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Monday, 30 July 2012

Informative article on Milton Acorn - Patrick Connors

In A Springtime Instant: Launch of Milton Acorn Anthology July 12

Patrick Connors – Toronto:  To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Allan Gardens Free Speech Movement in July 1962, Mosaic Press and the Parliament Street Public Library are sponsoring an evening in remembrance and celebration of this important cultural and political event in Toronto’s history.  It will be held this Thursday, July 12, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM.

The library will host the launch of the new selection of poems by Milton Acorn: In A Springtime Instant. Acorn, who also read with his people’s poetry colleagues at the library, spearheaded the free speech struggle in Allan Gardens in the summer of 1962.  He courageously read his politically and socially charged poetry to large crowds in front of Robbie Burns’ statue in the Gardens.  Along with other Toronto poets and cultural figures, such as Joe Rosenblatt, he was able to change Toronto by-laws, allowing poets to read their works in Toronto parks without penalty.
“Milton Acorn was a bardic prophet to those sprouting poets like myself and others who came under his influence in the early sixties,” said Rosenblatt.  “He composed poems about proletarian individuals he knew personally; fishermen, union organizers, miners, while referencing his tangential musings to the boss carpenter, Christ, while he shouted love as a class war versified weapon of mass destruction against the bourgeoisie, when all the while he bruised easily on another theatre of war, tough love. How to classify his muse? I say don’t!”

All poets are invited to share their favourite poem by or about Acorn during the afternoon visit to Robert Burns’ statue in Allan Gardens between 4:00 to 5:00 pm.
The evening program will feature a talk on Acorn’s literary contribution by long-time Acorn friend and editor of the new book James Deahl, a background to the Allan Gardens issue by Humber College teacher Terry Barker, poetry about Acorn by poet Anna Yin, music by Toronto artist Honey Novick, and readings of Acorn’s poetry.

Anna Yin (Photo Credit: Jeannine Pitas)

“Anna Yin was a great help technically throughout this project,” Barker said.  “She is going to her native China for a visit shortly afterwards.  Her publisher is also Mosaic Press.  Howard Aster of Mosaic has a long history with China, and we are hoping for this to be an opening for Milton.
“She had never heard of Milt, as someone not from Canada, as well as a member of the younger generation, until I introduced her to him, as it were.  Hopefully she can introduce a new generation to his poetry.  She is attracted to the people’s poet aspect of Acorn.  Different people are attracted to different aspects of him.

“Similarly with Chris Faiers, whom I’ve known since 1973.  He has stayed with an interest in Acorn and haiku poetry, and developed other things alongside which fit into it.  He is interested in the mystical/spiritual side of Acorn.”
According to an e-mail sent by Deahl on June 14, the Milton Acorn feature he edited for Hamilton Arts & Letters has been read by over 10,000 people from 23 countries.  Canada was the top reading country, while Toronto featured the third most readers by city.  For this many people from this many countries to read anything about a poet, let alone a Canadian poet, is remarkable, and speaks even further to Acorn’s appeal.

Special guests will be include Acorn biographer Chris Gudgeon, as well as scholar Joyce Wayne, another friend of Acorn’s.

The Parliament Street public library is located at 269 Gerrard Street East, at the corner of Parliament Street.  Their phone number is 416-393-7798.  The Acorn event will be held in the upstairs meeting room, and will have light refreshments.
“Acorn is very important in the Canadian canon,” Barker said.  “Large numbers of writers from that era were indirectly influenced by him, as well as Gwendolyn MacEwan, whom Milt was married to for a short time.
“The circumstances of his life and personality made him difficult to situate.  He dropped out of, not favour, but knowledge.  Prior collections are out of print.

Terry Barker (Photo Credit: Jeannine Pitas)

“He lived what he wrote about.  He did go into the world and experienced part of the things he was interested in.  Physical and pshycological problems made life difficult, for him and also for those around him.  This made it harder to acknowledge his contributions.
“Socialism is no longer an issue, Canadian independence is no longer an issue, as these were issues in Milt’s time.  But perennial topics such as a critique of modern society, including the “advertising rainbow” he spoke of, certainly are.

“This parallels in thinking of Canada’s future as one potentially being run by a technocracy.  As a thinker, a poet is someone who should deal with these thoughts and the issues which arise from and write about them.”

For more information on the book, please go to:
 With files from Chris Faiers

Friday, 27 July 2012

NOW Mag. feature on Milton Acorn - Robert Priest

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Milton Acorn: Returning to the scene of the rhyme
Return to the Allan Gardens spot where people’s poet Milton Acorn made his mark on city’s consciousness

An act of civil disobedience begins in Allan Gardens. The speaker, a burly fellow with a face that might’ve been carved by a woodcutter’s axe from a particularly grainy tree stump, calls out, “I shout love in a land muttering slack damnation / as I would in a blizzard’s blow.”

He is quickly ticketed and fined by police for the crime of speaking without a permit in a public park. He refuses to stop his reading, and the small crowd refuses to stop listening or disperse. They are occupying the park.

Sounds familiar, right? But it happened 50 years ago this summer. The speaker was iconic Canadian poet Milton Acorn, just then becoming famous for his Marxism-informed free verse and delicate lyrics that would lead to his being named “the people’s poet” by his peers Margaret Atwood, Irving Layton, Joe Rosenblatt and more in a legendary ceremony at Grossman’s Tavern.

All of which explains why on Thursday, July 12, 2012, a group of poets returned to the scene of the crime to take the park, mark the anniversary and toast the publishing of Mosaic Press’s new Acorn collection, In A Springtime Instant.

They gathered in front of the statue of Robbie Burns, where the original readings took place, to recite Acorn’s work. The group of 20, of course, was nothing like the thousands who attended his resistance readings in 1962.

Back then, despite mounting fines, Acorn continued Sunday after Sunday, drawing ever larger crowds and ever more media. Other poets joined in, and the protest was soon being covered coast to coast. Inevitably, stung by the bad publicity and the unstoppable poetry, the city of Toronto changed its bylaw.

I knew none of this when I used to visit him more than a decade later, in the late 70s, in the cigar reek of his Hotel Waverly room at College and Spadina. Rather than brag about old achievements, he preferred to spend his time reciting first drafts of brand new poems to any young poet bold enough to drop by.

A clearly tormented man, Acorn, who railed against war and inequality and would have loved Occupy, was sometimes inarticulate with rage. He told me once, in one of his moments of clarity and connection, about the sonic impact of a shell blast he experienced aboard a ship in the Second World War, an injury that affected his brain health ever after and no doubt contributed to his early demise in his hometown of Charlottetown in 1986, aged 63.

Astonishingly, on July 12, two weeks ago, police once again converged at our poetry happening in Allan Gardens. Those reading from Acorn’s book hadn’t got more than three poems into the oeuvre before they were interrupted.

It seems a couple of Allan Garden regulars and a resident of nearby Seaton House got into a violent altercation involving some head-kicking, bottle-heaving and a bit of sitting in the middle of Sherbourne traffic while bleeding.

