J. A. Wainwright

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.

Works by J. A. Wainwright

Book ReviewsPoetryArticlesBook Reviews of Author

Book Reviews by J. A. Wainwright

Shelter from the Storm
By J. A. Wainwright
Published in Canada and Its Discontents. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 198 (Autumn 2008): 131-132.
  • Safe Haven: The Possibility of Sanctuary in an Unsafe World by Larry Gaudet
Singing Against Decline
By J. A. Wainwright
Published in Poetic Form. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 97 (Summer 1983): 148-150.
  • Collected Poems of Raymond Souster, Volume Two 1955-62 and Volume Three 1962-74 by Raymond Souster
  • Collected Poems of Raymond Souster, Volume Four 1974-77 by Raymond Souster
To Revelations
By J. A. Wainwright
Published in Timothy Findley & the War Novel. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 91 (Winter 1981): 148-151.
  • The Mushroom Jar by Nancy Senior
  • Piece Work by Mona Elaine Adilman
  • Bread and Chocolate by Mary Di Michelle
  • Marrying Into the Family by Bronwen Wallace

Poetry by J. A. Wainwright

Articles by J. A. Wainwright

Book Reviews of J. A. Wainwright's Works