About the Author

John Barton

John Barton has published ten previous collections of poetry and six chapbooks, including, most recently, Balletomane: The Program Notes of Lincoln Kirstein and For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin: Selected Poems, which were respectively published by JackPine Press and Nightwood Editions in 2012. Co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay-Male Poets, he has won three Archibald Lampman Awards, an Ottawa Book Award, a CBC Literary Award, and a National Magazine Award. Since 1980, his poems have appeared in anthologies, magazines, and newspapers across Canada and in the United States, Australia, China, India, and the U.K. Previously a writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library and at the University of New Brunswick, he has taught at the Sage Hill Writing Experience, the Banff Centre, and the University of Victoria. From 1985 to 2003, he worked as a librarian, a production manager, a publications coordinator, and an editor for five national museums in Ottawa, where he edited Vernissage: The Magazine of the National Gallery of Canada, and, in his spare time, Arc Poetry Magazine. He was the poetry editor for Signature Editions from 2005 to 2008 and has been a manuscript editor for Brick Books since 2010. He has lived in Victoria since 2004, where he edits The Malahat Review. Polari is his eleventh collection of poetry.

Books by this Author
For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin

For the Boy with the Eyes of the Virgin

Selected Poems
tagged : canadian, lgbt
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also available: eBook
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Lost Family

Lost Family

A Memoir
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tagged : canadian
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The Architecture of UNB
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian, lgbt
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We Are Not Avatars

We Are Not Avatars

Essays, Memoirs, Manifestos
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from "Queer Rose Country"For queer people who were raised in or find themselves in places like the Alberta ofmy youth, the known environment is overshadowed by straight, mainstreamhegemony whose answer to the question "who am I?" is, by design, quite limited. Formany gay men and lesbians, whether they are writers or pipefitters or vodkadrinkers, "Where is here?" must be restated as "Where is queer?" or at least as itsderivative: "Where is straight-acting?"And we go looking for it.Eventually.Here or elsewhere.Elsewhere and here.I grew up in Charleswood, near the university in Calgary's northwest. TheRockies formed an early western limit to my thoughts, and Highway 1A remains myfavourite approach. It veers downhill past Cochrane toward Ghost Lake and JumpingPound, then swerves archetypically into my flesh. Even as a child I would believe Icould stand on my bed, gaze out the window--and there they'd be, waiting.Mountains: distant and sentinel, but patient and reassuring. Each spring their dustyindigo insouciance was echoed by the windblown slopes of prairie crocus in thefoothills. The mauve chrysalides would poke through slowly browning grasses, shyheads bowing as they opened.I believe our first landscape imprints the porous and visceral inside us,shapes the nervous system's involuntary responses. Words rise through the body,which is geologic, stratified--layers of place, of family, silted over by subsequentfutures. The oldest words, as they well up, conjoin with others more recent.Meanings blur. After I grew up and moved beyond the provincial borders of myimagination, Alberta--or rather my Alberta and everything that occurredthere--continued to assert itself, imposed its template on all later geographies. Myanswer is always physical. I am comfortable in cities like Calgary where the landoverwhelmingly intrudes. In Ottawa, the Gatineau Hills across the Ottawa River,which in itself was exotic, for it has breadth no river should have, reassured me,though in late September the feverish maroon haze incandescing over their flanks,as the maples turned, both disoriented and delighted me. Something inside linkedthis purpled fluorescence with spring.From "We Are Not Avatars: How the Universal Disembodies Us"Imagine of how differently we would read "First Year" if Eavan Boland were a man,the love's queerness signaled to us as readers the moment we encountered "yourboyhood," our experience of this poem taking us in an entirely different direction.The present debate about gay marriage could not fail to impinge upon the line,"Where is the soul of a marriage?," which would elicit an interpretation that noheterosexual reading of it need contemplate, especially in California, where Bolandteaches at Stanford. Because "First Year" is the eighth poem in an eleven-partsequence of love poems in her ironically titled collection, Against Love Poetry, itsplacement in relation to what precedes and follows it further determines howreaders will understand what's meant. Once they learn that this marriage was"solemnized" over thirty years ago, they would immediately know that no churchwould have agreed to host, let alone sanction a marriage between two men in the1970s; nor would it have been legal. The couple would have instead appropriatedthe idea of "marriage" for their own purposes, the poem reading as a testament ofthe forbearance of "forbidden love" to rise above societal prohibition, its resilienceequal to heterosexual love's putative stability. The celebrants attending thisunrecognized marriage of alike bodies and two minds might even tender itscandidacy to be declared universal--but only in a subcultural way, to echo Collins'definition--and, depending on each reader's capacity for tolerance, privately viewedwrong or right. The poem's decorous tone might nonetheless let it fly under theradar, much like the love poems in [my book] Great Men did, for not once are theshibboleths against sexual explicitness violated. There's nothing juicy in Boland'spoem no matter how you choose to read or misread it.