This had nothing to do with the poetry, but the poets wound up being referees, peacekeepers and ambulance scouts as the fight broke out again and again.
Eventually, quite a number of police arrived, though unlike half a century ago, it was the poets themselves who summoned them. Not exactly civil disobedience, but as poet Kent Bowman put it, “I think Milton would have been pleased with the outcome and the chaos.” Probably.
As Acorn said: “I shout love even though it might deafen you / and never say that love’s a mild thing / for it’s hard, a violation / of all laws for the shrinking of people.” Thanks, Milton. Message received.
• NOW | July 26-August 2, 2012 | VOL 31 NO 48

 July 27/12

Dear Chris:  The article was great!  Good for Robert.  It's such an amazing story that EVERYBODY takes free speech for granted.
Anyway...yes I'm coming up on the Sunday with Joan and as far as I know, there's room for more.
Let me know who needs a ride for the day.  I can't stay overnight, I'm singing the next day with Lillian Allen in her group "The Subversives"
Honey Novick


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Unfinished histories: Main St. Poetry/Unfinished Monument Press

Hi Marvin,
You are helping me recollect (guess that's almost a pun) a lot of nearly forgotten Canadian literary history with which I've been involved  - I'm enjoying our correspondence very much, and of course you are most welcome to preserve it for the archives. I've been putting some of it online already - instant CanLit documentation  :  )



Unfinished Monument Press was an important stepping stone for a generation of Toronto poets. I'm so proud to learn that Jones' reputation was recently 'resurrected', while our little gang is now busy 'resurrecting' Milton Acorn's legacy.

I founded Unfinished Monument Press in 1978 in order to self-publish a collection of poems I'd been writing since the Canadian Liberation Movement (CLM) had dissolved a few years earlier. The name Unfinished Monument refers to the monument in the Toronto Necropolis dedicated to Sam Lount and Peter Matthews, two martyrs hanged for their participation in the 1837 Rebellions.

(Possibly I coined the name 'unfinished monument' to refer to the monument. I believe in CLM we always referred to it as the monument to Lount and Matthews.)

After publishing my chapbook DOMINION DAY IN JAIL I became aware that other young poets were in need of a democratic, cheap & participatory means to get their poetry seen. Tom Clement published the chapbook SUPERMAN, and Dee September (her nom de guerre - not sure of her real name), a friend of Clement's, published MAKING WAVES.    

I've been writing and publishing haiku poetry since 1967-68, and through contact with other haiku poets, I published Hamilton poet Margaret Saunder's first collection, A FLOCK OF BLACKBIRDS.

Sometimes I did the typing, layout & photocopying for the chapbooks, and sometimes the individual poets produced their books with little input from me. One poet who preferred to have some sort of publishing house "name" on his first collection was Robert Priest. Robert did all the work producing his THE VISIBLE MAN. Robert has gone on to become one of the most published and high profile poets of our generation.

I also helped Bruce Hunter produce his chapbook, SELECTED CANADIAN RIFLES, as part of an assignment while he was a grad student in bp Nichol's course at York University.

Many other chapbooks and poets followed: my own WHITE RASTA, POEMS by Marglamb Wilson, PCB JAM by Lynne Kositsky. I stayed up all night drinking Lynne's gift of a bottle of glayva. By morning I had written my entire ISLAND WOMEN suite, which was published as a chapbook by Wayne Ray's HMS Press.

James' Deahl's first publication was his treatise on poetry, REAL POETRY. I consider James the leading Canadian practitioner of People's Poetry, true to the tradition of our mutual friend, comrade and mentor, Milton Acorn.

I met Shaunt Basmajian through our involvement with The League of Canadian Poets. We had been been rejected as full members by the cliquey, elitist and academically credentialist group, and were unhappy with our secondary status as associate members. We organized the other associate members, and then formed our own democratic national group, The Canadian Poetry Association (CPA). Shaunt's first full length (over 50 pages, bound) book was with Unfinished Monument, SURPLUS WASTE AND OTHER POEMS. 

The list of Unfinished Monument poets and their collections goes on and on. In the early 1990s, after leaving Toronto and 'retreating' to the Marmora area, I turned Unfinished Monument Press over to James and Gilda Deahl. They continued the tradition of publishing new and emerging poets, as well as established poets. Many of their books were much better produced than the earlier 'photocopy and staple' jobs.



In 1979, the year after I founded Unfinished Monument Press, I visited my local library on Main Street in Toronto's east end. The head librarian was pleased to have a patron volunteer to organize monthly poetry readings, and the series ran for six years.

So I was now wearing many hats: political poet, haiku poet, small press publisher (really more coordinator), host of Toronto's second most influential reading series (after the Axletree Coffeehouse), and working as a cook (arrggggggggggh - too many deep fryer burns, too many stupid managers to think much about those days!).

A further benefit to the emerging poets of the late 1970s to mid-1980s, many of whom I was helping publish with Unfinished Monument Press, was that I was also able to get them on the Canada Council readers list (qualify them for doing paid public readings by the CC).

I did this for James Deahl, Shaunt Basmajian, Bruce Hunter etc. .

I folded the series in 1985 after I bought a small starter house near the Gerrard/Ashdale branch of Toronto Public Library - TPL had hired me to work at the Main Street Library in 1982 as a desk clerk, based largely on my volunteer work organizing the readings. I transferred to working at Gerrard/Ashdale, and truthfully, I had tired of the machinations of some poets who were always finagling for readings. I offererd to turn the series over to several poets who had complained about my selection of featured readers, but of course some people prefer to complain and let others do the work. No one offered to continue the series, which folded.

I have the guest book for the series from the first to the last readings. It is a gem. I encouraged everyone to sign it, and readers in the Open Sets had to sign up as well. There are also impromptu snippets and clippings in the guest book. So it's an interesting & comprehensive document - a monthly 'who's who' of the Toronto poetry scene from 1979 to 1985. I listed the featured poets on my blog last year, and I'll see if I can cut & paste the list here:

Readers: MAIN STREET LIBRARY (Toronto) POETRY SERIES: 1979-1985

Main Street
Library Poetry Series
1979 – 1985 Toronto, Ontario, Canada
On November 15, 1979 I founded this monthly poetry series at the Main Street Library in Toronto’s east end. The main Toronto literary venue at that time was the Axletree Coffeehouse located downtown, and this series was created to provide both a local forum and an alternative and additional outlet for poets. The readings ran until December 11, 1985. The following poets and musicians performed during these 62 readings:

PETER ACKER                                  SUSAN GLICKMAN       LESLIE NUTTING
MILTON ACORN                               SHARON GOODIER        PAM OXENDINE
LILLIAN ALLEN                                AMANDA HALE              SUSAN PARKER
With TRUTH AND RIGHTS              CHRIS HEGGE                  BEN PHILLIPS
GAY ALLISON                                    LARRY HOPPERTON      TED PLANTOS
DAVID AYLWARD                             BRUCE HUNTER          ROBERT PRIEST
HERB BARRETT                                SUSAN IOANNOU       BRIAN PURDY
SHARON BERG                                 BETH JANKOLA            DAVID REID
DENISE BERTRAND                         PAT JASPER                    JIM ROBERTS
ROBERT BILLINGS                          GEORGE JONAS            HUGH RUDDEN
bill bissett                                             jones (Daniel)          MARGARET SAUNDERS
ANDREW BROOKES                         CLIFTON JOSEPH          LIBBY SCHEIER
BRIAN BURCH                                ANITA KELLER              JEFF SEFFINGA
HEATHER CADSBY                           LALA KOEHN               DEE SEPTEMBER
LESLEY CHOYCE                            MARK LABA                MARTY SINGLETON
TOM CLEMENT                                 DONNA LANGEVIN      JIM SMITH
DENISE CONEY                               ERIC LAYMAN          PATRICIA K. SMITH       
HELEN COSTAIN                              JUSTIN LEWIS          GEORGE SWEDE
JENI COUZYN                                  FRIEDA LING           KEITH SOUTHWARD
RITA COX                                  DALE LOUCAREAS          JAN DAWSON
TOM CRANE                                   RICHARD LUSH           IRENE MCGUIRE
jw curry                                            JULIE MCNEILL        LOLA L. TOSTEVIN
BEV DAURIO                               CAROL MALYON       YVES TROENDLE
JAMES DEAHL                              RAY MARTIN             ANDREW VAISIUS
MARY DIMICHELE                   ERIN MOURE                CARLY WHITE
ABBE EDELSON                     NEIL MUSCOTT               BARBARA WILSON
GLENN FREW                             bp nichol                        
STEPHEN GILL                                                                   ROBERT ZEND

peace, poetry power! and great memories ...  Chris Faiers, series coordinator
Posted by Chris Faiers/cricket at 13:06 1 comment: 
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Labels: Readers: Main Street Library Poetry Series (Toronto)


