Spotlight series #39 : Frances Boyle

rob mclennan
3 min readJul 1, 2019

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.


These poems are part of my upcoming book, This White Nest, due out with Quattro Books this fall. My writing tends to speak from the family and domestic spheres, but in this collection I’ve also engaged with archetypal figures, through shadows and absences. A voice I’ve taken to calling an “incantatory everywoman” inhabits many poems. “High Test” is from a central section that features a shifting “Dorothy”, sometimes an actual person, other times overtly or impliedly a figure from fairy tale, myth, history or imagination.

The poems contain ghosts, some grief and a heightened sense of “casting the bones”. I also continue to explore wild places that remain in and around cities, and different kinds of connecting with the environment, so lines between humans and natural features (trees or ocean waves for example) become blurred, and people become part of nature. I’ve employed a variety of styles to reflect the range of subjects, frequently writing lyric or narrative free verse, but also prose poems, somewhat experimental pieces and even the occasional rhyming poem.


High Test

My mind, revved up on high-octane
fuel, runs away from the negative
space where you should be. Amber
light reflects off white high-rises, sits
in my throat as loss and love. My heart
is turned inside out, wrenched it drags
it drags. A ragged scrap on the ground.

The words are a piece of crust
lodged in my throat, they won’t
come out though I want you
to know this more than anything:
the gap you’ve left won’t arc right.

A prayerful chant carries over scrubby
hills, children’s voices braiding and rising,
wordless but for few I pick out
like stones in lentils. Distillation
in their grieving voices. A lantern
flicker, rattle of handle, a cough,
but still I hang on the song, this eerie
keening, my grief twined with the sweet
high notes. The song, electric, is less
laboured than my lamentations.

I want you to know this: I want you
back. My awareness that you’re
beyond return is a dark speck,
some oily residue fouling the line.
Purity is a void instinct knows
can never be filled. My mind’s engine
revs and runs, knocks and pings, over-
taxed, it keeps going, outraces
the choking emptiness. You
ought to know this, I want you
to know this one thing.

Old Acquaintance

I’ve felt that snap of knowledge in the night
the pattered words and patterns knit by rain.
Wakefulness has pulled me through to light

as finches hiccup and rehearse out in the lane.
So rhythms hum, and leaves wave to a beat,
an old voice spins out words I can’t explain.

I shift in sheets, slide head and hands and feet
on smoothest cloth while trying not to cry.
Soon I’ll rise and dress and go out on the street,

mark days with words as humble as goodbye,
hello, how are you
, deny that skirling height
pipits might reach in spiraling to sky.

My ghost sits small beside me, is it right
that what she whispers ricochets through night?

After Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”

Frances Boyle’s [photo credit: Stephen Brockwell] poems and short stories have appeared in anthologies and in print and online magazines throughout Canada and in the U.S., including recent work in Augur Magazine, Rogue Agent, antilang, Harbor Review and Barren. She is the winner of the Diana Brebner Prize, the Great Canadian Literary Hunt and the Tree Chapbook Contest among other local and national awards. Frances’s debut poetry collection was Light-carved Passages (BuschekBooks 2014) and her second poetry book is slated for fall 2019. She is also the author of a novella, Tower (Fish Gotta Swim Editions, 2018) and a short story collection, which is forthcoming in 2020. She lives in Ottawa, where she helps edits Arc Poetry Magazine and writes reviews for Canthius. Please visit