Writer in Residence


By Barry Dempster

Patrick Friesen is a true lyric poet, open and honest, singing more often than talking. His poems are almost bodiless, his words slowly turning into rivers. In “Earth’s Crude Gravities,” language pours from the page with such shapeliness and depth that I often find myself reading a poem again and again until it sweeps all sense of being grounded out from under me.

Why isn’t a new Patrick Friesen book a major event? I didn’t even know “Earth’s Crude Gravities” existed until it tipped off the shelf in a secondhand bookstore and I caught it between my fingers.

As I get older, I’m surprised more and more by the fact that writing exceptional poetry isn’t necessarily accompanied by any sort of public glory. Some poets have worked hard and are presently in their prime, yet find themselves basking in shadows more than floodlights. Linda Rogers, for example. Book after book of playfulness and sensuality. She struts more than flows, the way Sharon Olds can when she gets all fired-up and wants to embrace the world.

Why haven’t John Barton or Meira Cook won a major award for their challenging, ever evolving poetry? He has plugged language into all sorts of power sources, while her work takes you places that you didn’t know you needed to go. A new poem by either one of these poets feels like a walkabout that at any moment might turn into a magic carpet ride.

After a Governor General’s Award nomination last year, Russell Thornton now seems poised on the edge of much-deserved acclaimed, but he’s been writing soulful tributes to landscape and love for many years. A poet’s poet: another way of saying underappreciated.

The list goes on: Alice Major, Marlene Cookshaw, Mary Di Michele, Robyn Sarah, Jan Conn. Do yourself a favour and track down some of their books.

Is it a case of some poets or publishers doing a better job of self-promotion? A combination of luck, timing and mystery? I’m not suggesting that fame and talent don’t go together, that the lucky aren’t phenomenally gifted as well, just that stardom often overshadows poets of equal ability.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, The Ascension of Jesse Rapture and The Outside World, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. He is also Acquisitions Editor for Brick Books.

For more information about Invisible Dogs please visit the Bricks Books website.