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Imprint and Casualties: Poets on Women and Language, Reinventing Memory
Review by Lily Iona MacKenzie

     Imprint and Casualties edited by Anne Burke, attempts to capture the spirit of the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets in the late '80s and early '90s. It is thus an important document, a "living archive" that immortalizes in print the women involved in these proceedings.

     In a series of letters written between 1985 and 1987 (the most compelling part for this reader), Erin Moure and Bronwen Wallace discuss feminist theory and the underlying assumptions that went into the 1987 panel, "Illegitimate Positions." Moure defends the language philosophers (particularly Wittgenstein) who "show us that the way we speak, the concepts we can form in language, largely governs what we can know, and finally, how we can act" (24). She says, "in poetry, language conveys values. If we don't examine it, we duplicate the eyes of the Father" (25).

     Wallace resists the assumption that language-centered writing rescues women from the patriarchy, claiming that it can be "just as easily co-opted by the patriarch as any other kind" (28). Wallace believes that "we must begin with what we are, with what we have already learned, with how we have acted and continue to act in the world, as well as from theory" (28).

     In theory and practice, both writers represent the parallel tracks that Carolyn Zonailo describes in her piece near the end of the book, "A Poetics of Memory." Zonailo suggests a distinction between lyric and narrative/confessional poets. She believes that "In the narrative mode, the poet tells the story of their life and memory plays a key part in the piecing together of a poet's individual biography" (155). She theorizes that the lyric "moves both poet and reader toward epiphany, discovery, luminosity, revelation, and change in perception or expansion of consciousness" (155).

     Zonailo's ideas explain, partially, at least, the differences between Moure and Wallace, who work from divergent assumptions. Wallace wants to capture female voices and experiences in her poems. It appears that Moure wants to break out of that mode, “to give vent to a plural language (Dupre), not curbing feminism to a narrow truth, but using the oral and literary nature of women's expression, escaping linearity and the law, breaking out of a symbolism that excludes us and our thought...just to steal a few phrases from them" (31).

     The remainder of the book consists of papers that other poets presented for additional Feminist Caucus panels, a problem for this reader. Seeing only the papers without getting an overview of the whole event feels like eating a sandwich with no filling: the actual discussions that took place in response to the presentations. Still, there's enough here to give a reader interested in feminist poetics some ideas to chew on. The section on memory and poetics is particularly thoughtful, including an insightful essay from editor Anne Burke.

Imprint and Casualties: Poets on Women and Language, ReInventing Memory
edited by Anne Burke
Broken Jaw Press, Fredericton, NB, Canada, 2000
Prairie Fire Journal

Copyright by Lily Iona MacKenzie:, 2004 | Articles | Imprint and Casualties
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