All We Saw: Poems
“Somewhere a cave is lit by a torch.” This line, from the longer poem “Somewhere Night is Falling,” perfectly encapsulates the scope of All We Saw, the latest collection of poems from Toronto’s poet Laureate, Anne Michaels. Reading these spare, haunting poems is much like being in a dark space suddenly and profoundly illuminated by Michaels’s words.
As I turned page after page, I found myself pulled deeper and deeper into the quietness of her words. The language is direct, the imagery concrete, and the sentiment universal, but that is not to say the poems are common. What Michaels has done is startling in its simplicity; a rendering of human need and desire and loss sing together from these pages.
The book is small, stunningly packaged, and beautifully dedicated to the late Mark Strand and John Berger. Readers familiar with the work of both men will see fragments of their spirits floating through the ether of Michaels’s poems. And, in the acknowledgements section, she also references Leonard Cohen, whose influence is writ large in two of the book’s longer poems, “Sea of Lanterns” and the title poem “All We Saw.”
Reading this book, I found myself pausing over the perfect symmetry of some lines: “you loved like a conspirator against everything / that has the power to defeat us” and “Ask aloud what comes of us.” It is that line, about the asking, that has stayed with me; it is the question I will keep trying to answer, and it is Anne Michaels’s book All We Saw I will return to again and again as I try.