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Saturday, 13 December 2014

A full and conscious life: Death of a Seagull by Sheila Martindale

A few days ago I received a Christmas gift from Sheila Martindale: Death of a Seagull: Poems New and Selected. This collection is a summation of a life lived fully and with utmost awareness and consciousness. The poems are straightforward, and unlike much poetry from the academy, there is no pretense, artifice or attempt to impress, just heartfelt truths and realizations in an almost simplistic style.

Sheila's mastery of the haiku form is apparent, as the poems are tight, clear and transparent. All the poems are longer ones, a page or two is the average, but they are definitely not like self conscious renga. Sheila is a patron of all the arts - she volunteers for and attends ballet, symphony, theatre, and art galleries, as well as literary events. Her poems reflect this loving knowledge of other art forms accumulated over a lifetime, and she has completely integrated these various artistic awarenesses and disciplines into her own art.

Sheila is also a lifelong member of the Anglican church, and her poetry reflects the humble and best aspects of Christian spirituality. She is also an immigrant to Canada, another of the many things we share. As a not obvious immigrant (from England), there is still much acculturation new Canadians experience, and this fresh vision provides a poet with insights into our culture which may escape the native born and raised. Sheila lived for extended periods in Montreal, rural southwestern Ontario, and she now resides in Victoria, British Columbia.

The poem Kept Within tells of the hardships of English life during and after the end of WW2:

Even after the blitz had ended
even when the war was over
there was never enough
of anything     

Sheila's poetry is personal, but never solipsistic. Through her eyes we learn of the lives of other people, but as this poem continues, we get a rare glimpse of Sheila writing about her youthful self (Kept Within):

Perhaps it's the cold
I remember most
shivering knock-kneed
in those food line-ups because
clutching ration books and coins
a child could be spared


Sheila's time in Montreal is remembered in End of an Affair:

What was it
that made me leave you
after almost a dozen years?


Part of her answer is:

Even when
there were soldiers at the door
in '70 with bayonets


Toronto (from In Another Country) :

the snow danced
off the eyelashes
of laughing girls
on Dundas Street


A flashback to her youth in England (from Thoughts for My Father from Canada):

even in February you can see the grass
hear the lap of water on the shore
maybe see a snowdrop in a sheltered spot


Victoria (from Will You be My Valentino?):

And maybe you drink
coffee or a glass of wine
and maybe one day
you'll find
your one true love
in downtown Victoria
because of Dee Dee
at Valentino's Cafe


The outward travels and life lived are only pale reflections of Sheila's inner life. There are few poets who can bring me to tears (except of boredom), but her poem Walking manages this with ease:

Every day they pass my window
in a slow and sometimes painful
the old man and his dog

No leash necessary after all these years
and no words
they know where they're going
and do not need to speak of it
or lead each other on


There is often gentle humour as well as pathos, especially in poems like At the Beagle Pub, although often the two are as intertwined as in our own lives (from Flying High):

Judith wants balloons
lots of them
black balloons
to be released
to the sky
rising defiantly
symbol of the soul
set free

Death of a Seagull: Poems New and Selected; Goldfinch Press, 2014,
115 pages, no price given
ISBN 978-0-919139-46-6

review by Chris Faiers/cricket

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