This is an excellent entry into the work of a respected poet.
The Essential Dorothy Roberts is a subtle and graceful poetry collection.
Roberts, who died in 1993, came from a family of poets and was encouraged to follow in their footsteps. Her own poems were originally published across a wide span of time, ranging from her first chapbook in 1927 to her final collection, In the Flight of Stars, from 1991. The Essential Dorothy Roberts is the first twenty-first-century publication to collect her work.
Roberts’s poetry may at first seem staid or old-fashioned; her imagery is more plainly stated than that of many modern poets. Her poems’ quality, however, is unquestionable. They turn an insightful gaze on a myriad of topics, their messages often revealing themselves fully only after careful consideration, like complex visions coalescing out of a seemingly bare background.
Editor Brian Bartlett’s foreword outlines the common themes of Roberts’s work. Hers is, he says, `poetry of exile’ (Roberts lived much of her life in the US after her childhood in New Brunswick). Nature, people, and the home are observed with a sense of distance and nostalgia, as removed as impartial observations at times, but with an unmistakable undercurrent of passion. Explosions of passion are rare; reserved, slow builds toward emotion are no less impactful. Formality and repetition are used as highly effective tools:
She was lost in the wood because a few leaves fell,
They fell and changed the pattern of the wood,
– Peter Dabbene
`[Roberts] found in our developing awareness of science and in our growing awareness of the construction and inter-relationships of the universe her own subject: natural process, change, the relationships between the microscopic and the astronomic, the flow of life. She wrote at a time when we found ourselves able to look deeper, think further. She is our poet of our new sense of the hugeness of the universe, and her best poems are still astonishing, like no other’s.’– Travis Lane
`In The Essential Dorothy Roberts, a svelte volume designed to champion “[t]his undervalued poet,” Brian Bartlett collects forty-eight of Roberts’ poems (7)…. The Essential Dorothy Roberts has convinced me to add two or three of her poems to the reading list when I teach modern Canadian poetry-“Dazzle,” perhaps, and “Outburst of May,” with its vivid representation of spring and seasonal change: “May is the truth. To dampen down explosion / Autumn will have to come, the chilling fall / Of spent particulars before another tension” (12).’
– Nicholas Bradley