Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Present Things: On Marianne Bluger

Passionate, generous, opinionated, fiercely intelligent, Marianne Bluger raged quietly against her cancer for more than a decade before it ended her life on October 29, 2005. Her undiminished output of poetry in her last years (one book published the day she died, another due next spring) is a tribute to many small battles against death waged in Marianne’s Ottawa home.

Her most recent volumes include zen-inspired tanka and haiku, a tribute to her holocaust-survivor father and, forthcoming, Nude with Scar, which promises poems that turn Marianne Bluger’s unblinking, unsentimental lyricism to the subject of her own illness and death.

The title of one of her poems, "Present Things," encapsulates Marianne Bluger’s poetic philosophy. Her elegantly spare poetry honours, by naming, each thing in existence, and in doing so often releases the emotional power those things and their images command. The following poem for her husband Larry, from her Archibald Lampman Award-winning book Summer Grass (Brick, 1992), shows how each physical detail contributes to a powerful emotional statement.

When You Were Gone to the Gulf

Because our bedroom window was open
spring wind
smelling of grass and humus and flowering trees
came stirring your shirt
where it hung on the doorknob

it was late morning sunny
the radio played in the kitchen
a rock-and-roll song I remember we danced to
in our socks one winter night
all by ourselves in the living room
just because we felt like it

on the dresser lie your shoehorn and bankbook
and on the shelf beside my wrinkle cream
the jar of Chinese linament
I rub your back with when it hurts

and in the cupboard there sit
several pair of your big old shoes
which I sometimes go and look at
because they are so beautiful

Despite her long illness, Marianne Bluger was an inspiring presence for many Ottawa writers, and for devotees of haiku and tanka around the world. She will be missed. But the clear, intense voice of her poetry remains to help us draw back from the frenetic pace of everyday life and contemplate more enduring truths. Her poems are still there for us to look at, whenever we need them.

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