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Literary Criticism Comparative Literature

Canadian Primal

Poets, Places, and the Music of Meaning

by (author) Mark Dickinson

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2021
Comparative Literature, Literary
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
    List Price

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Over the past few decades, a group of writers we might call the Thinking and Singing poets have stood at the forefront of poetry in Canada. These five poets – Dennis Lee, Don McKay, Robert Bringhurst, Jan Zwicky, and Tim Lilburn – are major voices in an era of ecological devastation and spiritual unease. Their diverse, questioning work suggests new ways to confront some of the most pressing issues of our time.

In vibrant prose, Mark Dickinson explores the relationship between the lives of these poets and their writing, examining their intersecting careers and friendships, and the ways they learned from and challenged one another. Canadian Primal uses an unconventional approach, blending biography with literary analysis and drawing from meetings and correspondence with each poet over many years to trace the people and events that inspired the creation of important texts. Dickinson tracks how each of the writers arrived at poetry as a way of being, and at the heart of their poetics he finds both a musical intelligence and the crucial importance of the land.

Canadian Primal is literary biography reconceived as an adventure of the mind, body, and spirit. Ebullient, intelligent, and eminently readable, it reminds us that we can live on the earth in a different way, true to the defining experiences of our lives, surrounded by meaning and presence beyond our imagining.

About the author

Mark Dickinson has lived in British Columbia, Ontario, and Indonesia. He received his Ph.D. from Trent University, where he is now a Sessional Instructor in the Department of Indigenous Studies.

Mark Dickinson's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Mark Dickinson's Canadian Primal is a decisive event in Canadian literary criticism, comparable to Margaret Atwood's Survival and Northrop Frye's The Bush Garden. Dickinson brings us the lives and achievements of five great poets who sing powerfully of what philosophy has forgotten, which is how to live intensely when the life around us, even as it suffocates, is nearer to our spirit than it has been for millennia." Gordon Teskey, Harvard University

"Dickinson's understanding of the work of these poets is exemplary, and he has written Canadian Primal in a way that's both engrossing and critically astute. This could become the sort of book that changes the lives of young poets and philosophers." Laurie D. Graham, publisher of Brick: A Literary Journal

Other titles by Mark Dickinson