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Literary Criticism Poetry

You Are Here

Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada

by (author) James Pollock

Thomas Allen Publishers
Initial publish date
Nov 2012
Poetry, Canadian
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    Publish Date
    Nov 2012
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From critic and poet James Pollock comes You Are Here, an incisive collection of essays that explore the newer, more cosmopolitan and technically sophisticated generation of Canadian poets.

About the author

James Pollock grew up in southwestern Ontario. He is a graduate of York University and completed his doctorate at the University of Houston where he held several fellowships in poetry. He was a John Woods Scholar in the Prague Summer Program at Charles University in the Czech Republic, and a work-study scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. Pollock's critical reviews and essays have appeared in journals on both sides of the border, including Contemporary Poetry Review, Arc Poetry Magazine, The New Quarterly, Books in Canada, Literary Review of Canada and Canadian Notes & Queries. His poetry has been published in The Paris Review, The Fiddlehead, Poetry Daily, Canadian Literature, AGNI, Maisonneuve, Southern Poetry Review, Geist, The Del Sol Review and elsewhere. In 2010 he was short-listed in Best Canadian Poetry. He is an Associate Professor at Loras College, in Dubuque, Iowa, where he teaches poetry, writing and Canadian Literature. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

James Pollock's profile page


  • Short-listed, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year

Editorial Reviews

You Are Here

Essays argue for good Canadian poetry, rather than poetry written for ideological or nationalist purposes.

"The virtues of good critical reading," writes James Pollock, are "openness, attentiveness, patience, critical intelligence--and love." You Are Here, a collection of essays on the contemporary Canadian landscape, aptly embodies these virtues and displays Pollock as an honest and heartfelt contributor to the national poetry's topographical record.

Appearing in three parts, You Are Here draws together several of Pollock's previously published critical essays and new writing designed to consider "poetic value" in resistance against the "claustrophobic . . . provincial isolation" of his experiences with Canadian literary poetics. He attacks and deconstructs poetry he deems to be written more for ideological or expressivist/experimental purposes (the work of Fred Wah and bpNichol, for example) and illustrates the merits of lesser-known Canadian poets who might more satisfactorily represent the nation's literature on the global canonical map. Jeffery Donaldson, to whose poem the book's title refers, is a favorite.

Working from a tradition firmly established by institutional education in English, and writing from an authority granted by the hierarchies of canonical poetics founded in the aesthetics deemed worthy by generations of students and writers of poetry in the Western tradition (and thus, performing a very Canadian feat of charting territory that is both nationalist and in a constant colonial process), the author earnestly adopts the position of the "honest judge" he desires both for writers and readers of poetry.

Arguing repeatedly and with a great deal of passion for such honesty and the production of evidence for all claims made about the quality of other poets' work, Pollock has also evaluated several of the most recently published collections of poetry meant to establish a national canon. In so doing, Pollock occasionally falls into the trap set by his critical predecessors in spending a significant amount of ink on the decisions made by editors of these anthologies. Those critics, he argues, are not in the business of artful writing but are, as W.J. Keith calls them, "middlemen."

Still, the author remains true to his values, lovingly approaching the efforts of fellow critics to produce useful guides to good poetry produced by writers who are Canadians, and not necessarily writing that was good for Canadians or Canada as a national construct. Pollock carefully and thoughtfully provides evidence to support each evaluation.

The most interesting and artful section of this work is the third, in which Pollock engages with himself directly--publishing a "self-interview" designed to answer any future criticism of his work. Regarding the relationship between poetry as art, the critical environs of its creation, and the terrain its readership must traverse, the author "wants a healthy number of strong, highly persuasive interpretations and judgments," with which the aesthete may symbiotically exist.

You Are Here embodies the modern-day tour book, combining updated maps and personal insight, to provide those interested in the art of poetry new reason to visit Canada.

ForeWord Reviews

'The poetry celebrated in the pages of You Are Here includes the work of Jeff[er]y Donaldson, Karen Solie, Anne Carson, Daryl Hine, Eric Ormsby and Marlene [Cookshaw], each of whom receive illuminating and often brilliant close readings.'


'Pollock is an engaged and well-informed reader who can assess work in a range of poetics, and it succeeds in establishing a consistent approach to criticism and to poetry.'

Arc Poetry Magazine

'[I]ts both a relief and a delight to encounter James Pollock's recent You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada, which puts the evaluative approach front and centre. Ultimately, it's the critic's job to sift and weigh, to consider, and to judge. Pollock takes great care in this sequence from reading to writing, and the force of his conclusions, always nuanced, are made plain, and backed by a hefty portion of core citation.'

Brian Palmu

?Pollock's book – though it certainly espouses its aesthetic ideals with a firmness that will rankle with both those whose poetics stand at odds with them and, more moderately, those less willing to make hard-and-fast evaluative judgments – provides both a series of unusually nuanced and intelligent takes on individual poets and volumes and, taken as a whole, an erudite accounting of Canadian poetic identity in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries ... I agree with most of Pollock's guiding premises [because of] ... his extraordinary rigour, the meticulousness with which, in his finest critical moments, he substantiates his strong claims with argumentation so textured and intelligent that one feels dared to disagree.?

The Urge: Reviewing New Canadian Poetry

'[Pollock] seeks in poetry "a pair of rare and beautiful things: technical mastery, and an authoritative engagement with international poetic traditions" that will be answered by "a clear-eyed, energetic and discerning critical response." He satisfyingly practices what he preaches: manifestly well-read in "the whole history of Western poetry," Pollock writes about poems and their techniques and influences with a patient, thorough adroitness that makes close reading look easy.'

Canadian Literature

'The poetry celebrated in the pages of You Are Here includes the work of Jeffrey Donaldson, Karen Solie, Anne Carson, Daryl Hine, Eric Ormsby and Marlene Cruikshank, each of whom receive illuminating and often brilliant close readings. Pollock situates these poets within the world of poetry rather than merely the world of Canada; the result inspires readers to think along similar lines.'


Other titles by James Pollock