cover image Oh How Can I Keep on Singing?: Voices of Pioneer Women: Poems

Oh How Can I Keep on Singing?: Voices of Pioneer Women: Poems

Jana Harris. Ontario Review Press, $10.95 (102pp) ISBN 978-0-86538-079-0

Harris ( The Sourlands ) has compiled the narratives of pioneer women and daughters living in the Okanogan Valley, northwest of Spokane, during the last two decades of the 19th century, who faced ``killing'' winters, hunger, typhoid, grueling physical work, abandonment, loss and loneliness. Many of their stories, particularly those of the children, are moving. A young girl, Mary Brisky, survived an avalanche with her arms wrapped around her baby sister though her mother and the ``traveling Reverend'' who were in the cabin with her perished. The reminiscence of Mary Jane Bottomley is well done: ``My first memory: / Mother hauling washtub loads of white / snow down the ladder to the loft / my brothers and sister slept in.'' Her father abandoned the family: ``I don't remember / father leaving, it must have been / the day mother sat and rocked me / even though there was wash to do.'' In general, however, the poetry is technically uninspiring and the voices are not adequately differentiated from one another. Also, the poems are not in chronological order, and when they are dated it is often unclear which event in the narrative sequence the date refers to. Photographs not seen by PW. (Nov.)