Marvin, I'm getting a bit tired after writing all this, but it is fun and a chance to document so much while I'm still able. Maybe more later,

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... and Chase ... wroooooooooooooooof!


On 2012-07-24, at 10:22 PM, marvin orbach wrote:

Hi Chris,
Thanks for sending me the  letter on Daniel Jones.    Your e-mails
are always literary gems, and have historical value.  Which means I
would like to preserve them  in my archive in Calgary, if you don't
  Blessings, from Montreal West.


On Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 4:51 PM, Chris Faiers <> wrote:
(from an email to a friend)

Back from ZRG about an hour ago - watered pines, painted more dragon scales, drank beer, pruned back sumac trails - the usual. Came home early again, & just back from small shopping at VM.

Cool news - last nite I Googled Jones (Daniel) - inspired by sending old Unfinished Monument books & manuscripts to Marvin for archives - I published Jones' first collection, a chapbook titled JACK & JILL IN TORONTO, & then he got a 'major' book published with Coach House. But the BS of the CanLit scene eventually got to him, & he committed a very crazy & dramatic suicide around 1994. Now his writing has been resurrected, & there were over 2 million hits on his name (altho Daniel Jones is a common name).

A couple of publishers brought out reprints of 2 of his books last year. I missed all the hoopla - would have attended if I'd known. Apparently his work is now on course lists, he has a cult following, etc. .

One of his 'resurrectors' wondered if he'd be pissed off by the late fanfare? Yeah, I'm pretty sure he would be! I believe Jones always had a strong sense of his literary worth, & even his ultimate literary lionizing & destiny. So now publishers, critics THE CANPOETRY ESTABLISHMENT, who ignored him & didn't see his value (when I did - first - with Unfinished Monument Press & readings at Main St. Library) are now cashing in on his legacy. Yeah, I bet he's both pissed & pleased.

This is part of why I bailed on the CanPo scene almost a quarter century ago. I realized that staying the course in TO would lead to further poverty, frustration - even depression & suicide in Jones' case - and then, years after you're effing dead, well, everyone suddenly sings your praises. Where the F were they when you were starting out & needed support!

Anyway, so great to belatedly learn that Jones is finally getting his literary merit acknowledged!!!!

I'm copying this to James Deahl, as know he'll be interested & pleased as well. First met Jones at a poetry party at Jim's house where he & Gilda lived in the west end. Still have clear memories of that first meeting, Jones spitting the cork from a wine bottle & then blowing our minds with his poem "Things I've Shoved in my Asshole"  : )

Enjoy Sushi Delight,

will call later,


email July 25/12

Dear Chris,
    I am glad to report that your package arrived  yesterday,
Tuesday.  Thank you so much for the amazing manuscript of Foot Through
the Ceiling, and the three very rare books.  These are very important
items  in our literary history, and will be welcome additions to the
collection in Calgary.  I should add that the books in your previous
package are, at this moment, winging their way to the Promised Land.
    I really enjoyed reading these three books.  I find your poetry
very much alive.  It engages the reader and doesn't let go.  It is no
wonder that you are a decorated poet.   In fact, your books, and your
poems   helped revive me and helped raise my morale.   I am much better
now, and have rejoined society.   I must say that your  poetry, books, and lively
e-mails were  important factors in my  recuperation and return to
normal society.
     And thank you for all the invaluable, historical information.
Your contribution, over the years, to Canadian literature is amazing.
Perhaps you should be cloned.   It is an honour for me to play a part
in helping preserve  your books and documents for future generations.
And the folks in Calgary, are delighted, I am sure, to   add your
material to the collection.
     You mentioned Maria Jacobs in an earlier e-mail.   I remember
reading and enjoying her poetry a number of years ago.   Her family in
Holland, during the war,  were outstanding citizens.  They  assisted
their Jewish neighbours in escaping the Nazis.  For this they will
always be remembered.   I have often  wondered why Maria changed her
last name to Jacobs, when she came to Canada.
      Thanks for all the information on Daniel Jones.  It is a real
pity that his life was so short.   It is great that there  is a
revival of interest in his poetry.
     Ray Souster was always very  kind to me.  My collection in
Calgary contains many of his handwrittem  poems.  I  lost touch  with
him many years ago.  Perhaps you can bring me up-to-date,  with a few
brief words.
      I am thinking now of our great People's Poet, Al Purdy.   Years
ago I attended one of his poetry readings at the Vehicule Art Gallery
on Ste.-Catherine St. downtown.   The audience was  medium-sized.
There was a pitcher of water and a glass next to Purdy.  Being a
People's Poet, he wasn't about to drink from a glass.  Purdy actually
drank straight from the pitcher.  This is the way a real man drinks.
For some reason this incident has remained clear in my mind, for so
many years.   Shortly after Al started reading,   a well-dressed man
quietly  entered the room and took his place in the audience. It was
Leonard Cohen.
      I am now looking at your list of poets and musicians who
performed at the Main Street Library Poetry Series.  I am familiar
with the verse  of many of the poets.  I like, in particular, Susan
Ioannou's poetry.  Over the last few years, she has sent me many
books and documents for my collection. Are you in touch with her?
     If ever you feel the need to send me more books and mss., please
feel free to do so.  I am honoured  to be able to play my part in the
grand scheme of things.
      Blessings, from Montreal West.
      Chi-miigwetch.       Marvin.

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email July 31/12: donation of 1989 notebook for Univ. of Calgary archives

Hi Marvin,

I'm sending you one of my personal notebooks for the Univ. of Calgary archives. I've kept these notebooks much of my adult life, & they contain information on just about every aspect of my life, from mundane financial records and 'to do' lists to drafts of haiku and longer completed poetry manuscripts.

This notebook in dated Aug. 1989 on the cover under "subject". It's a green, cirlox-style spiral binder, approx. 8 1/2 X 11 inches, 108 pages, "FANCO" 3 subject notebook.

1989 was a crucial time in my life. I had bought a derelict century house in the mining hamlet of Cordova Mines after selling my small semi-detached 'starter' house in Toronto's east end. Two years earlier I had received the inaugural MIlton Acorn People's Poetry Medal for my collection, FOOT THROUGH THE CEILING (1986, Aya Press, then Mercury Press, Toronto).

I moved to Cordova Mines, Ontario, about 100 miles from Toronto, in early April, 1989. This notebook would have detailed my early experiences and musings in my new rural Ontario surroundings.


