Connected by the element of air, the poems in The Aviary raise questions about desire, the spirit and the unconscious juxtaposed against the everyday, beautiful and absurd, the surface of “things”. These poems propose an aesthetic of profound anxiety. Like caged birds, they clamour for escape even as they mourn loss. The poems circle ideas of impermanence, of our inner and outer landscapes with all their diverse freedoms and imprisonments.
The poems in this collection also reflect on the intimate power dynamics between men and women, employing an audacious tone of self-mockery to question the value of confession, and taking a mournfully wry view of the lyric and romantic tradition. Infidelity and betrayal are explored with stark and resolute determination, defining a philosophy of loss and attempting to delineate the ways and means of jealousy, grief and ironic ecstasy. Throughout this collection landscape is invoked as balm, a touchstone more reliable than any human relationship. In The Aviary, we fly above the boundaries of countries, in and out of time, and our notions of sanity. We play with the imperfect process of remembrance, where artifice is defense against loss.
I delight in these poems. Their verbal strategies, their echoes and replies, their life-givingness.
Cover photo “Tatsfield 1963” by Michael Pearson
Robert Attridge: Judging Books by Their Covers (Event Magazine)
As someone who immigrated to Canada from England when she was a young adult, Miranda Pearson is apparently acutely aware of what has been lost and gained in such a move. Her second collection of poems, The Aviary, is to a large extent a nostalgic look not only at the England of the past but also at childhood and friends, lovers and family. Even the choice of the collection’s cover, a black and white photograph taken by Pearson’s father and entitled ‘Tatsfield, 1963,’ with its winter scene of a leafless tree in the foreground and what appears to be a pair of young sledders in the background, is an expres
sion of the mood of many of the poems themselves.
That is not to say that all of the poems dwell on the past or on England. In fact, in many of the poems the Western-Canadian landscape, from the Gulf Islands of British Columbia to the lakes and prairies of Saskatchewan, is mentioned and at times even celebrated. Titles such as ‘Dog Walk, Kitsilano,’ ‘On Christopher Lake,’ ‘Galiano,’ ‘Hornby’ and ‘Again, the Prairie’ testify to the importance of place in Pearson’s work, but the speakers of the poems often relate what they are seeing in the present to what they have known in the past, as is the case in ‘Here I Am, Lover,’ where the speaker looks at ‘dark mountains that remind [her]/only of Scotland.’ She may be physically present in one place, but she thinks of another, as does the speaker of ‘Landing,’ who, as she looks at a river that runs through ‘unfamiliar land,’ has a ‘memory’ of ‘the Welsh hills.’
But, crucially, this memory has as much to do with childhood as it does with another place. While skating in a rink in a ‘small prairie town,’ the speaker of ‘Skating in the Dark’ remembers her mother: ‘Her headscarf tied under her chin, how she/braved London’s violent, complicated suburbs/to take us skating.’ What many of these speakers seem to long for is not a return to a place but a return to the stability of family, if not to replicate it, then perhaps, in the words of ‘Resuscitating,’ ‘to mend the past/through imagination, to breathe into it/a different life.’ These connections between the past and the present are made repeatedly in The Aviary, but they are central to ‘Silver Collection,’ the long poem that concludes the collection. ‘Silver Collection,’ which Pearson acknowledges is ‘indebted to Robert Kroetsch’s poem, “Seed Catalogue,”’ is also a catalogue, in this case of heirlooms, but so too is it an account of memories: ‘Nostalgia/is not a longing for a place/but for time—childhood...’
Silver Collection’ is a fitting conclusion to The Aviary, not only because the poem deals with a purging of the past but also because it is perhaps Pearson’s way of heeding the danger seen by the speaker of ‘The Empress,’ who ‘loves the log booms’ of ‘this new country’ but remains ‘hostage to Wordsworth,’ ‘the dark topiary at Hever,’ and ‘the carp/that slowly patrol the moats.’
The New Quarterly – Who’s Reading Who
Tanis Macdonald 06/02/2008
Poetry: I am reading Miranda Pearson’s stark and lovely The Aviary. The verse style is elegant, and Pearson’s mercurial poetic self-construction is a delight. The Aviary engages the lyrical tradition while refusing the romanticism of it, Pearson’s wry take on the secular sacred (the family, love, gender, genealogy) makes this book worth returning to again and again.