Northern Voices

A selection of Canadian poems and songs will be presented and discussed. You will hear many of the poems read by the poets who wrote them. The poetry will be placed in the context of Canada’s history, and related to contemporary developments in music, film and painting. The goal is to see whether there is something distinctive about Canadian poetry, and how this might help us to understand our national identity.

Session 1 Beginning: Myths and songs of the indigenous peoples; Brébeuf’s Huron carol; excerpts from Pratt’s Brébeuf and his Brethren; Thomas Cary’s The Plains of Abram; Un Canadien errant; Oliver Goldsmith and the new world; poetry of Susanna Moodie, and Margaret Atwood’s adaptation of her journals with illustrations by Charles Pachter; Shanly’s The Snow Walker; Thomas d’Arcy Magee – poetry and politics; an overview of Canada’s history from the indigenous perspective – Jeanette Armstrong’s History Lesson and John Newlove’s The Pride; Glenn Gould’s play for voices – The Idea of North. Gould’s Lord Salisbury’s Pavan. Text. Notes.

Session 2 Confederation: Louis Riel’s rebellion,  The Railroad Trilogy Gordon Lightfoot; Canadian landscape – picturesque or sublime; Isabella Valency Crawford’s Malcom’s Katie; Confederation Poets; William Wilfred Campbell’s Indian Summer; Bliss Carmen and Low Tide on Grand Pré, Archibald Lampman’s Lyrics of Earth, Charles Roberts; the war of the poets; Robert Service and Songs of a Sourdough – the myths of the Canadian North; Pratt’s The Titanic. Canadian poetry at the beginning of World War I: In Flanders Fields; the Great War in retrospect – Billy Bishop Goes to War. Text. Notes

Sesssion 3 Modernism: Disillusion as World War I ends – Frank Prewitt’s Card Game and E.J. Pratt’s Come Not the Seasons Here; modernism in Canada; free verse; the publication of New Provinces without A. J. M. Smith’s preface; E. J. Pratt’s lyric verse; the Great Depression, F. R. Scott and social justice; A. M. Klein’s Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens; relations between the poets and the Group of Seven; is there something distinct about Canadian culture? Dorothy Livesay – aesthetics and social activism; the Macdonald-Papineau battalion in the Spanish Civil War; ecphrasis. Text. Notes

Session 4 Innovation: Earle Birney’s Alaska Passage; the narrative poem in CanadaDavid; poetry and sound; alliterative verse; poetry in relation to World War II and the holocaust; The Bear on the Delhi Road; Anne Wilkinson’s Lens as a metaphor for the poetic process; Irving Layton (from The Improved Binoculars to For my Brother Jesus); George Johnston – family sensibilities; Margaret Avison – The Swimmer’s Moment; P. K. Page – poet, painter and diplomat’s wife; the glosa form and Planet Earth; Al Purdy – from At the Quinte Hotel to The Last Picture.  Text. Notes.

Session 5 Indigenous: Poetry of and about the Dorsets and the Inuit; Nanook of the North; Ellesmereland by Earle Birney; Purdy’s Horseman of Agawa; indigenous ideas and culture – Pauline Johnston and Grey Owl –especially as seen through native eyes (Joan Crate and Armand Ruffo); reservations; the residential school system and Duncan Campbell Scott; the story of Chanie Wenjack; Norval Morrisseau in painting and in poetry; Expo 67 and The Lament for Confederation; Buffy Sainte Marie’s Universal Soldier;  recent native poetry – Sarain Stump (There Is My People Sleeping), Jeanette Armstrong, Daniel David Moses. Text. Notes.

Session 6 Revolution: All poems and songs will be presented in both French and English; problems of translation as illustrated with Nelligan’s Le Vaisseau d’Or; Emile Nelligan – North America’s Baudelaire; modernism – Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau; Sylvan Garneau and the NFB film Mon École; surrealism in French Canadian culture; Borduas and Riopelle – Le Refus global; Anne Hébert – Le Tombeau des Rois; Jean Lesage and the Quiet Revolution; Gaston Miron – l’Homme Rappaillé; Roland Giguère – Rosaces et Ronces; chansons québécoises – Gilles Vigneault (Mon Pays); Michele Lalonde’s Speak White; Text. Notes

Session 7 Flowering: Painters Eleven; Raymond Souster – Toronto in free verse; Ian and Sylvia and Four Strong Winds; D. G. Jones and The Perishing Bird; Leonard Cohen poems from The Spice Box of Earth and songs from Suzanne to You Want It Darker; Daryl Hine comes out and becomes editor of Poetry; Margaret Atwood assesses Canadian literature – Survival; the Bohemian Embassy promotes poetry and folk song; Gwendolyn MacEwen (especially The T. E. Lawrence Poems); the TISH poets – George Bowering and Fred Wah; Dennis Lee and Alligator Pie; Michael Ondaatje, novelist and poet – the Cinnamon Peeler’s WifeText. Notes

Session 8 Currents:  Joni Mitchell Both Sides Now and Woodstock; bpNichol – poetry of sounds and graphics; John Steffler and Michael Crummey – the poetry of Newfoundland; classic literature seen anew – Anne Carson’s Short Talks and Antigonick; immigrants contribute to the Canadian scene – Dionne Brand; Anne Michaels – Skin Divers and Black Sea; ekphrasis – Jan Zwicky, Diana Brebner and Stephanie Bolster; George Elliott Clarke and the black experience in Canada; Chistian Bök and constrained poetry – Eunoia; some conclusions about Canada and its poetry. Text. Notes


Some anthologies of Canadian poetry are

Armstrong, J. C., & Grauer, L. (2001). Native poetry in Canada: A contemporary anthology. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Atwood, M. (1982). The New Oxford book of Canadian verse in English. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Geddes, G. (2014). 70 Canadian poets. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Glassco, J. (1970). The poetry of French Canada in translation. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Graveline, P. (2007). Les cent plus beaux poèmes québécois. Montréal: Fides.

Starnino, C. (2005). The new canon: An anthology of Canadian poetry. Montréal: Signal Editions.