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DOROTHY LIVESAY: PATTERNS IN A POETIC LIFE

Stevens, Peter
Don Mills (Ont.), ECW Press, 1992. 74pp, paper, $14.95, ISBN 1-55022-154-X. (Canadian Biography series). CIP


Grades 9 and up/Ages 14 and up

Reviewed by Alan Thomas

Volume 21 Number 2
1993 March


Much of the history of the twentieth century unrolls in this life of the poet Dorothy Livesay published in the ECW Press's "Canadian Biography" series.

Having been born in 1909, Livesay was, in her late teens, part of a self-consciously modern generation of young Canadians who set their face against the remnants of a Victorian paternalism still enduring in Ontario. She published her first book of poems at eighteen, and found her way to Paris as a student in 1931-32 to witness the intensification of new political hostilities and the deepening of the depression. Later, she wrote for the Toronto Star on the post-war condition of Europe, and by the early sixties was in Africa, instructing at a teacher training college in northern Rhodesia, which was then becoming, under the impetus of de-colonization, the new country of Zambia.

Her literary output, in its content, appears always to have been a reflection of personal experience as one enthusiasm followed another during the march of history. The poetry shows always a simple, direct quality; it makes perhaps its most effective impact in the collection The Unquiet Bed (1967), a celebration of sexuality which, typically, appears in a decade of enthusiastic sexual liberation (from which Dorothy Livesay, then approaching sixty, refused to be left out). Consider the plain and warm candour of lines in "The Touching":

pierce me again
gently
so the penis completing
me
rests in the opening
throbs and its steady pulse
down there is my second heart
beating.

This is an instructive life in the relationship it demonstrates between a sensitive artist and a tumultuous century. Students will enjoy it.


Alan Thomas teaches literature at Scarborough College, University of Toronto, in Toronto, Ontario
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