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Poetry Canadian

One Muddy Hand

Selected Poems

by (author) Earle Birney

edited by Sam Solecki

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Oct 2006
Canadian, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2006
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 14
  • Grade: 9


Earle Birney (1904-1995), the father of modern Canadian poetry, was one of Canada's finest writers and the author of "David," arguably the most popular Canadian poem of all time. One Muddy Hand: Selected Poems features Birney's best work, spanning his entire writing career from 1926 to 1987.

Born in Calgary, Birney grew up in different parts of Alberta before his family settled in Banff. In 1922 he enrolled at the University of British Columbia, where he received his BA in English. He earned his MA and PhD from the University of Toronto and also studied at Berkeley and the University of London. Birney's first and second volumes of poetry, David and Other Poems, and Now is Time, both won the Governor General's Award. In addition to publishing over twenty collections of poems over his lifetime, he published two novels, including Turvey--which won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour in 1949--several plays, three books of criticism and a memoir. Birney was a noted teacher of creative writing and literature, known for inspiring a generation of students to become writers, educators and scholars. He had a distinguished career at UBC, where he founded Canada's first creative writing department in 1963, and he was University of Toronto's first writer-in-residence in 1965.

Using Birney's Ghost in the Wheels: Selected Poems as a guide, editor Sam Solecki chose the remainder of the poems. Here are Birney's most-loved poems, such as "David," "Bushed," "A walk in Kyoto," "The bear on the Delhi road," "El Greco: Espolio" and "For Wailan," a sequence of love poems that are among the best in the Canadian canon. The only Birney book of poems currently available, One Muddy Hand brings a canonical author's poetry back into print and will be an important addition to bookshelves everywhere.

About the authors

Earle Birney was a poet, novelist, and playwright whose experimental instincts drove him to create some of Canada's most diverse and recognizable poetry, including the oft-anthologized 'Anglosaxon Street', and 'David', which is often considered the most popular Canadian poem of all time. Born in Calgary, Alberta, Birney was raised on a farm before embarking on an academic career, attending the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of London, where his interest in Old and Middle English led to a reputation as an accomplished scholar of medieval literature. After serving as a personnel officer in WWII, Birney took a professorship at the University of British Columbia, where he spent twenty years travelling, writing, and teaching. In 1965, Birney became the first Writer in Residence at the University of Toronto, mentoring new, up-and-coming poets and branching out into new and experimental forms.

Birney died in Toronto in 1995 after an impressive career spanning several decades, over twenty books of poetry, two Governor General's Awards, and several plays, novels, short stories, and works of non-fiction.

Earle Birney's profile page

Sam Solecki is a professor of English at the University of Toronto and a former editor of The Canadian Forum.He is also editor of Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, Starting from Ameliasburgh: The Collected Prose of Al Purdy and Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996. His most recent books are Ragas of Longing: The Poetry of Michael Ondaatje and The Last Canadian Poet: An Essay on Al Purdy.

Sam Solecki's profile page

Librarian Reviews

One Muddy Hand: Selected Poems

This is a selection of the best work of acclaimed Canadian poet Earle Birney. The poems span Birney’s writing career from 1926 to 1987, drawing from more than twenty published collections of poems, two of which won Governor General’s Awards. Using Birney’s Ghost in the Wheels: Selected Poems as a guide, the editor chose the remainder of the poems, including some of Birney’s most popular poems, such as “David,” “Bushed” and “A Walk in Kyoto.” One Muddy Hand reflects the wide range of Birney's poems from scholarly to simple, to serious. It showcases the outstanding characteristics of Birney's style: word play, word crafting, word invention, and alliteration. Many playful poems are woven through the collection. One Muddy Hand is the only book of Birney’s poems currently available.

Sam Solecki is the former editor of The Canadian Forum.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2007-2008.

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