Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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We are frequently accused of being a throw-away society, and not without reason. We often praise the new simply for being new, and in the same breath we deride the breakthroughs of the past for being quaint, rustic, or obsolete. Such are the capricious judgments of fashion. Even poetry, which is often meant to speak to the ages, cannot always escape the fate of our fickle moods.

This spring, however, my publisher McClelland & Stewart is bringing out two anthologies that I am very excited to tell you about. The first is a new edition of of the 1994 anthology Canadian Poetry from the Beginnings Through the First World War. According to M&S: "This is the only anthology to present a full history of Canadian poetry — from the early 1600s through the expansiveness of poetic activity during the 18th and 19th centuries and into the flourishing first decades of the 20th century. The editors have compiled works from over 50 poets, including the verse of Isabella Valancy Crawford, Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott, and several long narrative poems, including Oliver Goldsmith's 'The Rising Village' and Crawford's 'Malcolm's Katie.'"

Here too is Pauline Johnson, Alexander McLachlan, and Charles Sangster. If there are old, familiar favorites here, then that is a good thing, but for a reader new to this anthology, like me, there are so many names I wasn't already familiar with, and that is a great thing. Here is an opportunity for a reader to explore the past, to understand the history of our country through the eyes of those who recorded how it felt to be alive.

Take the poet Charles Mair (1838 - 1927). Born in Lanark, Upper Canada, Mair studied at Queen's University, and contended with the likes of Louis Riel, once in the Red River Rebellion of 1870 when Riel captured Mair, and again in 1885 when Riel was captured. Here is the first stanza of Mair's "The Song" from "The Last Bastion":

Hear me, ye smokeless skies and grass-green earth
Since by your sufferance still I breathe and live!
Through you fond Nature gave me birth,
And food and freedom -- all she had to give.
Enough! I grew, and with my kindred ranged
Their realm stupendous, changeless and unchanged,
Save by the toll of nations primitive,
Who throve on us, and loved our life-stream's roar,
And lived beside its wave, and camped upon its shore.

I am grateful to the editors of this book, Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies, and to the New Canadian Library, for keeping these fascinating words, and so many other literary treasures, in print for readers to enjoy. There is a feast of discovery in this book. A must read for anyone interested in the history of Canadian poetry.

Stay tuned for my next post about Canadian Poetry: 1920 to 1960 edited by Brian Trehearne.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart, 2010) and three other collections of poetry. He is also the editor of The I.V. Lounge Reader and The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology.

Go to Paul Vermeersch’s Author Page