Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

KEEPING GREAT CANADIAN POETS IN PRINT: THREE BOOKS FROM THE PORCUPINE'S QUILL

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KEEPING GREAT CANADIAN POETS IN PRINT: THREE BOOKS FROM THE PORCUPINE'S QUILL

One of the themes I've been dealing with as writer in residence for Open Book Toronto is the danger of losing our cultural inheritance because of a tendency toward cultural amnesia. In Canadian letters, our chief safeguard against this tendency has been the New Canadian Library. Established in 1958 by Jack McClelland and Malcolm Ross, it is the aim of the NCL to keep in print the very best of Canadian literature. Or, rather, the best of Canadian prose fiction, since the vast majority of the works that constitute the NCL are novels. For a time, McClelland & Stewart also published the Modern Canadian Poets Series, which took up the task of keeping our best poetry in print, usually in the form of judiciously selected and expertly introduced volumes of works by major poets like Milton Acorn, Margaret Avison, and Dennis Lee. Unfortunately, the MCPS was abandoned, but the task of keeping our cultural memory alive should never fall to one imprint or institution.

The responsibility for keeping excellent works in print should be shared by all publishers. I believe this strongly, and this is the reason, as poetry editor for Insomniac Press, I have worked to get books like A.F. Moritz's Early Poems and David W. McFadden's Griffin nominated selected volume Why Are You So Sad? published. It's important to me to find books like this and do what I can to get them into print, so I am happy to tell you that this spring Insomniac Press is publishing Why Are You So Long and Sweet? Collected Long Poems of David W. McFadden, edited by Stuart Ross, as a companion volume to McFadden's selected poems.

And it is with this in mind that I am equally happy to report that The Porcupine's Quill of Erin, Ontario, one of our most treasured small literary presses, is bringing out three exciting books as part of the their spring season that will return to print works by three important Canadian poets including a playful long poem by a three-time Governor General's Award winner, a new selection of poems by an almost forgotten master craftsman, and a book of essays by one our most cherished and beloved poets.

A Suit of Nettles by James Reaney is a strange chimera of a book, equal parts Edmund Spenser (the craft), Hillaire Belloc (the wit), and olde tyme county fair (the mood). At once a formally rigorous and imaginatively capricious, A Suit of Nettles is a weird and wonderful achievement.

The Essential Kenneth Leslie, edited by Zachariah Wells, returns to us a unique and wily versifier who was a major element of Canadian poetry in the 1930s, but who is all but forgotten today. He faded from view slowly. Milton Acorn said of him, "When we come to the loveliest of our orthodox sonneteers, Kenneth Leslie, the battle for the Canadian voice is being fought, and he is winning it." It is good to have these poems back in print.

A Kind of Perseverance by Margaret Avison contains two long essays originally delivered as part of the annual Pascal Lectures on Christianity and University at the University of Waterloo in 1993. First published in 1994, this edition corrects errors in quotations and bibliographic information, but more importantly, makes available for readers another dimension of Avison's considerable output as a poet and thinker.

If you care to comment below, please let us know what lost, forgotten or out-of-print Canadian books you would like to see back in print.

3 comments

I've always thought that Ray Smith's works are woefully unknown, and would love to see them back in print.

Hi lmcf, I believe Biblioasis (http://www.biblioasis.com/) has republished some of Ray Smith's work.

1. Gwendolyn MacEwen's work should be returned properly to print. Exile reissues selected editions periodically, but none of them have, in my view, done justice to the startling breadth and depth of her work. I'd love to see her work restored as it was published originally, complete with original covers. MacEwen was, coincidentally enough, a writer who diagnosed the cultural amnesia afflicting Torontonians; her book, Noman's Land, sought to correct this lapse. Pity the book's long out of print.

2. Daniel Jones' work is regrettably out of print and increasingly difficult to find. I'd like to see some or all of it brought back into print.

3. Hugh Garner's early works; e.g., Waste No Tears (written under a pseudonym) and The Silence on the Shore. I understand an omnibus is being produced, but would like to see an accessible re-release of his novels, stories and journalism.

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Amy Lavender Harris is the author of Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, 2010).

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