ups…. And finally and everywhere, about the children—their games, the rhymes and rhythm of their play make up the long final, title poem and collect to themselves in the poet's genius-stricken arrangement an incredible welter of emotion.

Through it all … the incredible, terribly believable woman who is her own querulous, raging, corny, appealing self…. Don't read Ordinary, Moving just for the found poems or you might just miss the real find—Phyllis Gotlieb griping about and gripping life until it shrieks with her own fishwife voice….

Mary Keyes, "Books Reviewed: 'Ordinary, Moving'," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XLIX, No. 588, January, 1970, p. 243.