There are many drafts of haiku, some included, some rejected, for what would become my book, EEL PIE DHARMA: A MEMOIR/HAIBUN (self-published with my Unfinished Monument Press, 1990). Almost at the end of the notebook is a list of the 28 chapters which would become this seminal English language haibun (and now much-referenced history of the tail end of the 1960s in London, England, and the hippie/squatting/music scene).

EPD has been quoted in EEL PIE ISLAND by Dan Van Der Vat and Michele Whitby (2009, Frances Lincoln Limited, London, England). It was also used as a reference for WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN: THE WHO FROM LIFEHOUSE TO QUADROPHENIA by Richie Unterburger (2011, Jawbone Press, London, England).

Noted English novelist Hari Kunzru credits EPD at the back of his novel MY REVOLUTIONS (2007, Penguin). It was nice of Kunzru to formally credit EPD as a source, but there are enough similarities between my life and that of his protagonist (named "Chris"), that I suspect EPD was as much an inspiration for his book as a resource. 

Among the myriad notes, poetry drafts, financial records and jottings are drafts of a book review on a posthumous collection by poet Marty Singleton. I was probably doing this as a regular contributor for CANADIAN BOOK REVIEW ANNUAL.
Another poet who died young was Shaunt Basmajian, and there are notes on my plans to attend his poetry wake in Toronto.

Another project I was involved with was co-publishing an anthology titled SMALL PRESS LYNX with Edmonton poet Mark MCCawley. There are also travel plans for a Canada Council sponsored reading in Edmonton which Mark arranged for me.

Another project with Mark was his publication with his Greensleeves Press of a broadsheet of my poetry titled MOON CITY. There is a checklist of the poets and magazines where sent copies of this broadsheet on the next-to-last page. 

All in all, this old notebook provides a fascinating snapshot of the life I was beginning to live in rural Ontario, and a glimpse back at the very active life I had led in Toronto on the poetry and political scenes. It covers the year I turned 41.

peace & poetry power!
Chris (Faiers) ... and Chase wffffffffffffffffffffff (who has slept thru this pleasant hour of typing & reminiscing)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Milt taught me to listen to birds

Milt taught me to listen to birds

(for a Green-eyed Tara Goddess)

That summer day, fated and fateful
Milt visiting, joking we were Rhodes scholars
at my Rhodes Ave house.
In the afternoon bake
I took Milt to my favourite big city haunt
Ashbridges Bay
and on a small crest Milt
showed me the shaman way 

listen to the Ravens, Chris

ignoring (temporarily) blonde bikinis
spread below on wet sand blankets
Milt pushed our gazes further:
sea captains of paradises
horizon scan of Lake Ontario, an inland sea to
Island Milt

Testosterone makes us show-offs for our Goddesses.
Poets, I told Christy once
poets, we are mad men - running naked
across rainswept fields
hoping for the lightning strike -
the best are hit more than once
crazed and crazier with each visitation
of white heat inspiration

but I have digressed from Milt's lesson
the blondes to blame, no doubt
(or dreams of a Green-eyed Tara Goddess incarnate)
Can't say I heard the birds clearly
that gorgeous summer day
but I knew then to be a true poet
I had to follow the shaman way
Milt had softly shown me

listen to the birds, Chris

Thank you Milt, your advice
sings true to me this summer morning
doves cooing and crows cawing
dawn chorus keeping me awake,
encouraging this poem
for you, and the gifts of a Green-eyed Goddess

Chris Faiers
Summer 2012

Milt is Milton Acorn, Canada's People's Poet, and the poet
many believe to be our most important national poet.
Milt received our highest literary honour, the Governor General's Award
for poetry, and an honourary doctorate from his home university on
Prince Edward Island. Milt was a comrade, a friend, and a mentor.

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Conrad DiDiodato has left a new comment on your post "Milt taught me to listen to birds":

"Listen to the birds"--
never wanted to run so badly

Posted by Conrad DiDiodato to Riffs &amp; Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens at 24 July 2012 09:55

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Conrad DiDiodato has left a new comment on your post "Milt taught me to listen to birds":

"Listen to the birds"--
wild grass under a cloudless sky

Posted by Conrad DiDiodato to Riffs &amp; Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens at 25 July 2012 08:40

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Monday, 23 July 2012

great Al Purdy anecdote by Marvin Orbach/donation of "Foot Through the Ceiling" mss

Subject: great Al Purdy Anecdote by Marvin Orbach*/donating mss for "Foot through the Ceiling" (1986)

On 2012-07-12, at 2:07 PM, marvin orbach wrote:

Namaste Chris,
   I hope your Milton Acorn event went well, and that  you
accomplished everything you set out to do.  You must have had some
interesting poets reading  Milt's poems.
   Thank you very much for  sending the pictures of your hideaway.
It looks like a real paradise. You are very lucky to have  such a
place.   Do you have a special spot for meditation, somewhere in the
woods next to a stream?
    And thank you for sending me Katherine Gordon's  endearing new
poems. They were a pleasure to read.  According to my records, she
sent me some  items in the year 2004. Her material in my collection
consists of : booklets of poetry, correspondence,  photographs, and
holograph and typescript  copies of several of her poems.
    Many years ago I corresponded very briefly with Alden Nowlan.
It was a shock to find out that he passed away at such a young age.
Think of all the great poems he could have written, had he lived to an
old age.
    I am delighted that you like my neologism, Biblioheaven.
Somehow I believe that after I pass into the other world,  I will be
sitting on my favourite armchair, on top of a big white, fluffy cloud,
reading Leonard Cohen's poems until the end of time.
    I would be pleased   to  add some of your manuscripts to my
archival collection. Perhaps one day  a western Canadian scholar will
be your biographer.  I am surprised   that  Ontario universities
haven't  come running after  you, asking for your papers.  Oh well!!
The University of Calgary Library has the papers of many prominent
authors from across the country.  It is an ideal location for your
   It is great that you and your frienda are actively engaged in
preserving our country's literary heritage.  Blessings upon you.   As
for me, I have always been  a bit of an archivist at heart.  While a
student at McGill, I did take a course in archives.
  Al Purdy,  one of our great People's Poets,    many years ago
spent the winter months at Loyola, as writer in residence.  This is
where I worked for many years.  I thought a little anecdote about
Purdy would be of interest to you.  Al Purdy was in the habit of
bringing   beer into the classroom.  He would throw the empty beer
cans out  of the window, and they would tumble down into the snow.
Come spring, after  the snow had melted,  a  pile of beer cans was
clearly visible on the grass next to the classroom where Purdy had
held court.  A fitting tribute to one of our great poets.  Purdy was
always  very kind,  and passed on to me several nicely inscribed
volumes of his poetry.
    I hope your return home is without incident.
    Namaste.   Peace.
    Regards to Chase.   Woof woof.
    Marvin, in a sunny and warm Montreal.

July 23/12

Hi Marvin,
Back from a very successful & enjoyable visit to Toronto. The Acorn launch at the Parliament Street Library went very well. Our little 'poetry fellowship' gang managed another full room for the event - same as we did with the Runnymede Library Tribute to Raymond Souster last November.

I also attended TO poet Julie McNeil's 20th annual poetry soiree. She's a great hostess, & I knew just about everyone there. It was esp. nice to see two longtime supporters of Canadian poetry there - Don Cullen and Maria Jacobs - both must be up there in the 70s somewhere now.

Love your anecdote about Big Al. Think I'll post it on my blog ... trust this is OK - too great a story not to share!  :  )

I'm in the final stages of organizing PurdyFest #6 - this year we're naming it AcornFest in honour of Milton Acorn. At the Parliament St. gig I hooked up with some old comrades & friends, & Joyce Wayne, from Steel Rail Publishing days, now plans to present a paper on Milt at the Symposium.

