Review of “Modern Canadian Poets” in the Globe

My review of the much-discussed Carcanet anthology “Modern Canadian Poets”, edited by Todd Swift and Evan Jones, is in the Globe today. Here’s a link. I’m actually not sure if it’s in the actual printed paper, too. Probably not, as today is Thursday. [Edit: It is.]

I didn’t like it very much. I question its intentions, and I feel that it shirked the massive responsibility of both its title and the name on its spine. This from two poets whose work I enjoy. For a dissenting opinion, please read Carmine Starnino’s defense of the project in the current issue of Quill & Quire. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 80% sure he’s being overly generous to the book, but it’s a very well written piece of prose, and full of things to consider.

Here’s that link again. An excerpt follows, if you’re really trying to conserve bandwidth.


The anthology as provocation
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 07, 2011 12:00AM EDT

All anthologies are political actions. They are kingmakers’ gestures, wherein their editors attempt to appoint a hierarchy for their chosen time and place. With that in mind, expatriate Canadian poets Todd Swift and Evan Jones, having convinced top-tier British poetry press Carcanet to let them publish an anthology called Modern Canadian Poets, need to be evaluated on both taste and politics. Because when taste is moved into the public sphere, it becomes a kind of politics, and the statement made with a major anthology contains the same world-remaking ambitions as a political platform.

This is especially true for an anthology that aims to introduce readers “to 35 poets they may never have read before.” To that end, here are six poets not featured in this new collection, published in Britain and launched recently in Canada: Leonard Cohen, Don McKay, Al Purdy, Dennis Lee, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. There are more, and while some major voices survived the cull (Irving Layton, Anne Carson, even relative outsiders David McGimpsey and Lisa Robertson made it in), this is an anthology that aims to provoke with its rejections.

When work suggested for a canon is on-message with the dominant consensus, it is right to interrogate the editors. But, in a book with such an eccentrically revisionist bent as Modern Canadian Poets, we ask not only, “What were the editors trying to knock over?” but also, “What are they hoping will grow in its place?” This critical double play is important and regenerative. Art needs revolutions. But we should always suspect its loudest partisans.

Explore posts in the same categories: Canadian Literature, Newspapers, Poems in the Wider World, Reviewing

3 Comments on “Review of “Modern Canadian Poets” in the Globe”

  1. Eric Foley Says:

    I really like this piece overall, Jake, but am not sure I agree that “the litmus test for poetic relevance is the degree to which a poet can be felt (as inspiration or rejection) in the work of their immediate successors.” Sometimes it can take longer than that for a writer’s true significance to be felt (e.g. Melville, Dickinson, Stein). At the very least, it could easily skip a generation.

  2. Nikki Lindstrom Says:

    I found this amazing poet. Lovely poetry that is a breath of fresh air at the website
    Her father’s family, the Hunters, are from Cooper’s Falls and Ragged Falls Ontario.


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