Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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What? A Canadian avant-garde? Is that not an oxymoron? Certainly, the answer depends on who you ask -- and, perhaps more importantly, how hard you are willing to work to find an answer. No matter what definition you follow, though, and in a future post I may float a few current theories, Canadian artists have reached the avant-garde and even led the odd advance.

Over the next month, I have a few goals for this space: first-off, to introduce Bertram Brooker, ostensibly Canada's first avant-gardist; second, to highlight some contemporary work and discuss it in relation to various ideas of avant-gardism (ie. can a nature poem be avant-garde?); and third, to create a forum to discuss general ideas, events, and writings.

To set us on our path, and to set the tone of the journey, here's a short poem by Bertram Brooker probably written in 1927 or 1928. It was printed in "Sounds Assembling: The Poetry of Bertram Brooker." Is it a poem or a manifesto? I enjoy the progression from birth imagery and simple language to increasingly abstract and neologistic language.


let us be new;
but not as babies are
who cling immediately to lollipops
craving continual sweetness
and, born to the sin of imitation,
play mothers and fathers

let us see newness in flight
the new moment's formless act
before it hardens into recognition
and becomes butterfly, bottle, street-car tracks,
or the definite, labelled shriek
of a factory whistle

let us forget, for instance, street-cars
and when one plunges
redly rushing out of a subway
let us see newness of rushing redness
pure emergent crimson
faster-springing than dawn
and splintered with colourless oblongs
that come afire with sunshine

let us see headlongness
pouring itself rectangularly
and feel the jarring roar
as the drums of our blood are felt
beating the incredibly swift, inevitable march
that is our own whole formless forward-going.

[the painting, by the way, is Brooker's "The Finite Wrestling with the Infinite."]

1 comment

I'm not familiar with avant-garde writing. This will be a very educational series for me!

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Gregory Betts

Gregory Betts is an experimental poet, editor, essayist and teacher. He is the author of If Language (BookThug, 2005), Haikube (BookThug, 2006) and The Others Raisd in Me (Pedlar Press, 2009). He has edited editions of poetry by W.W. E. Ross, Raymond Knister and Lawren Harris. His latest book is The Wrong World: Selected Stories and Essays of Bertram Brooker (University of Ottawa Press 2009).

Go to Gregory Betts’s Author Page