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I'm planning to mail you the manuscript for my 1986 book, FOOT THROUGH THE CEILING. I received the inaugural Milton Acorn People's Poet medallion for it in 1987.

There are some interesting and even quirky things about the mss and its development. I'm taking a quick poke thru the mss now, to see what might merit mention.

I had 3 poet friends help me select the poems for inclusion, & in that methodical way we librarians like to do things, I drew up a graph and had the 3 friends rate the proposed poems from 1 to 5. Two of the selectors are long gone - both sad situations, dead well before their times & before either achieved the literary reps they deserve. Jones (Daniel) was one selector, and another was Shaunt Basmajian. I published chapbooks by both of them with my Unfinished Monument Press. I believe the third selector was James Deahl, but it might have been Carol Malyon? That page is a photocopy (the rest are the original typings), and the dogeared photocopy has blanked out the name of the first selector ... argggh.

Another interesting footnote is that I originally dated the poems, but the publisher/editor, Bev Daurio, thought that this detracted from the collection. So in the book the dates, or "circa dates", weren't included. I think Bev's decision was right, but it might make for an interesting study if anyone ever does decide to do a paper on me and my poetry (!!!)

The mss is in amazingly clean, basically pristine condition. I'm surprised at how neat my typing was on my old Selectric typewriter.

Plan to put it in the mail today or tomorrow. Will dig around & see what else to include.

Hope we can stimulate other poets to donate as well.

peace & poetry power!
Chris  & Chase ... Wrffffffffffffffffffffffffffff!

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Further inclusions today:

before I forget ... the chapbooks


very rare copy (signed by all)
I didn't know I had any of these - found 2 or 3, and mailed you one

of the 6 poets, 3 died decades ago (David Reid, AIDS; Margaret Saunders, just got old; Shaunt Basmajian, heart attack after being stabbed while driving hack)

Thanks, Marvin, for encouraging me to donate to the Univ. of Calgary archives. While rummaging for a few more things to include with the mss mailout today of
FOOT THROUGH THE CEILING I found these. The signed (by all 6) copy of THE UNFINISHED ANTHOLOGY is a
very unique & special rarity & keepsake. Had no memory of them even existing.

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... and a heatstruck Chase ... wffffffffffffffffffff

Sunday, 22 July 2012

updates PurdyFest #6 = ACORNFEST!

Purdy Fest 2012 (AcornFest)

Free rough camping begins at ZenRiver Gardens several days before the more organized activities. There is an outhouse, campsites, firewood & the river - the rest is up to the campers.

'Formal' events begin late Friday afternoon, Aug. 3rd, with the POTLUCK SUPPER. Bring what you wish (fast food welcome, homemade preferred, chips-dip-snacks appreciated - BYOB). The Friday night campfire/reading is not to be missed. Bring your tent and stay.

On Saturday Aug. 4th, professor/philosopher Terry Barker hosts the SYMPOSIUM on Milton Acorn (coinciding with the publication this year of the new selected of Milt's work, IN A SPRINGTIME INSTANT, James Deahl, editor, Mosaic Press, publisher). The Symposium runs from 12:30 to 2:30 pm in the William Shannon Room of the Marmora Public Library (by the only stoplights in Marmora!).

Later in the afternoon on Saturday Aug. 4th, local musician/singer Morley Ellis will kick off ANOTHER DAM POETRY READING on the islet in the Marmora Dam (less than a 10-minute walk from the library - through the Lions Park and along the paved riverside walking trail). Most years CELEBRATE MARMORA coincides with our festivals, and there will be booths selling food & local produce, as well as face painting for the kids, etc. in the park. In the evening a travelling Shakespearean company performs in the park. The ANOTHER DAM(N)  POETRY READINGS are very freeform & democratic. Poets read one poem at a time, round robin style, around and around the blankets and lawn chairs on the islet, until everyone has read/said/performed everything they wish to. Musicians & singers welcome! This can last from an hour+ all the way until dusk ... Morley energetically kicks things off with his broad repertoire of songs and sing-alongs around 3:30 pm - leaving time for a snack & a wander thru the park displays after the Symposium.

At ZenRiver Garden on Sunday afternoon  Aug. 5th, Tai Grove wears two hats. First as President of the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance (CCLA), Tai will host a group reading by CCLA members. Then he'll don another hat as publisher of Hidden Brook Press and host a reading by poets included in his latest HBP anthology, THAT NOT FORGOTTEN. Readings are anticipated to start after lunch - maybe 1 - 3 pm for both readings including break, mingle and splash time.  Come with a lawn chair or blanket, your own refreshments and the good cheer of sharing poetry. If we have enough time we will do an open mic.

See blog at - over time there will be info about the festival - events, times and locations along with other lit info and poetry.

Each year the CCLA participates in PurdyFest  (the long weekend in August) by organizing a CCLA members reading – if you are a member we hope you will join us – new members are welcome. This year, 2012, the literary festival is being dubbed AcornFest in celebration of Milton Acorn. Wearing my other hat as HBP publisher I have been invited to organize a second reading for the new HBP anthology “That Not Forgotten”. Both readings will be on Sunday, August 5th in the afternoon – times to be announced later. We hope you will book the full day of lit stuff and nature.

PurdyFest Directions:

Marmora Public Library – the town of Marmora is at the crossroads of highway #7 and #14 – the library is on the south west corner.

Marmora Dam – follow #14 north by less than 0.5 km turn left / west towards the river. The dam is at the north end of the river park.

Chris’ directions – For the dam, rather than give street directions, it may be best to instruct people to continue north, upstream, from the Centennial (main) Marmora park to the dam along the dirt road and the towpath. It's about a 1/4 mile walk - you can see the dam from the bridge over highway 7.

ZenRiver Garden ZRG – Chris’ private Zen retreat is on the Moira River, east of Marmora. East on #7 – 4 or 5 km past Greenside Ln, left / north on #11 / Deloro Rd. Turn right / southeast onto Malone Quarry Rd. Follow down the hill to the bridge. If you get to the hamlet of Malone on Deloro Road you have gone too far north by a km or so. Malone is 9 or 10 km north of #7.

If you type - Malone, Ontario, Canada into Google Map or MapQuest you will get directions. Try to click on this url and see if it takes you to the map.,mod%3D0&q=Malone,+Ontario,+Canada&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x4cd343739bbc238b:0x46354053a6005dee,Malone,+ON&gl=ca&sa=X&ei=PtoFUJ3mA6P50gGhzZDkCA&ved=0CAkQ8gEwAA

Chris’ directions – Drive west (towards Ottawa) on Highway #7 to the orange flashing lights marking the intersection of the Deloro Road (a few kms from Marmora). Turn left (north) off #7 onto the Deloro Road and follow it a few kms to the village of Deloro. The road veers sharply left at the village (almost everyone dead ends at the old slag piles the first time - no problemo). Continue past the village of Deloro about 5 or 6 kms to the tiny hamlet of Malone. The sign marking Malone is placed at least a km before you reach the few houses which make up the tiny hamlet. Turn right (south) onto Malone Quarry Road. It's a short dirt road which leads to the bridge crossing the Upper Moira River. The millpond is on the right (west) side of the bridge, and ZRG is on the left (east) side of the bridge. There's the cedar entrance to ZRG with the prayer flags flying, so it's easy to find. People can park anywhere on the left side of the Malone Quarry Road (ZRG is also on the south side of the bridge as well, but the main part of ZenRiver Garden is on the north bank, where the shaman shack is located and where we hold the potluck suppers and the readings.)


