Margaret Avison was born in 1918 in Galt, Ontario, Canada, and was raised in Regina, Calgary, and Toronto. She began writing at an early age and studied English literature at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College, earning a BA in 1940 and an MA in 1965. In the early 1940s, her poems began to appear in periodicals and anthologies. In 1956, she received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in poetry, and in 1960, she published her debut collection, Winter Sun (Routledge and Kegan Paul), which was awarded Canada’s Governor General’s Award for poetry.
In 1966, Avison’s second collection, The Dumbfounding, was published in the United States by W. W. Norton. Subsequent books include Sunblue (Lancelot Press, 1978), Not Yet But Still (Lancelot Press, 1997), and No Time (Brick Books, 1989), for which she received a second Governor General’s Award in 1990. Her collection Concrete and Wild Carrot (Brick Books, 2002) was awarded the 2003 Griffin Poetry Prize; the judges’ citation describes her as “a national treasure” who “has forged a way to write, against the grain, some of the most humane, sweet, and profound poetry of our time.”
In 2004, Porcupine Quill released Always Now: Collected Poems, a three-volume compilation of Margaret Avison’s work. In a Canadian Book Review Annual review, Allison Sivak describes Avison’s collection as “searching religious poetry in precise and concrete language, firmly anchored in the physical as she contemplates the spiritual.” Indeed, Avison was well known as a Christian poet, and her faith influenced her life and her work. She published one final collection of poetry during her lifetime, Momentary Dark (McClelland & Stewart, 2006).
In 2014, McClelland & Stewart released the posthumous Listening: The Last Poems of Margaret Avison, which was named a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year. Her unfinished autobiography, I Am Here and Not Not-There, was edited and released in 2009 by Porcupine’s Quill.
During her lifetime, in addition to writing poetry, Avison worked as a librarian, proofreader, editor, teacher, and social worker, and she served as a writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario from 1973 to 1974. She received three honorary doctorates and the Order of Canada. Avison died on July 31, 2007, in Toronto.
Listening: The Last Poems of Margaret Avison (McClelland & Stewart, 2014)
Momentary Dark (McClelland & Stewart, 2006)
Always Now: Collected Poems (Porcupine Quill, 2004)
Concrete and Wild Carrot (Brick Books, 2002)
No Time (Brick Books, 1989)
Not Yet But Still (Lancelot Press, 1997)
Sunblue (Lancelot Press, 1978)
The Dumbfounding (W. W. Norton, 1966)
Winter Sun (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960)
I Am Here and Not Not-There (Porcupine’s Quill, 2009).