Angelic Scintillations


poems by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell

112 Pages
May 01, 2011

While deeply embedded in the cultural, historical, ecological, and theological zeitgeist, Angelic Scintillations continues the poet’s spiritual evolution. First, the poet dialogues with her ancestor, seventeenth century Welsh mystic poet Henry Vaughan, the religious practices of his time and mine, using current events and politics to situate the reader. Second, she resacralizes cronehood and attitudes toward aging through humour and healing and using historical and autobiographical references. Third, she revisions the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, restoring their cosmic power via a feminist viewpoint. There is a cohesiveness here that melds a feminist perspecitve with questions about religion and Biblical stories—an attempt to situate all of this within a modern-day context with issues we face politically, geographically, and environmentally in today’s society. As it refers to contemporary and historic struggles for equality, respect and dignity, this collection chronicles the poet’s personalization of the divine experience into a more peaceful, harmonious way of being.

“In this remarkable book, Katerina Fretwell uses formal diction with a contemporary punch to match and challenge a famous ancestor, 17th century poet Henry Vaughan. Both seekers after spiritual peace in the face of emotional turbulence, both rebels in worlds torn by personal and political tragedy, there’s an eerie symmetry between their words. The resulting insights across four centuries offer a kind of grace and light that illuminate the terrible question of how to face the ravages of addiction, cruelty and grief with dignity and humanity. A book that underlines the essential relevance of poetry to our day.”
—Susan McMaster, editor of Pith & Wry: Canadian Poetry

“Katerina Fretwell brilliantly conjoins the narrative of her life and lines with the life and lines of her distant relative Henry Vaughan. Interweaving their shared visionary imaginings, she carefully distinguishes fundamentalist ‘Christianisms’ from a more visionary Christology and Mary Magdalenenology (if there is no such word, there should be). Short free verse poems, like stepping stones among the longer ones that echo and honour Vaughan’s forms, plunge us into the morass of contemporary politics and culture. Yet the cycle does not leave us to languish there. The language of these glosas is dense, but accessible. The poet has stepped into the alembic of Vaughan’s alchemical transformations, expanding them from within to include the goddess and a non-dogmatic spirituality that Vaughan, were he living today, would fully approve.”
—Susan McCaslin, author of Demeter Goes Skydiving

“Hard-won and impeccably danced, this crazy patchwork pilgrim’s path is Fretwell’s Camino. Step with her out of drunkenness into holy madness and the deepest sanity of all. Don’t be surprised if you see William Blake and Kathleen Raine in the shadows, walking the same path.”
—Harold Rhenisch, author of The Spoken World

Angelic Scintillations celebrates the mythopoeic in the present moment. Fretwell’s concerns embrace the planet, span centuries, but always return to a contemporary awareness, both political and personal. Throughout her scintillating text, Fretwell’s acknowledged mentors are ancestors who embody an extended poetic tribute to blood ties (from Henry Vaughan through to her immediate family), spirituality (Mary Magdalene) and ekphrastic dedications (to women artists as well as her own portrait homages). Fretwell’s word speaks the heart’s eloquence.”
—Penn Kemp, London Ontario’s inaugural Poet Laureate & acclaimed performer/activist

“If as someone once said, ‘all writing is ancestor worship,’ the thus ensouled poems of Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s Angelic Scintillations, engage the reader in the brave possibility of a revivified past whereby new poems honour old poems, and life, lived in a great continuum, also gives living breath to dead ink. The Shakers believed that when we give our entire attention to the work we do, the angels will come. If that is so, perhaps they fan their wings here.”
—John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of Norfolk and of the City of Brantford

“In poems ranging from a sequence of glosas on Vaughan to a sestina and taut, allusively-textured lyrics, Fretwell melds an exploration of religious/spiritual quests with an intense critique of contemporary consumerism, the manipulations of the media and gender imbalances that persist in the 21st century. Counterposing her struggles through addiction with her muses’ own travails, Fretwell’s poems compose a litany of musical beauty, a ‘melisma of notes’ becoming ‘one voice,’ her ‘tongue lauding/ the wildest flower, tiniest trilobite.’
—Catherine Owen, author of Frenzy

