“’But We Must Notice’: Lowell’s Harvard Classes on Berryman, Bishop, and Jarrell.” In Jarrell, Bishop, Lowell, & Co., ed. Suzanne Ferguson, pp. 303-312. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003.  (See below for a version of this piece published in Books in Canada).

(With Barbara Nickel) “The Wholehearted Poet: A Conversation about Margaret Avison.” Books in Canada volume 33, no. 6 (September 2004), 34-36. (See below).

“Legends of Good Women.” Southwest Review volume 95, no. 4 (2010), 600-613. Listed among “Notable Essays of 2010” by Robert Atwan, in The Best American Essays 2011, ed. Edwidge Danticat.

“A Dipody in a Billabong: Studying Prosody with Robert Fitzgerald.” Literary Imagination volume 13, no. 3 (2011), 278-282.

(With Stephen Partridge) “The House on the Cul-de-sac.” In Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition and Revival, ed. Caroline Adderson and Zsuzsi Gartner, pp. 103-111. Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2015. This book was a finalist for a British Columbia Book Prize.

"But We Must Notice": Robert Lowell’s Poetry Classes

In the spring of 1977, Robert Lowell taught what would turn out to be his final classes. One was a seminar on nineteenth-century English and American poets, the other a writing workshop which also surveyed twentieth-century poets. English 255 and English F each met for two hours weekly at Harvard, with a dozen or so students and half a dozen auditors attending. A freshman in both courses, I scribbled voluminous notes (as was my anxious habit in all my classes), crowding some 250-odd pages with Lowell's observations on poets ranging from Blake to Plath...

Lowell would start the discussion of each poet with a pithy, impromptu biography, an eclectic but telling assemblage of facts drawn from memory and mingled with witty assessments. Aubrey's Brief Lives and Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets were fresh in my mind that term, and Lowell's portraits, vivid with quirky detail, seemed to me to blend the former's colloquialism and gentle irreverence with the latter's scrupulously balanced judgments and attentiveness to writers' circumstances...more

“The Wholehearted Poet: A Conversation about Margaret Avison”

Always Now
The Collected Poems: Volume One
Margaret Avison
The Porcupine’s Quill
253 pages, $19.95 paper
ISBN 0889842620

Barbara Nickel: This is a tremendously important collection, and timely, coming out shortly after Margaret Avison won the 2003 Griffin Prize for Concrete and Wild CarrotAlways Now includes Avison’s first two books, Winter Sun(1960) and The Dumbfounding (1966), with a few alterations and deletions. It also includes three translations from the Hungarian and a section called “From Elsewhere,” comprised of uncollected and new work from her 1991 Selected along with a few other poems.

Elise Partridge: In the Foreword, Avison gives us her own list of “some potent influences” on this early work. It’s fascinating to try to trace how she incorporated and departed from the poets she mentions. “Vivid . . . images” in D. H. Lawrence; T. S. Eliot’s “jazzy rhythms”; Ezra Pound’s “abrupt claims on a reader’s attention”; William Carlos Williams’s “informality amid poignant highlights” and the “precision” of Elizabeth Bishop – “all these,” Avison writes, “with readings in literature from Langland’s ‘field full of folk’ (the world) on, tuned my ear and forced me to find my own clarity of focus and language.”

I never would have thought of D. H. Lawrence when I first began reading Avison, but once I immersed myself, I saw they shared something in terms of fervor and reverence. In poems like “A Sad Song” (about a dying catalpa tree) or “A Nameless One” (about an insect, “a wilted flotsam, cornsilk, on the linoleum”) she shows a similar tenderness for the natural world. “The poets we read in public school were English, formal, a little rhetorical,” she also recalls here; clearly she was attuned to some of the fresher possibilities she heard in Eliot, and created her own New World sound…more