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Blues and Bliss

The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke

By George Elliott Clarke
Edited by Jon Paul Fiorentino
Subjects Literary Criticism, Canadian Literature, Poetry
Series Laurier Poetry Hide Details
Paperback : 9781554580606, 90 pages, November 2008
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554586844, 90 pages, April 2011


Africadian Experience by George Elliott Clarke

(For Frederick Ward)

To howl in the night because of smoked rum wounding the heart;

To be so stubbornly crooked, your alphabet develops rickets;

To check into the Sally Ann—and come out brain-dead, but spiffy;

To smell the sewer anger of politicians washed up by dirty votes;

To feel your skin burning under vampire kisses meant for someone else;

To trash the ballyhooed verses of the original, A-1, Africville poets;

To carry the Atlantic into Montreal in epic suitcases with Harlem accents;

To segregate black and white bones at the behest of discriminating worms;

To mix voodoo alcohol and explosive loneliness in unsafe bars;

To case the Louvre with raw, North Preston gluttony in your eyes;

To let vitamin deficiencies cripple beauty queens in their beds;

To dream of Halifax and its collapsing houses of 1917

(Blizzard and fire in ten thousand living rooms in one day);

To stagger a dirt road that leads to an exploded piano and bad sermons;

To plumb a well that taps rice wine springing up from China;

To okay the miracle of a split length of wood supporting a clothesline;

To cakewalk into prison as if you were parading into Heaven;

To recognize Beauty when you see it and to not be afraid.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke selected with an introduction by Jon Paul Fiorentino

Foreword | Neil Besner

Biographical Note

Introduction | Jon Paul Fiorentino

Salvation Army Blues

Halifax Blues

Hammonds Plains African Baptist Church

Campbell Road Church

Watercolour for Negro Expatriates in France

Look Homeward, Exile

The Wisdom of Shelley

The River Pilgrim: A Letter

Blank Sonnet

The Symposium

Rose Vinegar

Blues for X

Vision of Justice

Chancy’s Menu

Chancy’s Drinking Song

Beatrice’s Defence

George & Rue: Pure, Virtuous Killers

Ballad of a Hanged Man

Child Hood I

Child Hood II

Hard Nails

Public Enemy

The Killing

Trial I

Trial II



Calculated Offensive

À Dany Laferrière

Haligonian Market Cry


Onerous Canon

April 1, 19—

from Blue Elegies

I. i

I. ii

I. iii

I. iv

I. v

I. vi

Blues de Malcolm

May ushers in with lilac

George & Rue: Coda

Letter to a Young Poet

Of Black English, or Pig Iron Latin

Africadian Experience

Afterword: Let Us Now Attain Polyphonous Epiphanies | George Elliot Clarke



Blues singer, preacher, cultural critic, exile, Africadian, high modernist, spoken word artist, Canadian poet—these are but some of the voices of George Elliott Clarke. In a selection of Clarke’s best work from his early poetry to his most recent, Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke offers readers an impressive cross-section of those voices. Jon Paul Fiorentino’s introduction focuses on this polyphony, his influences—Derek Walcott, Amiri Baraka, and the canon of literary English from Shakespeare to Yeats—and his “voice throwing,” and shows how the intersections here produce a “troubling” of language. He sketches Clarke’s primary interest in the negotiation of cultural space through adherence to and revision of tradition and on the finding of a vernacular that begins in exile, especially exile in relation to African-Canadian communities.

In the afterword, Clarke, in an interesting re-spin of Fiorentino’s introduction, writes with patented gusto about how his experiences have contributed to multiple sounds and forms in his work. Decrying any grandiose notions of theory, he presents himself as primarily a songwriter.


``The quest for a wider audience for poetry may be quixotic, but this series makes a serious attempt to present attractive, affordable selections that speak to contemporary interests and topics that might engage a younger generation of readers. Yet it does not condescend, preferring to provide substantial and sophisticated poets to these new readers. At the very least, these slim volumes will make very useful introductory teaching texts in post-secondary classrooms because they whet the appetite without overwhelming. ''

- Paul Milton, Canadian Literature, 193, Summer 2007

``What is included here is fabulous. ''

- Mary Shearman, Atlantis, 34.2, 2009

``In being removed from their original contexts, these poems shine anew. Viewed apart from the rest of the poems in Black, Letter to a Young Poet seems even stranger, a successful and disturbing piece of standalone verse that fusses the high modernism of Ezra Pound with frightening, dare I say, Stephen King-like imagery. ... A welcome feature to the books in the Laurier Poetry Series are the autobiographical postscripts provided by the poets, a nice touch that will appeal to readers unfamiliar with the names behind the poetry. ''

- Christopher MacKinnon, Chronicle Herald (Halifax), April 5, 2009

``Blues and Bliss. ..[is] put out. ..through the wonderful Laurier Poetry Series. The series aims to make the work of Canadian poets more accessible through a format in which a critic introduces 35 poems from across the career of a major poet. In this helpful volume, Jon Paul Fiorentino calls Clarke's voice `polyphonic,' that is, a unique blend of identities that includes blues singer, preacher, cultural critic, exile, Africadian, high modernist, spoken-word artist and Canadian poet. ... The selection of poems which includes pieces from seven books, including the now Canadian-canonized Whylah Falls, is testament to the range of cadence and rhythm that makes up Clarke's multivocal range. ''

- Sonnet L'Abbé, Globe and Mail, Feb. 14, 2009