Milton Acorn, poet (b at Charlottetown 30 Mar 1923; d there 20 Aug 1986). A carpenter by trade, Acorn supported himself on a disability pension from an injury sustained during WWII. A radical personality with strong left-wing views and working-class sentiments, he translated these elements into an aggressive and polemical quality in his writing which, in his own words, "without apology or embarrassment (made) use of Marxist and existentialist ideas."
He began to publish in New Frontiers in 1952. His first collection of verse, In Love and Anger (1956) was privately issued in Montréal, where he later co-edited the little magazine Moment (7 issues, February 1960 to June 1962), first with A. W. Purdy and later with Gwendolyn MacEwen, whom he married in 1962. In 1963 Contact Press published a small collection of his verse called Jawbreakers and The Fiddlehead devoted its spring issue to Acorn's poetry. This, combined with a chapbook, The Brain's the Target (1960), with Ryerson Press, and a broadside, Against a League of Liars (1961), helped to give him wider recognition.
He moved to Vancouver in the middle 1960s where he became well known as a passionate and argumentative member of the literary and journalistic underground. Passed over for the Governor General's Award for his first major collection, I've Tasted My Blood (1969), Acorn was honoured by fellow poets with a specially created People's Poet Award which recognized his ability as a writer as well as his nationalist and activist stance.
Vocal, restless and angry he had migrated from Montréal to Toronto, then to Vancouver and back to Toronto where he settled for a time and, finally, Charlottetown.
In 1971 he published I Shout Love and On Shaving off his Beard, a 2-poem sequence of private reflection and political invective which was not widely distributed, and in 1972, More Poems for People which he dedicated to Dorothy Livesay. In 1975 his collection of poems, The Island Means Minago, won the Governor General's Award, and Acorn settled into his role of established enfant terrible of Canadian poetry. Jackpine Sonnets came out in 1977, and Captain Neal MacDougal & the Naked Goddess subtitled, "A Demi-Prophetic Work as a Sonnet-Series" in 1982. Dig up my Heart: Selected Poems 1952-1983, appeared in 1983 and is the most complete and representative collection of Acorn's poetry.
Although given to radical causes, and frequently caught up in their sentiment and jargon, Acorn retained an unalterable Island core that supplied him with his best poetic moments. Subtle in his emotions, his power and directness come from images drawn from everyday Island life. Dedicated to the class struggle, Acorn peopled his poems with working men and women of the visage of Canada, and paid unceasing tribute to their suffering, their humble crafts and their utter reliability. Thwarted in his search for happiness and denied true peace of mind, he was a troubled man at the end of his life.