“We find the gospel of Mary Magdalene is not only an alternate rendering of Gnostic scripture which envelopes the reader in arcane mysticism, but these are soul tales woven within the tapestry of the documentary poem, a de-gendered or androgynous way of the cross wafting from eden to byzantium on hallowed wings, origami and absinthe laced.”
—Anne Burke, Feminist Caucus Chair, League of Canadian Poets



Award-winning poet and professional artist, Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s poetry and art reside across Canada and in Denmark, Japan, and across the United States. Recent poetry collections include Samsara: Canadian in Asia and Shaking Hands with the Night. Angelic Scintillations is her sixth published volume of poetry. Her poetry has appeared in over 50 North American journals, and in over 40 anthologies. She chaired the Lowther Jury in 2006, performed at the League of Canadian Poets Cabaret in Winnipeg in the 1980s, was interviewed by Susan Helwig on In Other Words in the late ’90s, and read her poems on Poetry In Motion on television. Her poetic sequence “Quartzite Dialogues” was set to music by Michael Horwood and performed at the Festival of the Sound in 1999 and 2004 and at the Takefu Music Center in Japan in 1999. She is a member of the feminist caucus of the League of Canadian Poets. She lives just south of Parry Sound, Ontario.

1 review for Angelic Scintillations

  1. InannaWebmaster

    February 2012, Jones Av.
    reviewed by Ellen Jaffe

    “Fretwell’s language and images are always strong, surprising, exuberant … [and] resonate on many levels to show the poet’s vision of the world.”

    January 2012, Ontario Poetry Society’s newsletter, Verse Afire
    reviewed by Bernice Lever, Bowen Island, BC (Oct 11, 2011)

    “Angelic Scintillations is a ‘tour de force’, a first class example of a planned collection, a shining example of the power and beauty of a themed or focussed book. Katerina Fretwell has created a poet’s textbook through her Afterword, adding gateways for a deeper appreciation of her masterpiece. She highlights how to use set forms that incorporate research and beliefs with her lively creativity in both words and visual art.

    She skillfully avoids the uni-level argument or literal description, instead her philosophical topics interweave with daily physical addictions, positive beliefs with nightmares, and admiration for Nature with horrors of man’s greed. Her poems have reverberations of sound and images that keep readers amused and musing after one reading, soon ready for a second plunge.

    These poems have published credits from 1998 to 2010, but they are a fluorescent reflection of over 60 years of living in small towns to worldly travel experiences. Her sure voice hones her eclectic vocabulary to a brilliance to light our ways. Just one example of showing that reclaiming positive faith is possible from “Alchemy”. ‘Fifth Avenue mavens and Walt Street movers// to Bowery bums and broads //set free, their smiles a passport to grace.’

    This a landmark book, not a quick read, but a bejewelled volume to study. Bravo, Katerina!”
    January 2012, subTerrain (#59)
    reviewed by Carolyne Van Der Meere

    “Katerina Vaughan Fretwell’s sixth collection of poetry deserves careful consideration.… Her third section, entitled “The Whole Soul” … contains a power rarely seen by this reviewer in a collection of poetry.… The complexity of Fretwell’s collection demands a little cerebral workout, but it is well worth the effort.”

    December 2011, Prairie Fire Review of Books (Vol. 11, No. 4)
    reviewed by Elizabeth Greene

    “This is a complex, ambitious book, part search for the poet’s roots, part spiritual autobiography, part critique of the contemporary world and search for redemption, part affirmation of a mystical world view of wholeness and of our ability to find scintillations, or sparks throughtout, despite violence, especially against women, and against the earth.…

    By the end of Angelic Scintillations, we have been on a journey through history, much of the poet’s history and the contemporary world, and we have soared into ether. This is an original, spirited and spiritual, one-of-a-kind book, in many ways a retrospective and summation of a life and career to date, which earns its place in memory.”

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