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Friday, 30 September 2011

Revisiting a Milton Acorn bio: OUT OF THIS WORLD

A few nights ago I finished rereading Out of this World: The Natural History of Milton Acorn by Chris Gudgeon (1996, Arsenal Pulp Press, ISBN 1-55152-030-3).

I have to admit that although I was one of the interviewees for the book, and although the book is well written and researched, initially I was prejudiced against the book by jealousy. At the time of publication I felt that someone who knew Milt personally, preferably an old CLM (Canadian Liberation Movement) comrade, or even better, a fellow CLM poet, perhaps James (Jim) Deahl or Rob MacLeod, should have been hired to write Milt's bio - I know MacLeod has had an unpublished manuscript on Acorn stashed away for decades (several in my basement). And James Deahl did so much to promote Milt and his writing and publications in the years before his death, and who is perhaps the person who has since most kept alive Milt's legacy.

If you are a fan of Canadian poetry (CanPo as I call it), and if you aren't already acquainted with Milt's life story, then this brief book is a good start. There are only 160 pages of bio, then 8 pages of family album photographs, followed by over 50 pages of Acorn's key poetry, organized chronologically.

To his credit, Gudgeon has captured much of the essence of Milt. Reading a few chapters late every night, after lazy summer afternoons spent at ZenRiver Gardens, I again felt the presence of the man, boldly lurking in corners of my mind and the dim room. To know Milt was to know a friend, or an enemy. There wasn't a lot of middle ground with Milt and his passions.

Out of this World details Milt's evolution as a poet, and the various literary battles he fought with academics and especially with the American-inspired Tish movement in Vancouver. The book is a pretty fair crash course on the history of Canadian poetry since the 1940s, and of the major players. It is the opinion of many that Milt, and his close friend Al Purdy, were two of the most important figures in the development of the uniquely Canadian voice which is now heard around our global village.        

But Milt also battled constantly throughout his life on the political front. He was a true progressive, in a time when most academics were afraid to speak out, or spoke out on the wrong side on issues such as the Vietnam War. I attended the University of Guelph for 1 1/2 semesters in 1973, and Irving Layton was the writer-in-residence. At that time Layton was an advocate for the VN War. As a resister of that  imperialist horror story, I obviously felt no connection with or even interest in Layton. What could I possibly learn from someone so ignorant?

I soon dropped out of UniGoo to join the CLM, and then Milt came to town to do a reading for us. Here finally was a TRUE POET, a famous cultural icon, but more importantly, a comrade unafraid to speak the truth, in an accessible and yet beautifully poetic way. Milt was an ANTI-IMPERIALIST, and proud of it. Gudgeon doesn't seem to have fully grasped the importance of Milt's political beliefs and practice in the book, perhaps believing the literary battles were more significant than the political ones.

Another possible oversight is the lack of exploring the complexity and interplay in the bonding between Acorn and Purdy. Would either of those poets have achieved the literary successes both reached without the other? Of course not. The interplay between them, this genius friendship, was perhaps the most important crucible for both, and led to their eventual GGs.

I believe the closest we now enjoy to a living Canadian People's Poet in Milt and Al's tradition is bill bissett. But likely I'm behind the times. There may be another Milt out there, 'growing beyond us' as he wrote, and I just haven't met her/him yet.


Further reflections on Milt and the Canadian Liberation Movement led me to Google the CLM. I found the following very interesting and scholarly dissertation on Milt's role in the movement.

The piece also analyzes the other major "Maoist" organization of those times, the CPC-ML (Communist Party of Canada - Marxist-Leninist). Worth a read ...     :  )

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    Maoist Performativities: Milton Acorn and the Canadian Liberation ...
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    by A Filewod - Related articles
    and the Canadian Liberation Movement. Alan Filewod. If we Canadians, following the programme advocated by many, but most clearly by the Canadian ..
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1 comment:

digital signature PDF said...

I too read the book Out of this World: The Natural History of Milton Acorn by Chris Gudgeon and I am completely agreed to your view that its very well organized I liked the family album photographs