Review of Ann Clayton’s Migration
By Corrie Shoemaker
Published in 2017 with the assistance of Vocamus Writers Community, the poetry collection Migration by author Ann Clayton offers a personal glimpse into the journey of an immigrant who chose Canadian citizenship and started a lifelong love affair with Canada. Documenting the experiences, losses and loves of a citizen transitioning between countries and identities, Clayton’s poems provide a fresh view to the wonder and grounded essence that is Canada. Written from her own experiences adjusting to life as a new Canadian, the text presents a raw reflection on the immigrant story and the changes associated with citizenship. Clayton’s beautifully poignant work analyzes Canada as both a country of belonging and challenges. Her poems examine the physical essence of Canada, the rock cliffs, dirt, gorges and weather, while also uncovering the heart of personal existence in a country wild and free.
A number of Clayton’s poems focus on the physical aspects of Canada, depicting differences in landscape and highlighting the snow, the cold, the vegetation, and the farming crops. She is interested in the physical essence of Canada (rocks, dirt, weather) and in the poem “The New Canadian Gardener”, comically presents the irony of having a garden when one is frequently buried under snow. Clayton also touches on Canadian society, focusing on community life, festivals, events, and her rewarding personal relationships. Her work examines the many opposites experienced while immigrating from South Africa to Canada; for example, the juxtaposition of crowds in Johannesburg versus the unlimited space of rural Canada. The hot African temperatures and the frozen Canadian soil provide the perfect dichotomy from which to examine Canada as new and different to her homeland. Drawing on her many years living in Ontario as a Canadian Clayton peels back the layers of Canadian identity, reveals the jewels of experience she has personally collected, and shares these special moments with her readers.
Clayton’s unique wordplay presents idyllic depictions of Canadian cities and landscapes. Using humour and warmth she takes the reader on a journey through Ontario while dialoging about Canadian gardening, Mennonite country, Octoberfest in Kitchener, Guelph, and Ontario’s historical bridges. Poems like “The Bridges of Ontario”, “Johnston Green”, “Kitchener Octoberfest”, and “Guelph Late Summer” provide varied snapshots of locations within Ontario that will thrill locals who have seen the province as Clayton describes it. For those who have yet to discover the charm of Guelph in the late summer or the excitement of Kitchener Octoberfest Clayton invites interest with a warm and a generous tone, describing the communities as welcoming and united. Other poems including “Driving to Kitchener”, “Late December” and “The Bridges of Ontario” discuss the unique connection between the heart, God and the land. Referencing Mennonites, God’s land, and the Christ child, Clayton alludes to the strong religious history connected to the land and communities of Ontario.
While Clayton praises Canada and clearly expresses a fierce love for her adopted country, she is not blind to the challenges of pulling up roots and moving across the ocean to a new world. The poems “Mountains of Memory” and “Being Here” both examine the loss associated with leaving a country, separating from one’s family and exchanging a familiar location for another. While there is an underlying hope for something different and fruitful, Clayton’s hope does not mask the loss associated with change. The few poems in this collection that depict South Africa, including “Sanskrit”, “The Child”, and “Being Here”, are tinged with nostalgia, pain and love. My only criticism while reading the text was a desire to learn more about Clayton’s previous homeland. While she fills her collection with poem after poem describing the beauty of Canada, one cannot truly appreciate her joy in a new land, without comparing it to her journey of the past. A few extra poems painting her world in South Africa would have added more details to the comparative colour palette. The few works Clayton provided about South Africa left me wanting more.
From the loss and pain in Africa, to the overwhelming joy of new love, personal and platonic, Clayton covers a variety of emotions in her poems. In “Canadian Yarn: A Villanelle” she discusses falling in love with Canada as a country; it was a slow growing appreciation while she still grieved over saying goodbye to family. In “Poem for a Canadian” Clayton discusses passionate love and falling for her partner who wrote her letters from a snowbound land. She shares personal moments that all lovers will recognize, the quiet moments of trust, affection and humour.
Clayton’s strength rests in her simple yet moving descriptions of Canadian life. Migration paints a beautifully linguistic picture of transitioning from life in Johannesburg, South Africa to Toronto and then Guelph, Ontario. Weaving human descriptions of daily life among architectural elements of the city and personal interactions as a new Canadian, Clayton draws the reader into her world of snow, natural landscapes and heartfelt experiences. For new Canadians, Clayton’s poetry confirms the hopeful future that our country embodies, and for those native-born to Canada, she reminds us of the forgotten beauty and privilege of calling Canada home.
Corrie Shoemaker is a writer of both academic and creative works. Her novel The Frenchman's Daughter, a historical mystery set in 1890s France and England, is forthcoming in 2019. You can follow Corrie at her website The Write Stuff: Literature with Charm or through her Facebook page C.L.Shoemaker. She also frequently writes for The Stratford Festival Review. She lives in Guelph, Ontario.