Born in Toronto 1946. Went to UoT 1964-69 (with a year off in Europe). Two more years in Spain and Greece 1970-72. Graduate School for M.A. and PhD in English 1972-78. Professor of English, Dalhousie University 1978-2008. Now Emeritus Professor there.
Author of five books of poetry—Landscape and Desire: Poems Selected and New published in 1992—and three novels—The Confluence published in 2007. Also author of two biographies—one of writer Charles Bruce (1988) and another of a painter Robert Markle (forthcoming 2009). Editor of Margaret Laurence letters collection (1995), a book of essays on environmental issues (2004), and a literary atlas of Atlantic Canada (forthcoming 2009).
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
In my first year of high school (1958) I read some poems by California high school students that were published in Life magazine. I thought I could write something just as good, so I thought of a subject I knew something about—the Battle of Britain—and wrote a poem about it. It began “Nine hundred British planes flew out/ In the British pilot there was no doubt/The German Luftwaffe was in sight/The British knew this was a fight.” The poem was published in my high school newspaper, and I never looked back (though I did get better).
How/where do you find inspiration today?
In the depth of experience beneath the ordinary, especially in human relationships over time. Some things just have to be said; otherwise they will be lost in silence. After awhile, you learn what those things are.
What is your writing process?
I write down initial words and images, then go over them again and again. Finally I reach a point where I feel no urgency to keep going. It’s an innate sense of balance between desire and language.
What is your revision/editing process?
I keep looking for better ways of saying what I mean, but not to the point where I become self-conscious about writing a poem.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
There were no websites when I was a young poet. I read a lot and traveled a lot. It was necessary to break out of my ordinary life and look for intense lived experience.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
That poetry was not something to keep to yourself, but to celebrate and proclaim. I was fortunate enough to meet and become a close friend of poet Irving Layton when I was in university. In a relationship that lasted for 38 years, he taught me many things—not so much about the specifics of writing poetry as about being a poet, living the poetic life.