Watson, Wilfred

Wilfred Watson, poet, playwright, professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Alberta (b at Rochester, Eng 1 May 1911; d at Nanaimo 25 Mar 1998). A highly innovative writer, Watson influenced 1960s theatre in Canada; his number-grid verse is significant to prosody and to poetry performance. His first book, Friday's Child (1955), won the British Council and the Governor General's awards for poetry. Its mythological, literary and religious imagery and intense energy persist in his later work.

In the 1960s, Watson turned to drama, producing 10 plays, mostly in verse (including Cockrow and the Gulls, produced 1962; O Holy Ghost DIP YOUR FINGER IN THE BLOOD OF CANADA and write, I LOVE YOU, 1967; Let's murder Clytemnestra, according to the principles of Marshall McLuhan, 1969), the immediate influence of which was considerable. A close reader of Marshall MCLUHAN (they coauthored From Cliché to Archetype, 1970), Watson believed the world of multimedia produces multiconsciousnesses, demanding a theatre of "radical absurdity" in which realistic settings and action are replaced by "multi-environments." Much of his work is political allegory.

In the 1970s he returned to poetry: The Sorrowful Canadians (1972) counterpoints type fonts, refrains and "voices." With I Begin with Counting (1978) and Mass on Cowback (1982), he developed number-grid verse using a vertical grid of 9 numbers with 17 slots for words, syllables or phrases. By stacking the grids, Watson writes a "score" for the performance of multivoice poems which exist not on the page but in transformations from visual to auditory forms. His 1983 work, Gramsci x 3 (produced 1986), though partly "docudrama," is characterized by absurdity, continual experimentation with verse forms, satire alternating with lyricism, and an energy and exaltation that transcends the horrors it depicts.

Watson's Collected Poems (1986) and Plays at the Iron Bridge (1989) bring together his most important work. Five of his short stories, all of them allegories, are collected in The Baie Comeau Angel and Other Stories (1993). His papers are deposited in the University of Alberta Archives. Watson was married to the influential novelist Sheila WATSON.