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The Malahat Review – Fall 2007

This issue marks the publication’s fortieth anniversary with an entire issue in tribute to the founder, long-time editor, and guiding spirit, Robin Skelton. Here we have a “collage” of pieces from students, friends, peers, and people who never even met him – the “composite,” as Editor John Barton said, “emerging from the overlapping and multilayered reminiscences, essays, and poems by forty-one contributors from five countries is not exact, but the likeness suits our beloved, be-ringed, pentacled, cape-draped and walking-stick-strutting master.”

This issue marks the publication’s fortieth anniversary with an entire issue in tribute to the founder, long-time editor, and guiding spirit, Robin Skelton. Here we have a “collage” of pieces from students, friends, peers, and people who never even met him – the “composite,” as Editor John Barton said, “emerging from the overlapping and multilayered reminiscences, essays, and poems by forty-one contributors from five countries is not exact, but the likeness suits our beloved, be-ringed, pentacled, cape-draped and walking-stick-strutting master.”

Included in this issue is an excerpt from Skelton’s unpublished memoir, his short story entitled “Lady in Waiting,” as well as Matthew J. Trafford’s Far Horizons Award-winning short story entitled “Past Perfect,” which was inspired by one of Skelton’s own undeveloped plot summaries and fleshed out. Nicholas Bradley’s critical essay attempts to situate Skelton as both a scholar and poet in British Columbian literary history, specifically in relation to the West Coast Renaissance, in which place played a vital role. Among the reminiscences we find Theresa Kishkan’s “‘Wilder than art and stranger than music,’” telling of Robin Skelton the nurturing teacher/poet/friend, and Yvonne Owens’s “Incantations and Craft: Robin Skelton’s Magical Artistry,” where we learn that Skelton’s witchcraft and poetry were interwoven and complementary forces in his life. In just a few hundred words, Linda Rogers’s “Inconsonance” finishes this tribute perfectly, not only showing Skelton’s last days but also the playfulness and passion he invested into his life with words and with others.

Anita Lahey handles Skelton’s poetry honestly and compellingly in her review of Facing the Light, Skelton’s posthumous book of poetry. “Not being a west coaster,” Lahey says, “I came to Skelton as an outsider. I confess that the blurb on the book gave me pause, with its hyperbolic declaration [. . .]” Despite being “worried” after sixty pages, having “read many poems that bore a suspect tone of profundity,” she came to the poem entitled “24.iii.88” which begins: “This is a time / when the cat walks through the mirror / and all the mistletoe berries / fall like snow. // This is a time when the / red wine turns to silver / and pillars of the house are black. // This is the time / when, opening the cupboards / we discover only crawling children.” Later in the poem comes what Lahey calls “the penultimate couplet”: “‘There is no fly. No sound. No room; / no bed; no house; no life, no death.’” With this Lahey concludes: “This poem is both a life’s work and a life’s end . . . an astounding final word from a long-celebrated poet.”

This issue of The Malahat Review serves as an excellent introduction to the person and poetry of Robin Skelton as well as a valuable artifact in the magazine’s important literary history.
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