John Newlove | The Canadian Encyclopedia


John Newlove

John Newlove, poet, editor (b at Regina 13 June 1938; d at Ottawa 23 December 2003).

Newlove, John

John Newlove, poet, editor (b at Regina 13 June 1938; d at Ottawa 23 December 2003). Newlove is noted for his "direct and visually precise" style, in which most of the traditional signs of poetry - simile and metaphor, overt symbolism, rhyme and heightened language - seldom appear, yet which is intensely rhythmic, full of punning turns and wry modulations of tone.

He unsentimentally explored the existential roots of contemporary despair, yet alongside his evocations of loss, self-hatred and self-pity, envy and anger, his poems offer moments of compassion, ecstasy and, occasionally, even pure joy. Overemphasis on the fear and loathing in his poems ignores the rich wit, irony and humour, the affirmations to be found in the scrupulous honesty of his bare-bones poetic.

In the early 1960s, Newlove left the Prairies for Vancouver, where he read and studied his craft. Within a few years, his poetry of drifters in contemporary space and historical time had gained him a reputation as a major chronicler of loss and alienation. From poems concerned with personal history in Moving in Alone (1965), he moved to poems about Canadian history, of where "we are in truth, whose land this is and is to be," notably in the encounter with Native culture in Black Night Window (1968), and then to poems on human history, especially the history of war and cruelty in Lies (1972), which won the Gov Gen's Award. He moved to Toronto in the late 1960s to work as an editor.

In the 1970s, he became a free-lance editor and writer-in-residence at various institutions across the country. The Fat Man: Selected Poems appeared in 1977, and a long philosophical poem, The Green Plain, in 1981. In 1986 he published his first collection of new poems since Lies. The Night the Dog Smiled (1986) confirms his profound talent while expanding the range and generosity of his vision.

His most recent book, Apology for Absence: Selected Poems 1962-92 (1993), reminded old readers and announced to new ones the continuing work and presence of one of our astonishingly pure and classical poets.

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