Alden Nowlan (1933-1983) once wrote of a desire to leave behind "one poem, one story / that will tell what it was like / to be alive." In an abundance of memorable poems, he fulfilled this desire with candour and subtlety, emotion, and humour, sympathy and truth-telling. For many years, Nowlan has been one of Canada's most-read and -beloved poets, but only now is the true range of his poetic achievement finally available between two covers, with the publication of Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan.
Nowlan takes us from nightmarish precincts of fear and solitude to the embrace of friendship and family. Delving into experiences of violence and gentleness, of alienation and love, his poetry reveals our shared humanity as well as our perplexing and sometimes entertaining differences. Nowlan's childhood and adult years are colourfully reflected in his poetry. These autobiographical threads are interwoven with fantasies, an astute historical consciousness, and a keen awareness of the shiftings and transformations of selfhood.
Nowlan wrote with formal variety, visually shaping his poems with a dexterity that complicates impressions that he was primarily a "plainspoken" poet. His varied uses of the poetic line — his handling of line-lengths and -breaks, stanzas, and pauses — show him to be a writer who skilfully uses the page to suggest and embody the rhythms of speech. This long-awaited volume enables readers to experience his poetic genius in its fullness and uniqueness.
About the authors
Alden Nowlan (1933-1983) was born in Windsor, NS. Primarily self-educated, Nowlan worked as a newspaperman, and published poetry, plays, short stories, and novels. Writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick from 1969 to 1983, he was famous for the gatherings at his home, known as Windsor Castle. His awards include the Governor General's Award for Poetry in 1967 for Bread, Wine and Salt and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967-68). Alden Nowlan: Selected Poems was published in 1996. The literary award for excellence for the province of New Brunswick is named in his honour. The annual Alden Nowlan Literary Festival in Fredericton honours his contribution to Canadian literature.
As a high-school student, Brian Bartlett was invited to join the Ice House Gang, so-called because they met in the University of New Brunswick's historic Ice House every Tuesday night to read their poetry and hone their talents. Amazed and delighted by Bartlett's gift for words, Robert Gibbs, Bill Bauer, Kent Thompson, and Alden Nowlan inspired him to become the accomplished artist he is today. He published his chapbook Finches for the Wake when he was only 18 years old. The next year, Brother's Insomnia was published as a New Brunswick Chapbook. Since this apprenticeship period, Bartlett has published six highly acclaimed collections: Cattail Week, Planet Harbor, Underwater Carpentry, Granite Erratics, The Afterlife of Trees, and Wanting the Day. His poetry has won Two Malahat Review Long Poem prizes, a fellowship to the Hawthornden Castle International Writers' Retreat in Scotland, and first prize in the 2000 Petra Kenney poetry awards. A talented writer of prose, Bartlett's essays, stories, and reviews have appeared in Books in Canada, Canadian Literature, The Fiddlehead, and Brick, as well as Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Anthology. A native of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Bartlett spent 15 years in Montreal, studying at McGill and teaching at Concordia. Today, he teaches creative writing and literature at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.
"The bard of Atlantic Canada, Alden Nowlan created poetry that found beauty in quotidian moments and colloquial speech. [This collection] serves as a fitting tribute to the poet’s legacy."
<i>Quill & Quire</i>
"Nowlan, the most important twentieth century poet from the Maritimes, emerged from an early life of crushing rural poverty to publish some of the best work Canada has ever seen."
"The publication of this book is an historic event in our literature. The collection is a life's work, and like the work of life, this writing wrestles with ancient forces that are pure and unchanging. Nobody else saw the world with Alden's kind of clarity and nobody else worked the language so hard — trying to make it hold, or embrace, our shared experience with such furious tenderness. If you still think honesty is possible, if you worry sometimes about truth and the struggle for sincere connection, Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan will give you comfort."
"On almost every page there is a reminder of the laconic poet's gift for defining small beauties of, and rueful observations about, the vast chaotic canvas of our reality. Some poems are guileless in their hardy, plain simplicity while others have such tangled emotions they remind you how great poets observe."
<i>The Globe and Mail</i>
"Nowlan’s work still lives, more than two decades after his death, and reminds people…how much he contributed to Canadian literature."
"The Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan may be the most important book of poetry published in Canada this year."
<i>Today's Book of Poetry</i>
"Well over thirty years after his death, Alden Nowlan's poems are still hot-blooded — living, breathing incantations that beat with the pulse of Eastern Canada. Imbued with what Brian Bartlett dubs "the illusion of speech," Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan brings together the work of a master craftsman, a writer whose rangy, conversational poems benefit from appearing where they emerged within his career arc. A definitive volume that consolidates Nowlan's standing in Canadian letters."
"After I was brought up on the Romantics in school, my love of Alden Nowlan's poetry began with his dense, metrically perfect lyrics, some of them so dark they made me shiver. Later, his plain-speaking voice, his honesty and vulnerability drew me in. My husband and I hold Alden in such high regard that shortly after his death we named our first cat after him. He is our laureate of human frailties. No one makes me feel less alone in life and in literature than Alden."
"Both the Ukraine and Russia lay claim to Gogol, Wales has Dylan Thomas, and America, Poe. We (in Atlantica) have Alden Nowlan. He might tell you you've got the balls of a bull moose to say something like that. Just think how hard as a youngster he was treated by his native place. That doesn't matter now, since he turned it all to gold. Nowlan reminds us our English is good. Our cold winter-tempered Irish English, modern, spare, and mythological. These poems are enough to make you want to put your guitar down."