Thursday, 19 July 2012

James Deahl's lecture at Acorn launch on July 12th

Milton Acorn lecture
Toronto Public Library

July 12, 2012

James Deahl

            In my “Introduction” to In a Springtime Instant: The Selected Poems of Milton Acorn, 1950 – 1986 I talk about the Great Generation of Canadian poets. I refer to the years of 1916 through 1926. During that period no less than twenty important poets were born, at least eight of them going on to win the Governor General’s Award for Poetry. Milton Acorn was born into this generation and served as its leading member until his death twenty-six years ago.

            The Great Generation formed the bridge between our poets of the Confederation Period, such as Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, and Isabella Valancy Crawford, and our major Modernist poets, such as Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Patrick Lane. And the Modernists, in their turn, led to the poets of what might be called the “post-Atwood” period, such as John B. Lee, Tom Wayman, and Mary di Michele.

            Indeed, the Great Generation insured that the vision of our 19th Century poets was carried on into, and through, the 20th Century. The importance of this is that, as interesting and heartfelt as the work may be (and here I fully agree with Margaret Atwood that some pre-Confederation poetry is of high literary value), the poems of pre-Confederation poets like Heavysege, Sangster, and Mair were scarcely more than British-style poems written in Canada, even when they dealt with Canadian topics like the War of 1812 in Upper Canada. These poets possessed little, or no, Canadian vision; little, or no, Canadian understanding. And although both Sangster and Mair were born in Canada, they saw Canada through the English poetic tradition of Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, etc. Our first poet with a Canadian vision was Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887). It was Crawford who inspired Dorothy Livesay, and Livesay inspired poets like Atwood.

            Another important contribution of Acorn and his fellow poets was the establishment of People’s Poetry. While hints, and at times more than mere hints, of People’s Poetry can be found in the work of Lampman and Carman, and while People’s Poetry as we know it today came to the forefront when Dorothy Livesay won the Governor General’s Award in 1944 for her stunning collection Day and Night, it was the Acorn Generation that developed it and helped it become Canada’s chief poetic tradition. It would be difficult to imagine the People’s Poetry Movement without the work of three of our finest poets: Acorn, Raymond Souster, and Al Purdy. Ted Plantos has called Milton Acorn, “the lyric heart of a land.” I call Acorn the heart and soul of Canadian poetry.

            In the “family tree” of People’s Poetry, with its roots in the Confederation Period, we can see a direct line from Isabella Valancy Crawford through Dorothy Livesay and Margaret Atwood and on to Roo Borson. Likewise, a line runs from Archibald Lampman through Raymond Souster, Milton Acorn, and Miriam Waddington and on to Norma West Linder and Chris Faiers. And once again, from Bliss Carman through Al Purdy and Irving Layton and on to John B. Lee, the leading People’s Poet of his generation.

            As a result, we can clearly discern a tradition stretching from Crawford’s Old Spookses’ Pass, Malcolm’s Kate, and Other Poems (published in 1884) and Lampman’s Among the Millet and Other Poems (1888) to the poetry being published today, a century and a quarter later. Indeed, the majority of Canadian poets writing today claim to be People’s Poets or to be writing from that tradition. Most of our contemporary poets trace their literary roots back to the Great Generation.

            The role of Acorn within the People’s Poetry tradition is central. Although poets like Livesay, Layton, Anne Marriott, Purdy, Souster, Atwood, and MacEwen were publishing books and winning major awards before Milton Acorn’s great decade, it was through his two NC Press titles, More Poems For People and The Island Means Minago, that People’s Poetry was placed in the minds of not just other poets, where it had been for decades, but in the minds of general readers as well. More Poems For People sold thousands of copies, a circulation no other Canadian poetry book could achieve.

            Acorn tirelessly roamed from Atlantic Canada to Vancouver and as far north as Dawson Creek presenting readings and lectures. A true Bard of Canada, Acorn probably gave more poetry readings than any other poet of his time. In this way he was like Bliss Carman, also noted for his vigorous poetry readings. And while Acorn was named The Peoples’ Poet by his fellow writers in 1970, Carman, who greatly inspired the young Al Purdy, was the first People’s Poet in Canada, the first poet to captivate the general public’s imagination.

            But Acorn’s influence on Canadian poetry went far beyond his well-attended readings and his popular books. He maintained friendships with and influenced a great many of our finest poets: Livesay, Layton, Marriott, Purdy, Souster, Eli Mandel, Joe Rosenblatt, J. Michael Yates, Patrick & Red Lane, Atwood, bill bissett, David Donnell, Dennis Lee, MacEwen, Michael Ondaatje, Seymour Mayne, Maxine Gadd, Peter Trower, Artie Gold, etc.

            Acorn also led informal poetry workshops in two of English Canada’s most important cities: Vancouver (at the Advanced Mattress) and Toronto (at the Bohemian Embassy). He also taught creative writing at Toronto’s Three Schools. In this way he encouraged many younger poets, at least seven of whom would win the Governor General’s Award.

            (It is true that Acorn would fall out with most of his fellow poets at one time or another. But he still respected them and they him.)

            In the spreading of People’s Poetry I like to call Acorn, Souster, and Purdy the “three amigos “. It was Souster who published Acorn’s first full-length book, Jawbreakers, through Contact Press, a publishing house that also involved Louis Dudek and Layton, two of the finest People’s Poets to come out of the Montreal scene, And Purdy edited and introduced Acorn’s great book I’ve Tasted My Blood as well as two other Acorn collections. Souster also published Purdy’s breakthrough collection Poems for All the Annettes. Furthermore, Souster and Purdy won back-to-back Governor General’s Awards in 1964 and 1965. In fact, by 1970 People’s Poets had won the G.G. ten times. And Acorn and his friends would win it six more times during the 1970s.

            And so it continues: the winner of the 2011 Governor General’s Award for Poetry is Phil Hall (for his collection Killdeer). Hall writes directly from the tradition of Acorn and Purdy.

            Fortunately, Raymond Souster is still with us, and presently writing and publishing with great vigour, the last poet of our Great Generation.

            That one strand of poetry has been so central to Canadian literature for 125 years is remarkable. People’s Poetry touches directly on the spirituality and on the philosophical history that has long distinguished Canada from the United States. As clearly shown by such major anthologies as The New American Poetry (1960), A Controversy of Poets (1965), The Contemporary American  Poets(1969), and much more recently, The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (2011), what we call People’s Poetry remains an important, but nevertheless minor, strand south of the border. This is to say that while a Phil Hall will win the Governor General’s Award up here, such a poet would not likely receive a Pulitzer Prize in the U.S.

            In fact, I believe the most recent People’s Poet to win a Pulitzer was Philip Levine in 1995. And before that it was perhaps Rita Dove in 1987. That is only twice in a quarter of a century. I suspect well over one-third of all poets to win a G.G. during that same twenty-five year span were People’s Poets.

            Now, having said all this, I do not want you to think that the poetry written in the 21st Century is like Livesay’s Day and Night or Acorn’s I’ve Tasted My Blood or Purdy’s The Cariboo Horses. It is not. For example, very few poets writing today believe in the perfectibility of humankind. And fewer still are active socialists or communists like Livesay and Acorn had been. Nonetheless, they believe in The People and write for them.

