rob mclennan Reviews 70 Canadian Poets, Fifth Edition

By | 1 November 2014

Only towards the end of the introduction does he begin to discuss the particulars of the current volume. While one wishes to see the wealth of Canadian writing placed in a larger context, his introduction does read strangely more interested in works by just about anyone else. Were there really so few quotes by Canadian poets, writers or thinkers worth including in his introduction to an overview anthology of Canadian poetry?

The Canadian small press explosion of the 1960s emerged from a series of precedents, including Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry (Grove Press, 1960), a book that made just as much an effect on writing on this side of the border (if not even more, given the organisation and influence of the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference) than it did in the United States. Allen’s anthology was, in itself, a showcasing of some of the results of the small press explosion of the previous decade or two. The Canadian result might be best defined, if one must via a single volume, by Raymond Souster’s anthology New Wave Canada (Contact, 1966). Since then, there have been many other anthologies attempting to define a period of activity (whether speculatively or via hindsight), but most have ended up being anthologies that carve out less an overview than a particular geographic or aesthetic space.

One could argue that to get a general overview of what Canadian writing has been up to, even over the brief period from 1960 to the present, one should explore not any single title, but a small mound of anthologies, including: Al Purdy’s two Storm Warning: The New Canadian Poets anthologies (MacMillan, 1971 and 1976) and Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier’s two Breathing Fire: The New Canadian Poets anthologies (Harbour Publishing, 1996 and 2004), to the series of three long poem anthologies: Michael Ondaatje’s original anthology, The Long Poem Anthology (Coach House Press, 1979), and The New Long Poem Anthology (Coach House Press, 1992) and The New Long Poem Anthology, Second Edition (Vancouver, 2001), both edited by Sharon Thesen. Other anthologies have worked to encompass historical periods, such as the series produced through McClelland and Stewart that included Eli Mandel’s Poets of Contemporary Canada 1960-1970 (1972) and Dennis Lee’s Poets of Contemporary Canada 1970-1985 (1985). Given the incredible size and scope of Lee’s anthology, one would speculate, a subsequent anthology was simply too large and unwieldy to even attempt, which might, by itself, simply be the best advertisement for the sheer volume of richness that Canadian poetry has had, in the years since. More recently, some of the more vibrant anthologies of poetry in Canada would include Michael Barnholden and Andrew Klobucar’s Writing Class: The Kootenay School of Writing Anthology (New Star Books, 1999), Jon Paul Fiorentino and Robert Kroetsch’s Post Prairie: an anthology of new poetry (Talonbooks, 2005), Nate Dorward’s ANTIPHONES: Essays on Women’s Experimental Poetries in Canada (The Gig, 2008) and Heather Milne and Kate Eichhorn’s Prismatic Poetics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (Coach House Books,2009), all of which I would more than recommend.

What makes 70 Canadian Poets interesting is knowing that it serves its purpose well: to introduce a range of Canadian poetry over the space of the length and breadth of Canadian writing since Confederation to first-year university students. One can only hope that it serves to also incite a further interest in readers, to use the anthology as a jumping-off point into a more expansive exploration of Canadian writing.

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