Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Acorn's Island

The Island means Minago / Milton Acorn
New Canada Press, c1975.

I've been so busy making reading plans for the new year, I haven't been looking back enough -- and I have a slew of reviews to catch up on. I'll call this my week of reviews and try to talk a bit about some of the books I read as the year was turning over.

First off, there's this book of poetry and essays, by Milton Acorn. I would not have read this one if it hadn't been chosen by Yann Martel in his quest to get our Prime Minister to read. But it was, and I thought it might also be an interesting book about PEI for the Canadian Book Challenge; I will of course be reading lots of LM Montgomery in this 100th year since the publication of Anne of Green Gables, but something PEI and not Montgomery sounded interesting. And interesting was what I got with this one.

Acorn was a poet and an activist, commonly known in his time as "The People's Poet". This book is published by NC Press, and is very seventies. On the copyright page, it reads "NC Press publishes books and pamphlets that will be of assistance in the Canadian People's struggle for national liberation." The poetry and especially the essay on the revolutionary history of Prince Edward Island gives me the impression that if Milton Acorn hadn't been a poet and a part of the literary community he'd have been just another of the nutty conspiracy theorists accosting everyone in the public library. This collection reflects its time as well as Acorn's strong political opinions.
Still, some of the poetry is quite striking, and the essay on PEI points out some fascinating items I hadn't considered, notwithstanding my BA in Canadian History. One of these things is how the fact that PEI was settled by tenant farmers of absentee landlords reflected itself in the landscape. The curving roads, the screening bluffs of trees, all assisted in the resistance to tax collectors approaching for their take. As he says when people remark how pretty PEI is, 'it was formed by revolution'. There is a feeling of dusty idealism to the poetry and the historical rants; still, it is somehow charming. In Yann Martel's essay to the Prime Minister about this book, he states :
The Island Means Minago represents yet another thing a book can be: a time capsule, a snapshot, a museum shelf of old dreams—that is, a reminder of a past future that never became (but is perhaps still worth dreaming about).
I concur. Here is one of the (non-political) poems I most enjoyed:
Trout Pond
The woods, spruce twisted
into spooky shapes
echo the trickle of water
from raised oars.
Above pale ripples
a redwing blackbird fastens
legs crooked and beak alert,
to a springing reed.
My father's whiteheaded now,
but oars whose tug
used to start my tendons
pull easily these years.
His line curls, his troutfly drops
as if on its own wings,
marks a vee on the mirrored
ragged spruceheads, and
a crane flapping past clouds.
(once again Blogger has no poetic soul and will not let me space the verse correctly. It is written in 4 stanzas, the first 3 with 4 lines and the final stanza holding 5. Argh.)


  1. I can't go by Grossman's Tavern in Toronto without thinking of him. It's where he was given the peoples' poet award. That shindig was also where Margaret Atwood met Graeme Gibson.

    "I've tasted my blood too much / To love what I was born to."

  2. I should read more poetry; tt's been a while. Thanks for reminding me. :)


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