            In my view, poets such as Phil Hall, Norma West Linder, and John B. Lee were, and still are, inspired by our poets of the Great Generation. And I will argue further that Acorn played the central role in his generation. Without the poems he wrote between 1950 and 1986, our poetry would not be what we read today.

            Does this mean that Canadian poetry is in some way better than American poetry or English poetry or Irish poetry? No. But it does mean that Canadian poetry is different, that it is, in fact, Canadian.

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Conrad DiDiodato has left a new comment on your post "James Deahl's lecture at Acorn launch on July 12th...":

Where's Katherine L. Gordon in all of this?

Why on earth do we give so much importance to Margaret Atwood: the quintessential mainstream, academic poet?? No one single poet in Canada has been as grossly overrated as Margaret Atwood. There are no media 'superpoets' in a people's poetry movement: the very notion is grotesquely antithetical to a movement rooted in every day people, every day lives.

No mention of Katherine L.Gordon in any of this. This is a terrible injustice...

Posted by Conrad DiDiodato to Riffs &amp; Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens at 19 July 2012 12:31

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Thanks for sticking up for Katherine, Conrad - I agree she deserves a mention, & now you've provided it.
- Chris

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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Riot by Robbie Burns' statue/Milt Acorn to blame???

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Deahl/Faiers & DiDiodato discussions on People's Poetry

July 7, 2012

Dear Chris & Chase,

     Below is a draft of my definition of People's poetry.

     What do you think?

. . . James, Norma, & Rocky

People’s Poetry

            by James Deahl

            Although its roots lie deep in the Confederation Period (1880-1899), people’s literature as we know it today, both in poetry and in fiction, has been the central literary tradition in Canada since the mid-1920s when Frederick Philip Grove published his first Canadian novel, Settlers of the Marsh, in 1925. Grove’s poetic counterpart was Dorothy Livesay, who published her first collection, Green Pitcher, in 1928 and whose Day and Night (Governor General’s Award for Poetry, 1944) would set a standard for People’s Poetry that would be followed by Milton Acorn, George Bowering, and Ted Plantos, among others.

         People’s Poetry is founded on two concepts: 1. That progress can be seen in the human universe — in terms of what might be called “social physics”, this means that society moves from disorder to order (thus, society improves, becomes more fair and less governed by social Darwinism); and 2. That humanity is perfectible within history. That is, humans play a (if not the) major role in their personal and collective salvation from the flaws of human nature.

            From these two principles it follows that: People’s Poetry promotes peace, equality, and human goodness; People’s Poetry opposes racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination; People’s Poetry opposes classism and class systems. It is, in short, art made for the people, not the elite. People’s Poetry works to preserve and enrich our natural and human environment.

         In practice, People’s Poetry tends to: be committed to Modernist concepts while retaining key Romantic ideals; support Socialist / Social-Democratic political movements; oppose large-scale capitalism and its attendant “business culture”; encourage all people to participate in building their culture.

            From the days when Grove and Livesay were writing and publishing their early books, realism joined with idealism has been the hallmark feature of people’s literature in Canada. This sets it apart from Post-modern, Imagist, and Confessional poetries, which also are present in our contemporary literature. Leading People’s Poets today include John B. Lee, Robert Priest, Ronnie R. Brown, and Chris Faiers.

            Note: People’s Poetry is a term generally used only in Canada. In the United States this type of writing is usually referred to as Populist Poetry, and in Britain as Public Poetry.

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late July 7- early July 8th, 2012

Dear James,
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to read & discuss your draft definition of (Canadian) People's Poetry. We were both fortunate to have the definitive Canadian People's Poet, Milt, as a comrade (in the Canadian Liberation Movement: CLM), as a friend (and roommate), and as a poetry mentor.

Knowing Milt so well, perhaps it's easier to define what a People's poet is, and that basically everything a People's Poet writes then becomes some aspect of People's Poetry. Some poets may write a People's poem from time to time, but not necessarily be considered representative People's Poets. Likewise, a true PP, like Milt, wrote lots of poems which, if read individually, wouldn't necessarily be obvious examples of People's Poetry, but which did form parts of his development, or explored aspects of his broadest world view.

I believe you pretty well nailed the development of People's Poetry and most of its primary features, but for the above reason I intuit that it's more practical to apply a definition to poets, rather than to the individual poems they create.

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... and Chase wrffffffffffffffffffffffff! (hi Rocky)

p.s. Another poet I consider a prime exemplar of PP is bill bissett. Like Milt, bill has encouraged progressive poetry through a broad range of activities, such as founding & operating blewointmentpress, doing countless tours across Canada (and Europe), mentoring and encouraging other poets, and constantly exploring and expanding our knowledge & practice of poetry, consciousness and social progress.

p.p.s. I'd like to post this discussion on my blog - I'm sure it would stimulate some feedback & perhaps even some controversy. OK with you?

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July 8, 2012

Dear Chris,

            You are quite correct in the observation you made yesterday. There is People’s Poetry as a literary movement, then there are individual People’s Poems, and finally there are People’s Poets.

            A true People’s Poet is one who writes People’s Poetry most of the time: Acorn, Livesay, Souster, bissett, etc. There are not many of those still around.

            Then there are those who start writing People’s Poetry before moving on to another type of poetry, but who always acknowledge their roots in People’s Poetry. George Bowering comes to mind. (He has always acknowledged his great debt to the poetry of Acorn, Livesay, and Purdy.) And so does Irving Layton.

            And there are individual People’s Poems such as my “On The Line”, “The Great Lakes Shipping Strike”, and “Hiorra”.

            What we see today are a great many Canadian poets (actually the majority) who have come out of the People’s Poetry Movement, but who seldom write a true People’s Poem today. Souster and bissett are among our few living poets who have devoted their lives to writing for The People. But Souster is 91 years old. bissett is 72.

            Actually, Norma can be viewed as a People’s Poet in that she was inspired to write poetry at all (and she had already turned 40 at the time) by first reading Souster and a bit later by reading Layton’s A Red Carpet for the Sun (he was still writing P.P. at that time). She still writes for The People. But my sweetheart will turn 84 in less than two months.

            It is perhaps not good that our People’s Poets are all Senior Citizens, but I simply do not see younger poets who devote themselves to the Canadian people and to the struggles of their people like Livesay and Acorn did.

            Nonetheless, all the time I meet younger poets (by that I mean poets in their 40s) who admire Purdy or Livesay or Acorn or bissett.

            A bit odd. What do you think, old Buddy?

Poetry Power!

            . . . James

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July 8

Hi James,
Yes, I like your clarification of three distinct aspects of People's Poetry: as a literary movement, individual poems, and then People's Poets. I find the distinctions very helpful and astute.

And something else you relate which I hadn't thought of is that some are People's Poets for the earlier part of their literary life (career is so inaccurate in Canada!), and then they go on to other things, while some poets develop into People's Poets later in life (like Norma, and perhaps Robert Priest).

Another issue is the quality of the poetry. There are many political activists who write People's Poetry, but most of them are more committed to their activism than to their poetry. And so the poetry suffers. On last night's walk along the river with Chase, I mused that if Milt had been a 'better' progressive activist, if he had been capable of organizing Canadian unions, say, then his attention might have been focused there and we would have lost our best national poet.

