Coming to Canada
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This collection of nearly 60 poems includes the key "Coming to Canada" sequence and New Poems, and is supplemented with selections from two previous volumes, Others and Intersect.

Among the finest writers in the world, Carol Shields has won a large and loyal audience as a witty, compassionate and insightful novelist, short story writer, playwright and poet.

Although Shields' most recent volume comes almost two decades after its predecessor, Shields bridges the gap there too, for the poems of all three volumes, Others (1972), Intersect (1974) and Coming to Canada (1992), demand to be read together. Although each poem is a whole unto itself, it is also part of a larger poetic vision, one that requires an honest interconnection of its poems as much as it did of its various characters. The poems intersect as moments do: they complement, repudiate, or confirm each other, but they need each other to complete the vision."
- Katharine Nicholson Ings,
Illuminating the Moment, Verbal Tableaux in Carol Shields Poetry
from Carol Shields: The Arts of a Writing Life

Read Excerpts


older we take
with this useful love.

Like skaters turning
and pirouetting
on a winter lake
seen at a distance,

we've been learning
the double trick of balance
and indifference.


A moment of no importance
but there I was, three
years old, swinging on the gate

thinking (theatrical even then)
here I am, three years old
swinging on the gate

There's no choice
about this. Consciousness is a bold
weed, it grows where it wants,
sees what it wants to see

What it sees is a moment within
a moment, a voice
outside a voice

saying: here I am, three
years old, swinging on the gate


I was strict with myself. I followed [Philip] Larkin's set of rules: no pretty language. When I finished a poem, I would ask myself the question - and this was something I had never done in my writing before - Is this what I really mean? I was very severe about it. I worked; when I think of the hours I spent revising and getting it just right, it gave me such pleasure. I felt as though I were making these lovely little things, these little toys."
- Carol Shields, on her five years writing poetry in the late 1960s and early '70s.

The poems in Others, Intersect, and Coming to Canada are jewels of economy, a breeze to read, the language wakeful and precise, and the rhymes so thoroughly enfolded that no reviewer, Carol once mentioned, ever noticed them. They are perfect explosions: a glance at a neighbour, a glimpse of a boy falling asleep, or of the hole in a professor's sock rapidly questions time, consciousness, frailty, goodness.

In Others and Intersect, in poems like "Someone Hurrying Home" or "A Professor We Know Who is a Compulsive Storyteller", snapshots of friends, family, and strangers in the realistic grip of sidewalks and clock ticks evolve into portraits of lives lived; the theory of who we are unfolds from the easiest idea of what we are.

But don't be fooled: we are the houses we live in. The politician in "Member of Parliament" will become a "mere man,/ someone/misspelled on a list" while a friendship bridged by Christmas cards "cozied with greetings" is not as it appears: "I loathe her...envy clusters in her sour/ heart like rhubarb though her anger/is relentlessly cordial". In these poems, divorce leaves a man "half perpendicular to death" while good marriages remember "those days/love made us liquor/ throated, made us/madhouse fluent" even while "our limbs/trailed silent/like lumber,/learning the way".

Marriage, children, the amazement of disliking an old friend or the secret loneliness of a physicist who has his hands on the entire universe - Carol's excitement to be thinking and working, in her late thirties, all her five children at school, livens every line of Others and Intersect.

Years later, Coming to Canada, written between novels, returned to childhood with poems about learning to read, a grandmother dying ("it was hard to be sad"), girdled aunts with "a Rinso look", and a mother in 1945 emerging onto the back steps, apron still on, crying out "unconditional surrender... victory, victory and hurling/ us into the future." They are equally inquisitive and word sharp, but also heartachingly delicate; breathed rather than breathless, they offer the longer story of how we are made by those around us and all the small mysteries, such as how the moon follows us each. They include Carol's marvellous poem about her first moment of self-consciousness, "I/Myself".

Carol's "New Poems", included in the Coming to Canada New and Selected, with titles such as "Relics" and "Remembering" and "Now", are more sober, more surfaced, shiningly realistic. Aging affords a freedom not entirely sad, say these poems about school reunions, a long marriage, and time, which is deftly and playfully handled in poems about the invention of clocks, a clock museum, and daylight savings.

Carol's poems brim with her trademark wry intelligence and quick humour . They are glorious "toys" as she called them, boisterous with language and thought, and also perfectly contained - works of exquisite crafting.

© Copyright 2009, the Carol Shields Literary Trust


Award winning composer creates original work for Festival of Voices

Canadian composer Randolph Peters created a choral piece based on Shields’ writings that premiered at the inaugural Carol Shields Symposium on Women’s Writing: Festival of Voices, May 8-10, 2009 at The University of Winnipeg.

Peters created two pieces based on Shields' poetry. The first is entitled Lost Things inspired by poetry from the novel Swann, and the second piece Curious Journeys uses four different poems from Coming to Canada.

“There is an exciting symmetry between the creativity of Carol Shields and that of Randolph Peters,” said Marjorie Anderson, co-editor, with Carol, of the Dropped Threads series. “Carol experimented with genre, working with the novel, the short story, drama, the essay and poetry. Having her words set to music seems like an imaginative logical step that ties into the theme of the festival.”

“I find Carol Shields poetry to be clear and direct, yet deceptively simple and layered with possibilities,” said Randolph Peters. “As I composed the music, I enjoyed playing with the multiple interpretations inherent in her text. My goal was to evoke a new and meaningful experience yet, at the same time, remain consistent with the original spirit of the poetry.”

The commissioned works are a signature theme for the inaugural symposium and a gift to future symposia. This work reflects how art forms inspire one another and lead to collaborative works that create new levels of art.   - News from UWinnipeg

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