IN A SPRINGTIME INSTANT: The Selected Poems of Milton Acorn 1950 - 1986
Edited by James Deahl
Mosaic Press, Oakville, Ontario, 2012
248 pages $24.95
In the book's forward Terry Barker details the genesis of this selected of Canada's People's Poet, Milton Acorn. A chance meeting between Barker and poet Joe Rosenblatt at a Toronto Book Fair several years ago had the two of them reminiscing about Milt, who died a quarter century ago. Both of them felt that Acorn's legacy was fading - in the academy, and among the always fickle and ephemeral Canadian audience for poetry.
And so the two of them acted very unCanadian - they DID something, and the result is this lovingly and painstakingly researched 250 page tribute. The only logical choice for an editor was Acorn's longtime friend and roommate, James Deahl. As I believe there is no better person in Canada to encapsulate the life and creative arc of Canada's many fine poets, this was a perfect match of editor and subject.
Howard Aster and his Mosaic Press were approached with this proposal, and fortunately he was most willing.
Perhaps editor and poetry selector James Deahl knows Acorn's poetry better even than the poet himself did. Deahl's friendship with Milt helped sustain the vulnerable poet for several decades, and on Milt's passing in 1986 Deahl became the torch bearer for Milt's work and legacy. Deahl has continued to advocate for Acorn's work, and to produce a substantial number of posthumous collections of Milt's poetry and the tribute anthology THE NORTHERN RED OAK.
Resurrecting Acorn's Literary Merit
The poems were chosen by editor Deahl solely based on his perception of their literary merit. Barker and Deahl echo each other's belief that Acorn's poetry was and is often under appreciated or even dismissed because of the poet's controversial political and personal life. They hope that after 25 years people are prepared to objectively and critically re-evaluate the entire body of Acorn's work, with hopes that the Canadian literary establishment will take another look and add Milt's poetry to the textbooks and curricula of our institutions. Deahl's thoughtful and challenging 22 page introduction should ably serve as the catalyst for this crucial literary rebalancing and the long awaited and deserved 'resurrection' of Milton Acorn.
Poetry As Catalyst Against Reactionary Harperite Miasma
This is also a crucial time for Canadians politically. The spreading reactionary miasma of the Harperite regime must be countered on the cultural front. Our ineffectual politicians appear neutered by the challenge, and perhaps only the "love and anger", the visceral physicality of the poetry of a People's Poet of Acorn's caliber, can act as a catalyst to stir the Canadian populace to outrage at Stephen Harper's highjacking of our nation.
Deahl has done something a bit unusual with organizing the poems - he has presented them in the order in which they appeared in Acorn's 17 collections. Thus early and late poems don't appear in the chronological order in which they were written. Deahl justifies this with his declaration that Acorn wrote excellent poems throughout his entire career, and as a reader I found this mix of the old and the new an intriguing and enjoyable challenge.
After a week reading the book backwards and forwards, or just diving in where the pages fell open late at night, I was amazed at how many of Acorn's poems I recognized and had taken to heart so many decades ago. And I was equally surprised at how many poems I was reading for the first time, and how these immediately adhered to my heart and brain like so many welcome limpets.
Congratulations to James Deahl for his perseverance as the number one scholar of Canada's most important and vibrant poet. And thanks to Howard Aster and the staff at Mosaic Press for this wonderfully produced collection. Special acknowledgments must go to Terry Barker, the 'midwife' of this project, and to Joe Rosenblatt, who also helped will this collection into being.
reflective review by Chris Faiers
April 25, 2012
from my blog, Riffs & Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens:
published in The Envoy #055 (newsletter of the Canada-Cuba Literary Alliance May 2012)
published in UMBRELLA, the tabloid newsletter of the Quinte Arts Council, July/August 2012,
Vol. 22 #3, p. 7