I'm also biased towards considering non-academic and blue collar poets as more likely candidates for being People's Poets. I'm thinking of Martin Durkin, the young prole who closes the Purdy tribute anthology, AND LEFT A PLACE TO STAND ON. Of course Purdy, and MIlt, and even Ray Souster all worked at prosaic day jobs - they had to earn their bread and butter among the people, not sheltered in ivory towers, and their poetry reflects this.

And there is an 'outsider' element to People's Poetry. All the best PP have been outsiders - thinking esp. of bill bissett here - there is an almost shamanistic pattern in the lives of our best People's Poets - a separation from the tribe, and then a rejoining, with the means of communicating the new experiences gained during the separations necessary for tribal growth being the poetry.  

And yes, it's sad, but completely understandable that there are so few younger dedicated People's Poets. It isn't any sort of career by the standards of our capitalist and materialistic society. So the young poets become profs, or journalists, or give up on poetry and literature completely as a primary lifelong activity. As I've said in a few emails, I've recently been hanging out with poet/novelist/raconteur/hipster Jim Christy. He's now 67, and still hard scrabbling for paying literary and artistic gigs. I've joked that he should receive some sort of lifetime guaranteed income - Canada Council? Ontario Arts Council? some private foundation?

Maybe that's part of the test of the mettle of Canada's People's Poets - surviving in a culture which needs your work so desperately, but which will consciously neglect you to the point of leaving you bedridden in your own excrement in a flophouse (Milt at the Waverley Hotel). With examples like this, no wonder so few are genuinely following the path Milt trail blazed.

peace & poetry power!
Chris and Chase ... wrffffffffffffffffffffff! (glad my dog ESP was working last night!)
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Conrad DiDiodato has left a new comment on your post "Deahl/Faiers discussions on People's Poetry":

Great discussion, guys

I'd just like to add that (imo) the real American exponent of the People's Poetry movement ideal in Canada was probably Cid Corman. He worked tirelessly all his life (mostly from Kyoto Japan) to publish, support and encourage mostly non-mainstream, non-academic poets. There was once a Corman-Souster relationship that resulted in Souster's inclusion in some issues of Corman's "Origin" literary mag.

But certainly Milt Acorn is the quintessential people's poet: and particularly for the reasons that made him also(from what people who knew him have told me) instantly likeable as a person: I guess it's true to the say the people's poet emphasizes the person of the poet over any fake ('illustrated')personas or methodologies. The poem is the person, the poem being always the indelible imprint of the person.

I'd like one day soon to continue this vital discussion at my site.

A good day to you both!

Posted by Conrad DiDiodato to Riffs &amp; Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens at 8 July 2012 09:57

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July 8, 2012  -  part 2

Dear Chris,

            I have long noted that the poets who enjoy what I call “comfortable money” are almost all professors with their Ph.Ds. Then there are a great many poets who have a much lower income than the average Canadian. (I worked at wage-slavery from the age or 21 until I was 61 — four decades. In only one of those years did I have an annual much income above the official “poverty line”, otherwise known as the “low income cut-off” to government folk. Some years I earned only half of a poverty line income!)

            While it must be acknowledged that some People’s Poets did teach university, by far the majority of our People’s Poets did not. Some I know worked as dishwashers, taxi drivers, loggers, bookshop clerks, and hospital orderlies. (I was a “professional” dishwasher myself on three occasions.) Very few People’s Poets ever earned $100,000 per year.

            A comfortable income is more likely to be found among the writers of other types of poetry.

            What do these facts mean? Hell if I know. All I do know is that when I was a student at West Virginia Wesleyan I had to decide on an academic career or poetry. I was certain I could not pursue both. (Here I speak only for myself since I cannot speak for any other person.) Thus, at age 66 I am poor but happy, and I have written a few books that are, at least in my opinion, pretty good.

            I must add here that some professor/poets I have known (once upon a time I was a member of the inner circle of the League of Canadian Poets) turned out to be decent people. And I must also add that a few People’s Poets turned out to be complete jerks. In short: bad people can write good poetry and good people can write bad poetry.

            Again, these are simply facts. Make of them what you will.


            . . . James

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Conrad DiDiodato has left a new comment on your post "Deahl/Faiers & DiDiodato discussions on People's P...":


the academic is generally unfavourable to the people's poet (as I've discovered) for two reasons: 1. academics don't write or don't encourage anyone to write til they've been vetted and approved by the right'committees' or 'review boards' and then university presses who round out the process (I ask you, Who would ever have published Silliman's monstrosity of book of poems titled "the Alphabet" if not the Alabama Press to which, of course, Silliman is attached via his 'review board' friends Bernstein and Lazer?)I've always maintained that the academics and, in Canada, the arts funding regime, have virtually monopolized publication in the arts.

2. academics who happen to teach writing, working in cahoots with the academic publishing industry, create instant ready-made audiences (in the form of their own classes)for their own published goods. Academics can't publish under any other more normal conditions--let's face it, who's going to read an academic's dull droning prose if they don't have to?-- It's for this reason I detest Kootenay-style writing regimes since academics posing as litterateurs create a need for the services only they can provide (It's sort of like the iPhone user's addiction to Apps: without them the addiction to instant texting and networking can't be fed).

I also maintain that the academics are directly responsible for the terrible state of poetry in Canada. This conclusion follows directly from the above-mentioned two observations re: academic presses. If the public isn't the final arbiter of taste, and the academic has free rein to do whatever they wish in their classes,the type of poetry that 'sells' and will be published in mainstream mags will always tend to be wildly experimental, elitist and anti-communal.

Posted by Conrad DiDiodato to Riffs &amp; Ripples from ZenRiver Gardens at 8 July 2012 16:57

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July 11, 2012

Dear Chris and Chase,

            Thank you for sending the Umbrella. Nice piece on AcornFest.

            Have you seen the Jeff Seffinga definition of People’s Poetry? If not, here it is:

"Milton Acorn's poetry defines the People's Poetry Tradition. Subtle in his emotions, his power and directness come from the images drawn from everyday island life. Dedicated to the class struggle, Acorn peopled his poems with working men and women of the visage of Canada, and paid unceasing tribute to their suffering, their humble crafts and their utter reliability. With an authentic working-class voice, Acorn's poetry reflects the uncanny ability to replicate the nuance and cadence of everyday speech so that the delicacy of his imagery is also fraught with the wrath of hardship."


            . . . James

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Thoughts from an Omnigothic Neofuturist poet :

I suppose as an Omnigothic Neofuturtist and not a People’s Poet, I would trace the resonances of my words perhaps at times in historical line with:

William Langdon “Peirs Ploughman” (1550)  … Langdon is a name given to this author by academics… he records his name in Peirs as “my name is Longe Wille”

Henry Alline  “Hymns and Spiritual Songs” (1786)

Onesemus Larwill  “An address” (Montreal 1834)

Pauline Johnson “White Wampum” (1895)

Thaddeus A Brown “The White Plague and Other Poems”  (1909)

Valdimir Mayakovsky “How to make verse.” (1926)

Lu Hsun (Xun)  “Wild Grass”  (1931)

Milton Acorn “I’ve Tasted My Blood”  (1969)

Jane Jorden “I Smoke Black Russian Cigarettes with Turkish Papers” (1974)

Chris Faiers “Dominion Day in Jail”  (1978)…. A resonance perhaps not in line with but along side with…

But theses are resonances of language which is a human river… I believe “poetry” to be rooted in place… so for me… increasingly… this five-acres, on this little lake…. A path of seasons…

And one thing I learned from Acorn is that if people bestow a mantle upon you… you wear it….

The Raven King
(Jim Larwill)

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