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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

literary celebrity and Milton Acorn

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Hi Chris,

I've been reading Joel Deshaye's The Metaphor of Celebrity recently (a great book, but with significant problems) - and noted Deshaye's inclusion of MacEwen as one of his subjects (instead of Acorn.) I talked to an academic who specializes in literary celebrity about the matter, and they shared that Acorn, to them, is a special case in terms of literary celebrity: a form of "alt-celebrity" amongst writers and readers who resist traditional modes and infrastructures of celebrity. That comment made me really happy, because I think it's accurate.


Hi S,
Thanks for the note about THE METAPHOR OF CELEBRITY & Milt's omission. First I've heard of the book, or the topic of celebrity as a matter for academic study. For most writers, & esp. poets who were contemporaries of Milt & Gwendolyn, I'd have to think that Milt was by far the bigger celebrity, the bigger "name". There's a quote by me in Chris Gudgeon's bio of Milt, OUT OF THIS WORLD, how for a brief & shining period Milt had almost rock star status on the university reading circuit.

I shepherded Milt to one of these gigs at Western, & he filled a large hall with VERY enthusiastic students. When we had featured him at the Univ. of Guelph through our CLM Club, we booked far too small a venue - guess it was just a classroom - & it quickly filled to overflowing long before the reading started. Our underestimation of Milt's popularity was possibly a bonus, as it's better to have too large a crowd in too small a space than vice versa. Milt was in fine form both evenings, & he got well deserved rock star standing ovations & encores!

Milt was very charismatic in person. When he briefly lived with me at my very modest house in east end Toronto (185 Rhodes Avenue - Milt's standing joke was we were "Rhodes scholars") my blue collar neighbours immediately recognized this was someone great, unique, & that Milt wasn't your typical person. Complete strangers would give him the honourary title of Doctor, without guessing that it was the truth  ;  )

I only met Gwen once, at a meeting at the Bloor Street United Church where we were holding one of our first meetings for the Canadian Poetry Association. A meek & mild elderly lady was awkwardly standing by the coffee maker. When I caught her profile, I recognized her as Gwendolyn MacEwen, which she shyly admitted. Zero charisma. Maybe nice for so respected a poet to be so unassuming & unpretentious, but sadly there was nothing of Milt's inherent charisma about Gwen, at least at that time in her life.

Thinking of celebrity & Canadian poetry, there really isn't any sort of celebrity cult currently associated with CanPo. Not sure if this is good, bad or irrelevant  ;  ) I can't think of one outstanding poet, one living Canadian poet whose name would be be recognized by the general public, or even in academia. James Deahl refers to Milt & his cohorts as 'the great generation', & I have to agree. Whether it's the times, or a general mediocrity among the poets, or maybe just too many semi-talented poets, there is no longer a towering acorn tree for all to aspire to.

When I think of my personal list of favourite writers & poets, almost all of them would fit the category of alternative writers, outsiders, outliers. I'm thinking Basho in his hut & wandering the dusty roads of Japan, Kerouac blazing trails through the North Amerikan zeitgeist, lonely George Orwell in Burma, or Lawrence in Taos anticipating modern poetics. I'll add Thoreau living in his cabin by Walden, and Uncle Ho writing his haikuish prison diaries. Not a main stream celeb among them ...

The most charismatic living CanPoet in my humble opinion is Jim Christy. The dude has charisma & talent flowing off him, the same electric awareness which was instantly recognizable snapping around Acorn. Jim's pretty much an iconoclast, tho, as much as he is an icon. He should be in your neck of the woods this spring, as he's won a spot building one of his installations in the Elora Sculpture Garden. You should look each other up when he's there.

Good to hear from you, S. Thanks for keeping the flame burning for Uncle Milty  ;  )

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... & Chase Wrfffffffffffffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz   (still accompanying me on our winter hikes, but sadly likely his last winter - hope he gets to enjoy another ZenRiver spring & summer)

Image result for d h lawrenceImage result for bashoImage result for kerouacImage result for orwellImage result for gwendolyn macewen

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