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Al Purdy, Sam Solecki, and the Poetics of the 1960s by Fran..
Al Purdy, Sam Solecki, and the Poetics of the 1960s by Frank Davey

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Western University
English 2060E

Al Purdy Sam Solecki and the Poetics of the 1960s by Frank Davey httpcanadianpoetryorgvolumesvol51daveyhtmlIn Canadian criticism there are at least three mythologies about Englishlanguage poetry in the 1960s One is that it led what George Woodcock called an enormous quantitative expansion of Canadian writing 13 a democratization of writing and publishing that saw the number of poetry books published annually multiply dramatically throughout the decade and the location of poetry production move significantly from the academy to the street A second is that marked a shift from the print poetry of high modernism to the oral and performance poetry of postmodernism A third is that it marked an Americanization of Canadian poetry the introduction of individualist poetics that threatened what Robin Mathews has theorized as Canadian consensual continuities As with most mythologies these have some factual grounds There was institutional expansion The number of Englishlanguage poetry books which the University of Toronto Quarterly could locate for its annual Letters in Canada review increased from eleven in 1961 to several hundred by 1969 The average press run of an Englishlanguage poetry title increased from around two hundred at the beginning of the decade to almost a thousand by its end At the beginning of the 1960s almost all poetry titles were published in only three of the ten Canadian provinces Ontario Quebec and New Brunswick by the end poetry books or chapbooks were being produced in all ten More writers and more publishers from more regions of the country and from a wider range of ages were contributing to publicly circulating verse But was this expansion democratizing In part the 1960s expansion was mandated by the Canadian federal government through the recently founded Canada Council which by offering subsidies for small press publishing aided the growth of regional poetry publication The Council and its juries were beginning to set rules both explicit and implicit about what could qualify as a booka minimum of fortyeight pages printed to a professional standard in dimensions suitable for bookstore shelves The pamphlets of bpNichols GrOnk press did not qualify the irregularly mimeographed booklets of bill bissetts blewointment press were eventually disqualified Page 39 In part also the expansion was shaped and contained ideologically in the late 11960s and early 1970s by the poetry discourses that the mass media and academic anthologies principally Geddess 15 Canadian Poets encouraged to circulate romantic documentaries of Canadian difference such as Al Purdys North of Summer 1967 or Dennis Lees Civil Elegies 1968 inquiries into poetic mystery such as Leonard Cohens The Spice Box of Earth 1961 Gwendolyn MacEwens The Shadow Maker 1969 or Michael Ondaatjes The Dainty Monsters 1967 celebrations of alternate heroisms such as John Newloves The Pride 1969 or Margaret Atwoods The Journals of Susanna Moodie 1970 During the 1960s proper there were no academic anthologies of the new poetry the ColomboGodbout Poetry 64 was a trade publication as was the Souster New Wave Canada neither was kept in print The first academic anthologies of 1960s poetry were Geddes 15 Canadian Poets 1970 and Mandels Poets of Contemporary Canada 1972 The more successful Geddes anthology was the more conservative project Although packaged as a contemporary collection it was in fact a postwar anthology that collected Birney Layton Souster Avison Purdy Nowlan DG Jones and Mandel as well as the much younger Atwood Bowering Cohen Coleman MacEwen Newlove and Ondaatje Apart from Coleman who was dropped in the second edition it ignored the more radical 1960s poetries such as those of Nichol Wah Marlatt Rosenblatt and Bissett and excluded visual poetry The Mandel also excluded visual poetry and managed through its typography to make the work of all its poets look visually similar but did offer the more radical listto Purdy Atwood Bowering MacEwen Newlove Ondaatje and Cohen adding Acorn bissett and Rosenblatt However it was never revised and never displaced the Geddes as the contemporary anthology of academic choice The latter went through several editions 1978 1988 2001 but only added Marlatt and Wah after the cultural changes of the 1980s and 90s had reidentified them as lesbianfeminist and ChineseCanadian respectively and Nichol after he was dead The mythology that the 1960s marked a shift from high modernism to postmodernism is similarly difficult to substantiate While the dominant mode in Canadian poetry at the beginning of the period was a variant of high modernism see Milton Wilsons anthology Poetry of MidCentury 194060the poem as a complex allusive aesthetic object that attested to the skill and Eurocentric erudition of the writer and marked discursively by a nostalgia for a period before industrialization and its multiplying of the power of mass culturethis changed only slightly during the decade Eliots understandings of poetry continued in Canada through the influence Page 40 of Northrop Frye who taught generations of studentsnot entirely inaccuratelythat literature is created less out of experience and testimony than out of earlier literature His focusing on archetypal mythology and on the Bible as the great code of literature meant that much of what passed as new in the Canadian 1960sthe poetries of MacEwen Cohen DG Jones and Daryll Hinewas high modernism in new clothing poetry that ideologically continued to view social events as recurrences within a closed mythological system even if as in the case of Cohen the poetry appeared to 2have cultural influence These were poetries that in general held political process and attempts at political action in high suspicion often creating a dichotomy between the allegedly dehumanizing processes of social system and the mysteries of poetry The proposition that art is somehow beyond social system and incomprehensible to it linked these poetries to poems like Yeats A Prayer for my Daughter and Sailing to Byzantium It underlay other 1960s Canadian poetries of very different rhetorics such as that of bill bissett and his 1968 poem
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