Barbara Nickel

The Sunday Children

I’m both drawn to and puzzled by this opening stanza of Margaret Avison’s poem “Thaw”:

Sticky inside their winter suits
The Sunday children stare at pools
In pavement and black ice where roots
Of sky in moodier sky dissolve.

Along the North Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon, trees point skyward and down into the water, their reflection-roots dissolving into dusk and I’m a Sunday child again, back in my home province after a long time away.

If Avison were still alive, she’d be turning 100 this April 23. To celebrate, I’ve posted a conversation that Elise Partridge and I had many years ago about the first volume of Avison’s collected poems, Always Now. You’ll find it above in a new section of my website named “Otherwards.” Forwards, backwards, inwards, outwards, otherwards, in other words and in others’ words—I’m grateful to Steve Partridge for the title suggestion and for initiating the republication, to Carmine Starnino for initiating that conversation in the first place, and to hear Elise’s voice again.

Her mentioning that Avison “can give us the zoom-lens precision of small details” reminds me of the solitary pearl on the window ledge in Avison’s “New Year’s Poem.” Stan Dragland calls this poem “part of the permanent lining” of his mind in a wonderful essay forthcoming in a special Avison issue of Canadian Poetry, which will be launched this April in Toronto at an event marking her birthday. (Read more.)

In his essay, Stan quotes “New Year’s Poem” in full. Reading it, I was caught by the word “brimmed” on the brim of the line, a lovely move, which reminded me of another poem with “brim” in it:

This is Leah Britton’s first poem. I like the way, in the voice of a cloud, she opens with the memorable “brim” and closes with “and see/what I see,” the double “see” line-endings giving her cloud not only double vision but wisdom and mystery and a vast kind of stillness just right for a cloud. She wrote it several weeks ago in a nature poetry workshop I was leading at the Great Blue Heron Reserve, attended by other kids and their families from Nature Kids B.C.

The workshop lasted only two hours but days later I was still marvelling at the clear-eyed sensibility of these kids, their calm energy and lack of ego and with what ease they observed and listened and saw. It might be, I thought later—my spirits lifting every time I thought about that spirit in the room and on our walk—because they spend so much time in nature, staring at pools…

Photo by Laurie de Jong (used with permission)


Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been selected as a finalist for the 2023/2024 Chocolate Lily Book Award. 

Barbara’s poem “Three-in-One,” originally published in Grain Magazine, has recently appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2024  (Biblioasis) edited by Bardia Sinaee.

Check out Barbara’s 45-minute teaching video on Creating Believable Characters for the BC and Yukon Book Prizes’ In Class video library.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla was a finalist for the 2022 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been nominated for the 2023 Rocky Mountain Book Award (Alberta Young Readers Choice Award).

The Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards (MYRCA) has nominated Dear Peter, Dear Ulla as a 2023 Northern Lights (Grades 7-9) finalist!

Essential Tremor reviewed in The Vancouver Sun. Read full review here.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla is reviewed and “Highly Recommended” in CM (Canadian Review of Materials)! Read the full review here.

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