Leave-Taking moves through stages of grief—the reckoning, the remembering, the rituals—after the sudden death of a spouse. The poems trace reflections on a long marriage, and what it is like to be left behind. The poems travel from Haida Gwaii on the west coast of Canada, across the mountains and into the prairie city of Winnipeg, to the beaches of Cape Cod; however, they stop often to rest in the quiet spaces found inside Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. Through these interspersed cemetery poems and epitaphs—mini-stories in stone—grief unfolds from many perspectives: praise and lament, love and disenchantment, hope and pain, faith and doubt. Above all, Leave-Taking is a tender love elegy; one that connects with anyone who has experienced deep loss.
“An impressive debut from a deeply observant poet, Leave-Taking explores the complexities of love, loss, and grief. Drawing upon music, art, nature, and place as points of departure, the poems alternate between recollection and attention to the present. The result is an evocative and engaging collection.”
—Elena Johnson, author of Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra
“Marilyn Potter’s Leave-Taking is an elegy sung in lyrics of layered tenderness and “hurt—sharp, like flint.” Her poems, with eloquence that can hover in the lived moment’s contradictions, search for “clarity [that] comes through enigmas” in memories of love and marriage. They are also keenly attentive to the world—to Himalayan pines in the Forest of Remembrance, the Coca-Cola bottle someone has left on a marble slab, to clouds “dark silver / —duct tape without the sheen.” They show us how the world can hold our grief, its petals scattered under a willow, or lodged “in a holy pocket just above / where the trunk meets the earth.” And they are poems with news of renewal, like that of the Tamarack “—all those needles / lying there on the ground / and every April / —like the Fool’s surprise /... silky / slippery apple-green.”
—Sue Chenette, author of Slender Human Weight and The Bones of his Being
Marilyn Potter is an award-winning poet and writer living in Toronto. Her poems have appeared in both Canadian and international literary journals and anthologies, been translated into Japanese, and carved into stone in Vancouver’s Van Dusen Garden. Leave-Taking is her first poetry collection.
Leave-Taking - poems by Marilyn Potter
reviewed by Candice James
Canadian Poetry Review - December 13, 2016
Leave-Taking is a delicious mix of lyric and prose poetry. Marilyn Potter takes us down the winding road of grief-- the final realization and the poignant, sometimes distressing memories that remain long after the untimely death of a life partner. Bereavement and loss genuflect in the surreal mirrors of these poems. Some form eloquent epitaphs etched in virtual stone. The poet shows us many perspectives of the cemetery buried in her mind laced with love and loss, passion and disappointment, anticipation and heartache, and finally, belief and introspection.
“Reckoning” runs the gamut of recalling sporadic memories and emotions attached to those memories and culminates ever so succinctly in the last line of the poem:
“There is no hierarchy to sorrow”
The brilliant and vivid imagery in “Haida Gwaii” is second to none. Potter swirls and brushes words into painted pictures onto the canvas of our minds bringing visions alive:
“the sky /
a swirl of whitened cream, ribbon of lavender, /
those seedling, palest green /
“Smudge” in the first two stanzas touches on the harsh reality of actions which can’t be taken back both tangible and intangible:
“sometimes, drawing, I make a mistake /
rub it out with my gum eraser /
blow away the dust
in life /
there are no erasures / only smudges’
Potter’s brilliant imagery rears its beautiful head yet again in the first 4 lines and the last two lines of the poem “October”:
“White-cloud ribbon crocheted through the sky’s /
baby blanket. Cradles with pure fall day. //
Pink mums, banked row upon row, a child’s picnic treat /
--scoop upon scoop of ice cream – strawberry sweet.”
// - //
“Sudden gusts, leaf somersaults, the chase -- /
“Small Space” marries brilliant imagery to action to love in a very original way…drawing circles around one’s own smallness:
“The bathroom blue, Picasso postcards scotch-taped to the wall. /
The bed, adjacent, where we backgammoned nightly. /
I loved that confinement, you all to myself.”
// - //
“So you drew circles around your own smallness /
Last looped doodles scrawled beside a phone.”
“Last Refusal” opens with 3 lines that punch right to the heart of the matter concerning life in general and commands one’s attention immediately, and then… question upon question; imitations of life.:
“The word depression will do /
for one I can’t find /
Rarely do we say what we mean anyway.”
In the poem “Herring Cover – Cape Cod” there is a beautiful series of images running rampant throughout the first two stanzas that transforms into the nostalgia of ‘the one who got away’ in the last stanza”:
“I swam, weightless, far out, /
And I looked for him /
Back on the beach. And he was gone. /
Vanished. Like you.”
The last two poems in the book “Offshore Island” and “Sanctuary” are alive and breathing entities vibrating with vividness of sculpted imagery. Leave-Taking is a tender love song to the dearly departed and will resonate deeply with those who have experienced deep loss, which literally means everyone.
About the Poet: Marilyn Potter is an award-winning poet and writer living in Toronto. Her poems have appeared in both Canadian and international literary journals and anthologies, been translated into Japanese, and carved into stone in Vancouver’s Van Dusen Garden. "Leave-Taking" is her debut poetry book (Inanna Publications 2016).
About the reviewer: Candice James has recently completed 2 three year terms (2010-2016) as Poet Laureate of New Westminster, BC and has been appointed Poet Laureate Emerita of New Westminster, BC. She is also Board Advisor to Royal City Literary Arts Society; Director Pacific Festival of the Book. She is author of twelve poetry books published by five different publishing houses: the first A Split In The Water” (Fiddlehead Poetry Books 1979); and the most recent is “City of Dreams – the New Westminster Poems” (Silver Bow Publishing). Some of her many awards include: Bernie Legge Artist Cultural award; Pandora’s Collective Citizenship award; Pentasi B Woman of Prestige award. She is past president of both Royal City Literary Arts Society and Federation of British Columbia Writers; a full member of League Canadian Poets. She is the Founder of Poetry New Westminster; Poetic Justice: Poetry in the Park; and Slam Central. Further Info at: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candice James and www.candicejames.com
What I Tell My Cousin on the Telephone
How is it
a robin, its feet freezing,
stays behind in our prairie winter
reaches for the hardness
that always out-of-reach-ness
of a dried mountain ash
as if the orange berries were
mere baby sugar pumpkins
warmed by an autumn sun.
Yet when he tries to hang
another flock descends
in black masks
and soft pale yellow underbellies
plucking before my eyes
his every berry. I want
to help. Once again, don’t know how.
The soundless echo of his fall.