Bernadette Wagner shines bright lights in dark places, taking the reader unflinchingly through the tunnels, plateaus, and heights of life – life as a woman, on the western Canadian prairies.
Her poetry is divided in to three sections representing a woman’s lifespan – Maiden, Mother, Crone. Each section is filled with poetic story – the joy and sorrow of experiences within these stages, often from a very personal and vulnerable space in the narrator’s life.
A strong sense of place, memory, experience, character, and authentic voice is created from the outset. Harvest-time, farm auctions, sibling rivalry, childhood innocence and its loss, adolescence, sexuality and violation all come to light in the caringly parsed pages of “Maiden”.
“Mother” at once explores the specific and the universal: the feeding of the first infant, rituals of toddlerhood, grocery store moments, and others met along the way. Wagner births emotion and compassion along with children, as she shares moments, experiences, and the roller-coaster ride that every parent will recognize in each stage and encounter. Tied into that universal experience of parenthood is the specific prairie passage of being rural-raised and now urban-dwelling: “So much has changed/the land is in someone else’s name/ highway #22, once paved, is now graveled/our babies are now teens, gifts that arrived/in times of doubt and drought.” The lost lands and farms are akin to the birth, growth and eventual separation from our own offspring.
Wagner also takes care in her poetry to examine the bigger picture: the evolution of agriculture, the large corporations, judgmental attitudes in society. She is a keen observer with a sense of justice tempered by compassion. But her larger examinations of society are carefully balanced by intimate moments of personal grief and loss, such as the poem “Sisterless” – “Twelve squares to this quilt./How I want to pull it from its dowel,/wrap it round our grief,/wipe tears with its wine-red edge.” – and the ones that follow, giving voice to the haunting, or sometimes very real and practical, expressions of grief we all encounter.
The final section, “Crone”, gently examines family secrets, abandoned farms, aging parents, and the ancient and sacred feminine – completing the journey for the reader, and bringing it full-circle.
Wagner’s honesty and emotion in this poetic narrative efficiently sow, grow, and reap the fields of memory and place, providing an abundant crop for the reader to harvest.
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