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Literary Criticism Canadian

The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry

by (author) Mary Dalton

Breakwater Books Ltd.
Initial publish date
Feb 2022
Canadian, Poetry
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2022
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Mary Dalton’s 2020 Pratt Lecture engages with the vernacular voice in Newfoundland poetry, illustrating the move from uncertainty to acceptance and welcoming of the beauty and variety of the language of Newfoundland.

The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry explores some of the tensions between the oral and the written in the poetry of Newfoundland, with particular emphasis on the struggle towards a confident incorporation of vernacular speech in the poetry of the island in the latter part of the twentieth century. As the word “strain” suggests, there were reservations and hesitancies about drawing on what is a hugely rich linguistic and sonic resource for poetry, one of many vitiating results of a colonial legacy. This Pratt Lecture celebrates the vitality of poetry which lets in Newfoundland idioms and cadences. Among the poets considered are Percy Janes, Tom Dawe, Al Pittman, David Glover, John Steffler and Harold Paddock, and the generation who followed them: Agnes Walsh, Gordon Rodgers, Carmelita McGrath, Michael Crummey, Robin McGrath.

The PRATT LECTURES were established in 1968 to commemorate the legacy of E.J. Pratt. Over the years, the series has hosted a litany of world-renowned authors and scholars, including Northrop Frye, Seamus Heaney, Helen Vendler, and Dionne Brand.


About the author

Edited by Mary Dalton, Sean O'Brien, Chase Twichell, Niyi Osundare et al.

Mary Daltpon is the author of five books of poetry including Merrybegot winner of the 2005 E.J. Pratt Poetry Award. Her new collection Hooking was published Spring 2013. She is a Professor of English at Memorial University, St. John’s Newfoundland.

Sean O’Brien is a UK poet, critic, broadcaster, anthologist and editor. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University. His poetry collection November was shortlisted for the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize and the 2012 International Griffin Poetry Prize.

Chase Twichell is the winner of the prestigious Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Award (2011) and the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award (1997). She has received numerous fellowships for her seven books of poetry.

Niyi Osundare Osundare is a Nigerian poet, playwright, essayist and scholar. He has authored 18 books of poetry. His many prizes include the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. He is currently Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans.

Mary Dalton's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Again and again, language—dialects and tongues—proves a pivotal throughline. Although it was serendipitous that I picked up [Land of the Rock: Talamh an Carraig and The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry] together, in another way it’s no coincidence at all."

The Telegram

“So it is in a spirit of celebration that I have read this thin volume, in which Dalton praises her fellow poets and their use of the everyday speech of her people.

As we’ve come to learn—too late in many cases—how language serves the transmission of a culture, Dalton makes a strong case for honouring, acknowledging, and preserving those words and phrases that have come to define the speech of Newfoundlanders.


Although the Pratt Lectures (after the poet E.J. Pratt) were established in 1968, this is only the second book in this series that I have encountered. Small enough to balance on one’s palm, they hold more than their weight in thoughtful inspiration.”

The Miramichi Reader

"The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry by Mary Dalton was an enlightening read. [...] It was, admittedly, a subject I knew next to nothing about beforehand, but I had no trouble following along due to the strength and clarity of Dalton's lecture. I found it very educational and it gave me a lot to think aboutboth at large and in regards to my own work."

Digitally Lit

Other titles by Mary Dalton