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Full review in Word

The Canadian Girl, by Shannon Stewart, is one of the most impressive collections of poetry I have read in months. From the experiences of childhood, through the relationships with men, to those of motherhood, Stewart perfectly captures the experience of being a woman in Canada.

The first section, The Canadian Girl, is about childhood and youth; one of the poems, 'The Diviners' tells of a young girl who stares wide-eyed at her mother bathing in the moonlight. In many of the poems of this section, the experiences of the girls are surrounded by the mysticism of womanhood, and the anticipation of what is to come. The seriousness of these poems are balanced by the comical "Dear Mr. Wrigley" about the unfortunate incident of getting caught chewing gum in class, and "Hwn," a retelling of a story that begins, "my brother stuck a piece of ham in his ear because I dared him to." This section of the book focuses on girlhood stories that echo the Blakeian themes of innocence and experience.

"The Loves of Aunt Sophronia" are poems based on a Victorian book of housekeeping entitled A Complete Home, in which the fictional Aunt Sophronia takes on the role of "guiding" the other women in the town to the highest plateau of womanhood, while still ensuring that their house is perfectly kept.

"House keeping is not vulgar:" explains Aunt Sophronia, "it is a fine art; it grasps with one hand beauty, with the other utility; it has its harmonies like music, and its order like the stars in their courses." The seriousness with which Aunt Sophronia gives her advice is amusing, while still raising the women to mythological levels. "In Case You Thought You Couldn't" paints a picture of the super-woman, far from the images of the dependent women of the turn of the century, Aunt Sophronia lectures, "There is no such thing as a disaster. Shake your broom at it…

At the turn of a page the definition of what it is to be a woman has changed again. No longer the inquisitive child, or the all-knowing mother, "Talking to God" begins with the poem "At The Moment of Corning"; beautifully and perfectly translated from pure emotion into words, Stewart captures the purity and mystery that is a woman's body

"The Garden of Earthly Delights" deals with the relationships between men and women. Stewart works as an outsider or voyeur in this final section, recounting the social interactions of a ghost and the librarian he haunts, the woman who separates her male and female authors on her book shelf, and the husband who admits to writing a poem much to the surprise of his wife, and friends.

The book ends with "Circle Jerk," an "event" I had never heard of, even as urban myth (which is what all of my male friends assure me it is).

To spite the less than romantic elements of the poem, it is one of the best and most beautiful of the collection. Perfectly outlining the social and sexual differences between men and women, she questions the outcome of a group of women engaged in the same act all trying to capture the ritual, or understand the game. It is here that the poem realizes its beauty. What was only a paragraph ago so comically reduced to vulgar, "boyish" behavior becomes reclaimed by the image of six girls, knees in the air; "And the last one to come, the awkward one the delicate one that one who was so slow and went through so much pain in getting here, we'd give her the whole shining globe, and we'd say: Here, take this. Swallow this. It's yours."

There is a certain sense of awkwardness in these poems, the kind of awkwardness felt by a fourteen year old girl trying to find her place in this world, that is so genuine. The need for ritual, and comradery among women, the joy that is felt after finally understanding everything ones body can do. This is where this work realizes its greatness, by holding up a mirror to each reader and saying "look at how beautiful you are, this is what you can do."
—Janine Flaccavento, Word: Toronto's Literary Calendar