Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Literary Criticism Canadian

Avant-Garde Canadian Literature

The Early Manifestations

by (author) Gregory Betts

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2013
Canadian, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2013
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2013
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


In Avant-Garde Canadian Literature, Gregory Betts draws attention to the fact that the avant-garde has had a presence in Canada long before the country's literary histories have recognized, and that the radicalism of avant-garde art has been sabotaged by pedestrian terms of engagement by the Canadian media, the public, and the literary critics. This book presents a rich body of evidence to illustrate the extent to which Canadians have been producing avant-garde art since the start of the twentieth century.

Betts explores the radical literary ambitions and achievements of three different nodes of avant-garde literary activity: mystical revolutionaries from the 1910s to the 1930s; Surrealists/Automatists from the 1920s to the 1960s; and Canadian Vorticists from the 1920s to the 1970s. Avant-Garde Canadian Literature offers an entrance into the vocabulary of the ongoing and primarily international debate surrounding the idea of avant-gardism, providing readers with a functional vocabulary for discussing some of the most hermetic and yet energetic literature ever produced in this country.

About the author

GREGORY BETTS is a poet, editor, essayist and teacher, originally from Vancouver and Toronto. Since his first published poem, an anagrammatical translation of a short poem by bpNichol, Betts's work has consistently troubled individual authorship through such mechanisms as anagrams, collaboration, found-texts and response-text writing. If Language presents paragraph-length anagrams that explore the formation of meaning within a recombinant linguistic system. Haikube was part of a collaborative art project with sculptors Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel in which six of Betts's poems were carved into an ebony movable (a la Rubiks) cube. The text was carved in negative relief, which allowed the cube to function as a press block to print new poems as they were 'discovered' by moving the sides of the cube. Betts currently lives in St. Catharines, where he edits PRECIPICe magazine, curates the Grey Borders Reading Series and teaches Avant-Garde and Canadian Literature at Brock University.

Gregory Betts' profile page


  • Short-listed, Gabrielle Roy Prize awarded by Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures

Editorial Reviews

‘A fascinating work of scholarship, the book is an affront to the persistent belief that Canadian literature of the early twentieth century is a dreary subject. Betts has shown that in fact it is hardly comprehended….Avant-Garde Canadian Literature is an admirable and welcome contribution to the history and interpretation of literature in this country.’

The Bull Calf: Reviews in Fiction, Poetry, and Literary Criticism December 2015

‘This book greatly advances our understanding of the experimental élan of Canada’s avant-garde throughout the century, and provides insight into collaborative authorship, radical networks, and surrealist and automatist writing and painting.’

The Journal of Canadian Studies, vol 50:01:2016

‘Betts’ weaving of past and present, theory and literary practice, aesthetics and politics is carried out in a brilliant way.’

Canadian Literature Autumn 2014

Other titles by