Always Now, Collected Poems of Margaret Avison, encompasses in three volumes all of the published books, from Winter Sun (1960) to Concrete and Wild Carrot (2002), and is framed by a gathering of uncollected and new poems respectively. When complete, Always Now will present all of the poems, up to 2002, that Margaret Avison wishes to preserve. Volume One extends from the uncollected poems to Avison's translations of Hungarian poems, and includes Winter Sun and The Dumbfounding. Besides the uncollected surprises, two of them dating to high school days and first published in Hermes, Toronto's Humberside Collegiate literary magazine, there are the loved and familiar early poems, just as fresh now as they were then, from which certain wonderful lines still jump out: 'Nobody stuffs the world in at your eyes./ The optic heart must venture'; 'In the mathematics of God/ there are percentages beyond one hundred.' Margaret Avison's poems have warmed the hearts and enlarged the thinking of two generations of Canadian readers.
'It is Avison's unique accomplishment to write, in and for a secular world, about faith and God, with intelligence and without becoming either sentimental or preachy. Her faith is foundational to her writing. In speaking about the forces that shaped her earlier writing, she relates how she resisted commitment to Christianity because she feared it would mean an end to writing poetry. As it turned out, ''new surges of vitality came with new Christian faith, and poetry lost its status as my first priority''.'
'The poetic genius of cold weather is Toronto poet Margaret Avison, whose work hooked me in my thirties and has never let go. Poems like Snow, New Year's Poem, Thaw, Banff and Death, which first appeared in Winter Sun (University of Toronto Press, 1960), have now happily reappeared in Always Now, the first volume of her collected poems (Porcupine's Quill, 2003).
'Avison gives us the full array of physical and spiritual possibilities from lock-up to thaw. The feast and famine that ruled John Hornby's life has echoes in her poetry, where tiny physical phenomena are seen with the ''hallucinatory intensity'' of a last meal. On a window ledge lies a lost pearl in ''the suety, snow-luminous plainness / of morning.'' At the end of the day, under a snow-laden sky, ''Madame night'' appears in ''prune and mottled plumes.''
'George Whalley wrote about the unknowable in human and natural form, Margaret Avison writes about the unknowable in all its forms. In her poetry, weather is a portent, a visible sign of the invisible, evidence of God made flesh. Our lives, she suggests, are held by the weather, penetrated by ''precious terrible coldness'' and enlarged by looking upward. When ''the soul's gates'' unseal, snow turns into ''asters of tumbled quietness.'' '
'It is instructive again to see in the arc of Avison's career how we move from the crystal clarities of wintry seeing to spiritual revelations beyond seasonal flux, from a plain winter sun to an otherworldly dumbfounding. If it is true that major poets revolve around a single idea as around a multi-faceted crystal, then Avison would qualify for the honour. Consider a survey of recurrent motifs in this volume: snow, sun, magic, the inner eye, the shielded interior space, and particularly, I noticed this time through, the waterdrop. These latter two recall our hortus conclusus theme, the minutest of gardens, the mind's eye as a clear, globed, magnifying refraction of light that contains all space within it (look closely at the beautiful colour photograph and you'll get the idea).'
'The design and layout of this work is up to the usual high standards of The Porcupine's Quill. Margaret Avison deserves no less for her beautifully crafted and profound work. Her artistic integrity and spiritual depth are everywhere apparent in her poetry.'
'Margaret Avison is a national treasure. For many decades she has forged a way to write, against the grain, some of the most humane, sweet and profound poetry of our time.'