A Peeled Wand: Selected Poems of Anne Szumigalski

A Peeled Wand: Selected Poems of Anne Szumigalski



About the book

A Peeled Wand: Selected Poems of Anne Szumigalski offers a succinct, authoritative overview of the work of one of Canada's most remarkable and original poets. As Saskatchewan writer Elizabeth Philips points out in her introduction:

"Anne Szumigalski’s poetry is infused with spaciousness, with the far-reaching intellectual and spiritual curiosity that supports the vaulting generosity of her imagination. In A Peeled Wand, the life of the imagination is not something fanciful, pyrotechnics that temporarily relieve us, or distract us, or otherwise reconcile us to the harsh exigencies of “real life.” In Szumigalski’s poetic universe, the life of the mind is the cosmic present, and we enter into this vast astonishment the moment we begin to read.

There is an extraordinary freedom in these poems, freedom to imagine other worlds, as well as worlds within worlds, and yet the work has an intimacy that is quintessentially human and ordinary, in the sense that the poems connect viscerally to the dailiness of human existence. It is this paradox, the union of the immediate and ever-changing with the everlasting, that sustains these poems, and makes them essential reading.

A Peeled Wand is both a distillation and reconfiguration of Anne Szumigalski’s life’s work. The poems have been arranged thematically into three sections. Roughly speaking, the first section has to do with childhood and that free access of invention that came so easily to Szumigalski’s work. The second has to do with war and death, and the third with the spiritual, the urge to religiosity that, in this poet’s work, is often shot through with humour – leavened, in some way, with wit and sly insight."
The publication of A Peeled Wand brings Anne Szumigalski's finest poems back into print and allows a new generation to discover her work.

About the author

Szumigalski, Anne

Anne Szumigalski was born in London, England and immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1951. She lived in Saskatoon for over forty years and was a major influence behind the vibrant literary activity in Saskatchewan. She was an internationally known and highly respected poet, essayist and editor who was regularly invited to give readings around the world in places as diverse as Oxford, Boston and Malaysia.

The author of fifteen books, including the post-humously published Fear of Knives, Anne won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1995 for Voice, a collaboration with visual artist Marie Elyse St. George. She published nine collections of poetry including Woman Reading in Bath, Doctrine of Signatures, Dogstones and Rapture of the Deep. In addition, her poetry appeared in countless Canadian and international journals and magazines. Her poetry was also published in numerous anthologies, including Out of Place, Soho Square III and Towards 2000. Anne collaborated with Terrence Heath on four radio dramas, a play for voices entitled Wild Man’s Butte, and on the poetry collection Journey/Journée. She also edited a collection of Caroline Heath’s poetry entitled Why Couldn’t You See Blue?

Over the years, Anne was the recipient of many major literary awards and prizes, including two Saskatchewan poetry awards, two Writers’ Choice Awards and two nominations for the Governor General’s Award. Anne received a Founders’ award from the Saskatchewan Writers Guild in 1984, was named “Woman of the Year” by the Saskatoon YWCA in 1989 and was honoured with the Saskatchewan Order of Merit and a Life Membership from the League of Canadian Poets. Anne’s passing in April 1999 was mourned by all those she had touched.



When I am old
I will totter along broken pavements
the strings of my boots undone
smelling a bit strong like any
fat old woman who has forgotten
which day is Tuesday
(my bath night if you like)

stiff my clothes from old dirt
not sweat at my age mumbling
the cracked enamel mug

eleven cats playing
in my weedy yard drinking
my little ration of milk
with me     and withy withy
the cats circle around my house
at night singly filing
in and sleeping on the
saggy stained bed and the chair
and the crumby tabletop

One day they will find me dead
O dead dead
A stinking old bundle of

and in my hand
a peeled wand
and in my ear a cricket sitting
telling me stories and predictions

and the time of night




a word meaning Holy Children

has been lost
between the pages of a book

one early dusk
you lean over my shoulder
the better to see what I am reading
you riffle through the pages with your thumbs
and that forgotten sound escapes into the world
through the fan of leaves

at once we begin trying
to pronounce it
the long and difficult vowels
rest on our lips like stinging insects
we dare not brush away

then the computer gets hold of it
flaps the syllables about
cards follow cards
sliding out
and piling up

and on the cards the punched names
of daughters and of sons
their many variations
from century to century
from language to language


the Madonna whose smile
is as sweet as plaster
turns out to be made
of painted wood
her stiff crinoline
is carved as well as painted
perhaps to hide the hinges
that pin her skirts together

a bent sexton with floppy hair
fits in the tiny key
so delicately made
a brass scroll

the saints, children of Mary,
live beneath her skirts
there they stand in stiff rows
palms raised together in a prayer
one row for martyrs
one for prelates
another for pinched abbesses
who have given it all up

at the very centre
where Mary’s legs (if she had any)
would spring from her body
winged innocents play among vines
and ears of carved wheat

the true heart of the Madonna
remarks the sexton
with sacred joy


one Sunday in May our children
who have hardly noticed us till now
decide on a Feast of Recognition

the youngest brings chains of withering marigolds
twines them over the backs of our chairs
the two eldest, with napkins over their arms,
bring in the dinner course by course
the food, thank goodness, is invisible
we gesture over huge empty plates
our daughter, not spilling a drop,
pours red ink into the glasses for wine

the last course is a much more solemn affair
we are told to rise and all together sing

the muddled singing gives a mewling sound

then a dish of flames is set down before me
its cinders glowing like cherries
you are luckier
get a basket of petals
into which you dip your face
making munching noises

you come up smiling
crushed petals cling to your hair

who is to blame for my lips’ blisters?

afterwards your cool mouth
tastes of almonds



In the decade since the Saskatoon-based poet Anne Szumigalski died, all but one of her 16 collections have gone out of print. So it is a great and good thing that A Peeled Wand: Selected Poems of Anne Szumigalski (96… >>

Winnipeg Free Press

In the decade since the Saskatoon-based poet Anne Szumigalski died, all but one of her 16 collections have gone out of print.  
So it is a great and good thing that A Peeled Wand: Selected Poems of Anne… >>

— Ariel Gordon Winnipeg Free Press

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