Poetry Review
May 4, 2004

Bouquet for St. Mary
by Di Brandt
(Pendas Productions
London, Ontario, 2004)
Pendas Poets Series 7

reviewed by Daniel Kolos

First commissioned by St. Mary’s Corporation on
the occasion of their centenary, prize winning
poet Di Brandt has produced ten parts I will
call ‘cantos’, in which, or through which, she re-
tells the founding and history of St. Mary’s
Anglican church of Walkerville.  With tongue
firmly in cheek, Brandt attributes St. Mary’s to
Hiram Walker’s wife, Mary.  Brandt then cleverly
highlights the essential antipathy between
Methodists and firewater.  When that
dissonance ‘erupts’ from the conscience of an
early rector, the synthesis arrive in the guise
of a liquor-friendly religion: the Church of
England.  So well did that result fit the Walker
family that they endowed the new incarnation of
St. Mary’s to the point of being ‘the wet dream
of rectors.’

The sexual imagery Brandt uses is actually an
understatement for the unspoken indecency of
illicit wealth that funded St. Mary’s.  Humor is
always a useful tool with which to skim over
embarrassing details, and Brandt leaves no
skeletons in St. Mary’s closet.  She successfully
captures the mood wherein Anglicans have always
been good natured about our faults – and their
own.

Canto V, perhaps more than any other, lays bare
the sensuality of building and architecture. 
Here Brandt is herself and does not have to
conform to modesty, nor be restrained by
tactfulness.  Throughout the ten ‘cantos’ we read
very human vignettes from a century of church
history:  Brandt reconfirms for us, as well as
for the congregation, that St. Mary’s is St.
Mary’s, but it is people who give it life.  And
it is Brandt who choses the right words to tell
the story of matter and spirit.

Only twice she stumbles with an anachronistic
reference.  Once, when she refers to
a ‘laboratory rat’ in Canto III.  It is possible
that there were such experiments before the First
World War, but it still makes a weak comparison
to a feral brown rat.  Then, in Canto IV, she
calls an early compilation ‘the Mother of all
church fundraising reports.’  Brandt must have
watched too much CNN reporting on Saddam Hussein
that day!

The overall effect of Di Brandt’s poem is like
the blooming of a rose: everybody knows it has
thorns, but is nevertheless delighted with its
incomparable beauty.  Perhaps the ten ‘cantos’
are ten roses forming the Bouquet for St. Mary.