The success of Anne Michaels's first novel, Fugitive Pieces, which won both the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction, led quickly to the reissue of her first two collections of poetry, The Weight of Oranges and Miner's Pond. Like her fiction, Michaels's poetry is passionate, intensely visual, and historically aware, and readers who enjoyed Fugitive Pieces will find much of interest here.
The Weight of Oranges, first published in 1985, is, unfortunately, not a strong collection. Michaels's talent is clear but undeveloped, and her poems, despite their luminous details, are rife with pedestrian metaphors and similes that disrupt the energy of the verse. 1991's Miner's Pond, however, redeems the volume, for it is a much tighter and more accomplished collection. Much of it revolves around writers, artists, and scientists (from Osip Mandelstam and Isak Dinesen to Johannes Kepler), especially their experiences of exile or civil repression. Here, Michaels strikes an effective balance between intense imagery and simple statements of the mechanics of life, as in this stanza from "A Lesson from the Earth," her poem about Kepler:
I saw my first eclipse when I was nine, above Emmendingen, the moon rising from the clouds like an infant's head in its web of blood; the last time I held my father's hand. Michaels often treats art and science as equivalent modes of experience. Both value the visionary imagination over the simple acceptance of things as they are said to be. Her transformative sensibility gives the best of these poems a rare force; a sense of the past is retained even in the most autobiographical pieces, such as the title poem of Miner's Pond, which ends: "Our blood is time." --Jack Illingworth