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Poetry Canadian

When We Were Old

by (author) Peter Unwin

Cormorant Books
Initial publish date
Mar 2014
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2014
    List Price

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At every stage of life, there are moments when we are old: moments of stunning, tragic, sardonic clarity, when the confusion of our existence settles to the ground and the world is made manifest to us in all its pitilessness and absurdity.


When We Were Old is a parade of such moments, whether they arise in the midst of domestic hurly-burly, midlife sex on a wilderness camping trip, or an accidental brush with atrocities on the internet; in a memory of childhood fear or youthful folly, a solitary reckoning in the mirror, or a stranger’s letter written from a nursing home. Terrible things happen to people and life goes on; the dead go on, sometimes mingling with the living: an unstoppable vitality keeps the world turning, and we take heart from “the bright lights in the eyes of the children.”


Unwin’s is a unique poetic voice, infusing worldly-wise world-weariness with dark humour and an amazing buoyant energy. It’s as if he’s looking at the world through a distanced enough lens to make the unbearable bearable, to set it in perspective as part of the human story and to find that story a source of endless wonderment. The book’s title hints at a voice from beyond the grave, looking back with equanimity and even a kind of tenderness at the way life runs roughshod over us and the way we keep rallying for as long as we can.

About the author

Peter Unwin was born in Sheffield, England, and raised in Southern Ontario. He studied at Carleton University in Ottawa. His fiction includes the short story collection The Rock Farmers, which was shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, and the novel Nine Bells for a Man. His non-fiction includes The Wolf’s Head: Writing Lake Superior and Hard Surface: In Search of the Canadian Road. He has travelled extensively in the Canadian north. Currently, he is a Master’s candidate in Culture and Communications at York and Ryerson universities. An avid practitioner of martial arts, baseball, and literature, he lives in Toronto with his wife and two daughters.

Peter Unwin's profile page


  • Short-listed, ReLit Award

Editorial Reviews

“Unwin’s considerable narrative skills come to the fore in this work … an easy read, a glimpse into personal experiences that are so universal they deserve a moment of their own.”

The Malahat Review

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