Patricia Keeney

The Myths Among Us: Frances Boyle’s Openwork and Limestone

The poems of Openwork and Limestone draw us down and back. But “that which won’t stay buried rises,” asks “what flows unseen beneath our lives?” (“Inhumed”). This is the dangerous and thrilling question posed by Boyle’s technically superb, fearlessly probing volume. The title and cover image are inspired. Openwork is meticulous and complex, configuring what lies behind. Time and vision seep through. Limestone is fossil-fuelled, surprising with fragments of ancient life. 

Frances Boyle. Openwork and Limestone. Okotoks. AB: Frontenac house Poetry, 2022

Boyle’s poems are informed by myth making: Celtic, Slavic, original. The music of myth plays through them, living in sense memory and in the individual subconscious, connecting to the prehistoric, to earth’s archeology and anthropology.

The book of nature speaks mythically: “The shades of lost girls inhabit me… I will myself to be fluid, to find / the water table in my veins // so I can nourish a shaggy-barked tree, / comfort a shaggy-headed man” (“Arbutus”). Boyle’s language reverberates and excites. Profound images bubble up. A flock of birds becomes “Aerobatic origami, / the cries and percussion of pummelled air” (“Murmuration”). Her words are chewy: “Dunes like patted sides of sandcastles. / Their curves hard-hewn, chiselled” (“Strand”).

And she often achieves ecstasy: “Word-seeds     invisible / among / a tangle    of weeds” (“Evoking Awen”). In “Return of the Bones to the Sea” she breathes under a salmon moon:

grasping flare
of red-rimmed gills, in and out,
a heartbreak, an outpouring. A tail
fin, a jack-pine, wind-sculpted
or water-battered, that faint-
waving flag.

Word witchery makes magic of detailed specifics in the sensate world. “Pegging Out Washing” yields “age-old ways” and fun-wonder, fastening the shadows of “legs, arms, / echoes of feet,” receiving “wind-channelled sunshine,” exhalations of moisture and drapery that nuzzle and shiver.

Boyle’s imagination is infused by the time-tempered thickness of living. “Round beach stones            clack / conversing together” as she walks, beginning to feel the river’s age in them. “Chuckling  rumble   as   they bump / against companions   eggs boiling / in a pot,” leaving her with “An  awareness… / of gravity   among   the speaking stones” (“My Grip on Earth”). In “No Higher Than the Heart,” she is “awed by the strength it takes to heft fieldstones” only “thigh high,” so that with grit in teeth and eyes, wind combing the roots of her hair, she can celebrate the heart of the wall aching to be filled, “contact points tick[ed] in for friction, so the rubble will cohere.”  

There is unflinching honesty in Boyle’s psychological acuity and her ongoing analysis of self within the web of time and the richness of the physical world. With her sister at the family home, “our childhood house, a red lily full of shrouded shapes,” she pauses, “drunk with rain” knowing “the quibble of lilies,” her mind “a repository / of tangles, wool catscradled into a birdsnest maze, / kinked and fuzzy-edged” (What Letting Go Means”). She shares what she sought: “the gifts growing up brought, / love and fever,” telling her sister “stand back from the fire” while she “probe[s] the passageway, wield[s]the red lily.”

Mapping the world with mind and memory, transforming, her poems stay tuned to the backbone’s “spiny retelling of what / accretes—grief stoic, love in layers / of the everyday” (“Return of the Bones to the Sea”), and “the inhalation of mountains / and the sea’s unceasing bellow-lungs” (“The Whole Tall World”).


Patricia Keeney is an award-winning poet, novelist, theatre and literary critic. The author of ten books of poetry and two novels, her writing has been widely translated. Her latest poetry volume, Orpheus in Our World (NeoPoiesis) connects ancient Greek lyrics with contemporary theatrical dialogue. Her latest novel One Man Dancing (Inanna) is a story of Africa, politics, art and personal survival set on the world stage. Her forthcoming novel, Emptiness and Angels: A story of the divine feminine combines Biblical mystery, feminist satire and spiritual quest. Keeney is a longtime professor of Literature, Humanities and Creative Writing at Toronto’s York University. Website: [updated in 2023]

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