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Monday, April 30, 2012

IN A SPRINGTIME INSTANT: The Selected Poems of Milton Acorn

 IN A SPRINGTIME INSTANT: The Selected Poems of Milton Acorn 1950 - 1986

 Edited by James Deahl

 Mosaic Press, Oakville, Ontario, 2012

 248 pages   $24.95

 ISBN 0-88962-921-9


 In the book's forward Terry Barker details the genesis of this selected of
 Canada's People's Poet, Milton Acorn. A chance meeting between Barker and
 poet Joe Rosenblatt at a Toronto Book Fair several years ago had the two of
 them reminiscing about Milt, who died a quarter century ago. Both of them
 felt that Acorn's legacy was fading - in the academy, and among the always
 fickle and ephemeral Canadian audience for poetry.

 And so the two of them acted very unCanadian - they DID something, and the
 result is this lovingly and painstakingly researched 250 page tribute. The
 only logical choice for an editor was Acorn's longtime friend and roommate,
 James Deahl. As I believe there is no better person in Canada to encapsulate
 the life and creative arc of Canada's many fine poets, this was a perfect
 match of editor and subject.

 Howard Aster and his Mosaic Press were approached with this proposal, and
 fortunately he was most willing.

 Perhaps editor and poetry selector James Deahl knows Acorn's poetry better
 even than the poet himself did. Deahl's friendship with Milt helped sustain
 the vulnerable poet for several decades, and on Milt's passing in 1986 Deahl
 became the torch bearer for Milt's work and legacy. Deahl has continued to
 advocate for Acorn's work, and to produce a substantial number of posthumous
 collections of Milt's poetry and the tribute anthology THE NORTHERN RED OAK.

 Resurrecting Acorn's Literary Merit

 The poems were chosen by editor Deahl solely based on his perception of
 their literary merit. Barker and Deahl echo each other's belief that Acorn's
 poetry was and is often under appreciated or even dismissed because of the
 poet's controversial political and personal life. They hope that after 25
 years people are prepared to objectively and critically re-evaluate the
 entire body of Acorn's work, with hopes that the Canadian literary
 establishment will take another look and add Milt's poetry to the textbooks
 and curricula of our  institutions. Deahl's thoughtful and challenging 22
 page introduction should ably serve as the catalyst for this crucial
 literary rebalancing and the long awaited and deserved 'resurrection' of
 Milton Acorn.

 Poetry As Catalyst Against Reactionary Harperite Miasma

 This is also a crucial time for Canadians politically. The spreading
 reactionary miasma of the Harperite regime must be countered on the cultural
 front. Our ineffectual politicians appear neutered by the challenge, and
 perhaps only the "love and anger", the visceral physicality of the poetry of
 a People's Poet of Acorn's caliber, can act as a catalyst to stir the
 Canadian populace to outrage at Stephen Harper's highjacking of our nation.

 The Poems

 Deahl has done something a bit unusual with organizing the poems - he has
 presented them in the order in which they appeared in Acorn's 17
 collections. Thus early and late poems don't appear in the chronological
 order in which they were written. Deahl justifies this with his declaration
 that Acorn wrote excellent poems throughout his entire career, and as a
 reader I found this mix of the old and the new an intriguing and enjoyable

 After a week reading the book backwards and forwards, or just diving in
 where the pages fell open late at night, I was amazed at how many of Acorn's
 poems I recognized and had taken to heart so many decades ago. And I was
 equally surprised at how many poems I was reading for the first time, and
 how these immediately adhered to my heart and brain like so many welcome

 Congratulations to James Deahl for his perseverance as the number one
 scholar of Canada's most important and vibrant poet. And thanks to Howard
 Aster and the staff at Mosaic Press for this wonderfully produced
 collection. Special acknowledgments must go to Terry Barker, the 'midwife'
 of this project, and to Joe Rosenblatt, who also helped will this collection
 into being.

 Reflective review by Chris Faiers

April 25, 2012

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