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Unit 2 Overview Lecture

3 Pages

Course Code
English 2060E

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In his overview of Canadian poetry for The Cambridge Companion, David Staines claims that Tish revolutionized Canadian poetry in the early 1960s as “the group was the first Canadian wave in the postmodern tradition in Canadian poetry.” Certainly its key members – Frank Davey, George Bowering, Fred Wah, and later Daphne Marlatt – have been central to Canadian poetry, criticism, and Canadian literature in their academic activities as professors, editors, and writers-in residence. Staines goes on to note their influence on colleagues such as bp Nichol, Michael Ondaatje, and Margaret Atwood. For this reason we begin the course with Tish, even though there were other little magazines producing poetry and criticism across the country at the same time. What was Tish? Tish was a poetry newsletter produced by Bowering and fellow MA students at UBC, who formed an editorial collective, and disseminated writing-in-process that reflected aesthetic debates over the American New Poetry. Bowering’s writing was permanently marked by the community’s and the journal’s engagement with aesthetic theories, especially those theories manifesting a concern for immediacy rather than realism, and the journal’s policy of publishing work-in-progress. As Jason Wiens, following Olson’s Maximus Poems, puts it he “spread[s] words, words, words all over everything” (89). And the other Tish editors have been similarly prolific. In Davey’s “Introduction” to the reprinting of Tish 1-19, he writes: The impulse to create Tish had been sparked by [American poet] Robert Duncan during three nights of lectures, July 23, 24, and 25, 1961 at the Vancouver home of Warren Tallman. Tallman, a professor of English at the University of British Columbia who had already influenced George Bowering, Fred Wah, and myself as students in his general poetry class, had begun in 1959 to make contact with the San Francisco poetry.... In May, 1961, the amount of writing produced by our unofficial circle had reached such proportions that Wah and Lionel Kearns were half-seriously proposing the founding of a little magazine to be called Cock. But the main push toward a magazine was Duncan’s. Keith Richardson’s Poetry and the Colonized Mind: Tish (1976), a polemical attack on the quality and quantity of Tish’s American influences, represents the negative side of a somewhat polarized response to Tish. The short text gives a brief history of the newsletter: “…a total of nineteen issues were published. Each month, for almost two years, 300 copies of Tish were published under the general editorship of Frank Davey…. Tish featured [the editors’] material most prominently in conjunction with statements on poetics, editorials, and book reviews” (17). Richardson repeatedly insists on the evils of American imperialism that he feels is embodied in the derivative and self-important poetry published by the group. He contrasts Tish’s aborted attempts at poetics and poetry with a “Canadian” tradition from which it is both a monstrous growth and from which it has monstrously cut itself off, despite neither detailing nor documenting what this “Canadian” poetry is and who might be its representatives. Obviously its later reception, by Staines and others, find Tish to be central to contemporary Canadian poetry and poetics. Davey notes that while the Tish poets were heavily influenced by Charles Olson and encouraged to begin this publishing venture by Robert Duncan, Olson’s teachings led the UBC students to write out of their own moment and place, not out of an “American” ethos, which may explain the group’s influence: Far from encouraging imitative writings, Olson’s poetic insists upon each writer’s manifesting himself in language exactly appropriate to the person he is and to the physical and temporal circumstances in which he writes. This poetic, accurately followed, precludes the possibility of the kind of colonialist writing which [Robin] Matthews and [Milton] Acorn pretend to
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