Writing in Our Time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003)

Writing in Our Time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003)

Writing in Our Time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003)

Writing in Our Time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003)


Process poetics is about radical poetry - poetry that challenges dominant world views, values, and aesthetic practices with its use of unconventional punctuation, interrupted syntax, variable subject positions, repetition, fragmentation, and disjunction.

To trace the aesthetically and politically radical poetries in English Canada since the 1960s, Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy begin with the "upstart" poets published in Vancouver's TISH: A Poetry Newsletter, and follow the trajectory of process poetics in its national and international manifestations through the 1980s and '90s.

The poetics explored include the works of Nicole Brossard, Daphne Martlatt, bpNichol, George Bowering, Roy Kiyooka, and Frank Davey in the 1960s and '70s. For the 1980-2000 period, the authors include essays on Jeff Derksen, Clare Harris, Erin Mour, and Lisa Robertson. They also look at books by older authors published after 1979, including Robin Blaser, Robert Kroetsch, and Fred Wah.

A historiography of the radical poets, and a roster of the little magazines, small press publishers, literary festivals, and other such sites that have sustained poetic experimentation, provide context.


Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy

Writing in Our Time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English provides both historiographic and critical introductions to poetry that has been variously described as radical, experimental, oppositional, avant-garde, open-form, alternative, or interventionist. We chose the adjective “radical” because its general definition—“tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions” (Webster's)—encompasses political, social, and aesthetic activities. The radical poetries in this study all enact “extreme changes.” In the chapters that follow we discuss aspects of the TISH poetics, concrete and sound poetry, deconstructive poetics, and poetry inflected by race, gender, class, and sexuality. Such poetries have in common a compositional process that emphasizes the construction rather than the reflection of self and world—the production of meaning over its consumption. We also note that the social meaning of radicality has changed dramatically in response to identity politics and the global imperatives of the 1980s and '90s. We chose our title to emphasize that shift: Writing in Our Time refers to both an event held in 1979 and to our time (the turn of the twenty-first century). In 1979, the series of seven benefit readings for West Coast literary presses referred to as “Writing in Our Time” featured a predominantly white and male group of poets linked through three interconnected tracks. One started in western Canada with the TISH poets and extended into other sites of experimental poetics in locations across Canada. (These poets included George Bowering, Fred Wah, Frank Davey, Roy Kiyooka, Lionel Kearns, Brian Fawcett, Eli Mandel, Daphne Marlatt, Steven Scobie, Douglas Barbour, Victor Coleman, Dennis Lee, D.G. Jones, and Robert Kroetsch). The sound and concrete poets from Vancouver and Toronto formed a second track, associated with BlewOintment magazine in Vancouver and grOnk / Ganglia publications in Toronto (Victor Coleman, Steve McCaffery, bpNichol, Gerry Gilbert, and bill bissett).A third group included American poets associated with Beat and Black Mountain poetics, all of whom had influenced the Canadian scene. They were Robert Creeley, Diane di Prima, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ann Waldman, and Michael McClure. At the edge of this relatively homogeneous group, however, disturbances were brewing. Feminist initiatives were well underway with Fireweed, CV2, Room of One's Own, Women's Press, and Press Gang; and Japanese Canadian redress, Black power movements, and First Nations . . .

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