Friday, April 9, 2010

Canada's Poetic Landscape

It's National Poetry Month, so every Friday in April I'm writing something about Canadian Poetry.

Yes, I have written about how landscapes are treated in Canadian literature before, but when it comes to Canadian poetry things are a little different. Canada's many landscapes have been an integral part of our national poetry since pretty much the beginning of Canadian time.

Way back in 1867, when the Confederation Poets (such as Charles G. D. Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott and Archibald Lampman) got going, the wrote some pretty landscape-heavy poems about the scenery or the wilds or the vastness of what surrounded and confronted them. I once argued that the Confederation Poets were Canada's Romantics (something I stand by) and that their turn to look out at the land instead of in at themselves affected how Canadian poetry has progressed.

Now, that's not to say that the inner landscape doesn't exist in Canadian poetry, because it most certainly does. But that is not what this post is about.

In both the April edition of The Walrus and the most recent edition of Geist, Canadian landscape(s) poetry and poets are nicely featured. First,The Walrus features a lovely little piece on Al Purdy, one of Canada's foremost poets who wrote extensively about the Canadian landscapes that interested him. Geist, on the other hand, is featuring a Jackpine sonnet contest. The form was invented by Milton Acorn (another celebrated Canadian poet) and basically gives permission to poets to write irregular sonnets (which sounds like it should be an oxymoron, but instead is probably exactly the way Canadian sonnets should be written).

It's easy to think of landscape poetry as old-fashioned or somehow cliche, but really, in a country as vast and varied as Canada, the landscapes are a huge part of how we identify. And landscape poetry isn't all flowery. Robert Service wrote some amazing poetry that was rooted in a particular landscape but about more than projected emotion ("The Cremation of Sam McGee" comes to mind). A lot of our history as a country is also rooted in the landscapes of Canada, from the mountains of the west coast, to the arctic, the prairies, the oceans and the forests that carry almost right the way across. Really, if our poets weren't writing about it, we'd be missing out.

Image shown painted by Leanne Shapton


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