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West of Darkness/ À l'ouest de l'ombre

West of Darkness/ À l'ouest de l'ombre

Emily Carr a Self-portrait
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The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets
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The Essential Derk Wynand

Queluz Palace

In the great hall of mirrors,
among the cut crystal and the gold
and the angels painted on the ceiling,
you flung out your arms all at once
and began to spin in circles,
in wider and wider circles
across a marble floor where Dom Pedro
had danced with Dona Maria, his future queen,
and I could hardly believe my eyes,
though you danced in every mirror
and on every facet of glass and on each
of the marble tiles on the floor
and in the gold, and the best angel
slowly peeled away from the ceiling
to fly, after long years of waiting
just for that moment (it was before noon
on August 3, 1986) and no matter
how I pinched myself or rubbed my eye,
he did not stop swinging you round
in wider and wider circles,
as I stood by, stupefied, stupid,
only watching helpless, and your feet
slowly rose from the polished marble
and you floated, in a straight line now,
out of the hall with the angel,
toward one of the smaller chambers,
which not even the king's own servants
had ever been allowed to enter,
toward a room without glass or gold
where, mercifully, I could not watch you.

from One Cook, Once Dreaming

'The visiting poet's just kissed me on the ear,' the cook's wife tells her husband.

'Don't let it go to your head,' he tells her, aware of the dangerous thoughts to which a barbed poet's actions can give rise, thoughts she would do better to reserve for her most intimate journal. But then he considers that little harm can be done by a whiskered kiss on the ear, more elusive than a clandestine word uprooted from a poet's world, a trope high on the pyramid of language, in such a rarefied air that not even a worm could survive there, not even the millipede his wife shuns because it rolls itself into a noxious ball when threatened, because its reproductive organs are located in front. Yes, he understands well these fears of his wife's, for she has no lock to protect the intimacy of her journal. Not everything makes him jealous.

'He wants me to sit still for him,' she says, not thinking about pyramids or millipedes. 'He wants to capture my essence in approximate dactyls.'

'Poets have always had ideas,' the cook tells her, remembering his own adolescence. He balls his hand into a fist to remain in control, nibbles on the nape of her neck in such an artful way that she whispers, for his ears alone: 'Let's go home just as quickly as our four legs can take us.'

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The Essential Douglas LePan

Coureurs de bois

Thinking of you, I think of the coureurs de bois,
Swarthy men grown almost to savage size
Who put their brown wrists through the arras of the woods
And were lost-sometimes for months. Word would come back:
One had been seen in Crêve-coeur, deserted and starving,
One at Sault Sainte Marie shouldering the rapids.
Giant-like, their labours stalked the streets of Quebec
Though they themselves had dwindled in distance: names only;
Rumours; quicksilvery spies into nature's secrets;
Rivers that seldom ran in the sun. Their resource
Would sparkle and then flow back under clouds of hemlock.

So you should have travelled with them. Or with La Salle.
He could feed his heart with the heart of a continent,
Insatiate, how noble a wounded animal,
Who sought for his wounds the balsam of adventure,
The sap from some deep, secret tree. But now
That the forests are cut down, the rivers charted,
Where can you turn, where can you travel? Unless
Through the desperate wilderness behind your eyes,
So full of falls and glooms and desolations,
Disasters I have glimpsed but few would dream of,
You seek new Easts. The coats of difficult honour,
Bright with brocaded birds and curious flowers,
Stowed so long with vile packs of pemmican,
Futile, weighing you down on slippery portages,
Would flutter at last in the courts of a clement country,
Where the air is silken, the manners easy,
Under a guiltless and reconciling sun.

You hesitate. The trees are entangled with menace.
The voyage is perilous into the dark interior.
But then your hands go to the thwarts. You smile. And so
I watch you vanish in a wood of heroes,
Wild Hamlet with the features of Horatio.


Wild orchid, veined with tenderness,
that reaches down to glacial rock
past moss and rotting ferns and pine-cones
and the droppings of porcupines, raccoons.

This your just signet, seal and impress,
a moccasin plant on granite growing,
pink in the sun-shot shade of June,
frail trumpet, satin-smooth, and clear.

A flower, so fragile, soon will fade.
But while it lasts its fine-meshed membrane
both holds and hides a veined perfection,
a slipper that a prince might search for.

This emblem of the sensitive
and strong, triumphant short-lived song-
for you this emblem will not fade
but blazoning be and heraldry.

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