Writing in Our Time
Canada’s Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003)
Process poetics is about radical poetry — poetry that challenges dominant world views, values, and aesthetic practices with its use of unconventional punctuation, interrupted syntax, variable subject positions, repetition, fragmentation, and disjunction.
To trace the aesthetically and politically radical poetries in English Canada since the 1960s, Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy begin with the “upstart” poets published in Vancouver’s TISH: A Poetry Newsletter, and follow the trajectory of process poetics in its national and international manifestations through the 1980s and ’90s.
The poetics explored include the works of Nicole Brossard, Daphne Martlatt, bpNichol, George Bowering, Roy Kiyooka, and Frank Davey in the 1960s and ’70s. For the 1980-2000 period, the authors include essays on Jeff Derksen, Clare Harris, Erin Mour, and Lisa Robertson. They also look at books by older authors published after 1979, including Robin Blaser, Robert Kroetsch, and Fred Wah.
A historiography of the radical poets, and a roster of the little magazines, small press publishers, literary festivals, and other such sites that have sustained poetic experimentation, provide context.
"Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy offer a remarkably encyclopedic history of the contemporary Canadian poetic avant-garde. ... But the book's ambitions go far beyond that of a reference book. ... Perhaps the book's most striking move . .. is to redefine avant-gardism – historically dominated by white male writers – to include the work of women, writers of colour, and gay and lesbian writers. "- Timothy Yu, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada 2005, Volume 76, number 1, Winter 2007
"Writing in Our Time: Canadas Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003) is itself a radical book, with provocative implications for the current literary histories of the period. Radical and oppositional viewpoints, because they are locally and communally rooted, will be the remembered and determinative cultural positions in Canadian poetry, Butling and Rudy suggest, not what is now mainstream and prize-winning. Closely argued, painstakingly documented, and based on materials mostly overlooked by other commentators, this is a major work of prophetic historiography. "- Frank Davey, University of Western Ontario
"As Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy demonstrate throughout Writing in Our Time, 'radical poetries' are far more widespread and difficult to pin down than we might have thought. Collaborative critics, they offer full and wide-ranging chronologies of writerly events in the periods 1957-1979 and 1980-2003, and provide generous overviews of cultural changes and insightful close readings of particular texts. From bpNichol's early glyphs to Lisa Robertson's recent weather reports, from The Vancouver Poetry Conference in 1963 through Women and Words in 1983 to Writing thru Race in 1994, these essays rhizomatically map radical social and cultural poetic developments in Canada over the past half century or so. A necessary book, Writing in Our Time thoroughly explores the lateral shoots and adventitious roots of English Canada's most exciting poetry and its contexts. "- Douglas Barbour, University of Alberta
"Both Butling and Rudy exist in close proximity to many of the authors under discussion, but rather than undermining their critique, their closeness to the subjects becomes the grounds for a direct and fair engagement in their materials. ... What is offered is compelling. I found the book to be an extremely useful preliminary engagement with each of the authors discussed and a solid narrative of how radical English Canadian poetics have shifted over time. ... Writing in Our Time emerges as a fine book that invites readers behind the scenes of the published record of Canadian poetry, drawing upon interviews and conversations with authors, while simultaneously engaging directly with their work. "- Kit Dobson, Canadian Literature, 190, Autumn 2006
"Writing in Our Time offers cultural and communications studies scholars a compelling case study of a dynamic and politically engaged aspect of Canadian cultural production. ...In terms of production, the unpaid labour, formal and informal collaborations that resulted in presses like Coach House or magazines such as Tessera, are recorded and analyzed so that the reader is left in no doubt about the material conditions and power relations within which creative writing is made. ...The hard craft and care involved in analyzing poetry which is usually neither referential nor lyrical, but which deconstructs standard syntax and grammar, power relations and structural inequalities, is expertly handled in a series of short, pithy essays on various poets including Robert Kroetsch, bpNichol, Jeff Derksen and Lisa Robertson. ...Equally important, [the authors] analysis sent me scurrying back to my bookshelf to take another longer (slower) look at poems by Claire Harris and Nicole Brossard in particular. "- Danielle Fournier, Topia, 15/150
"Writing in Our Time is an essential guide to a half century of Canadian innovative poetry, providing a treasure trove of bibliographic particulars and chronologies, along with lucid introductions to a set of writers who have revolutionized the theory and practice of poetry. Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy anchor their study in incisive reflections on the dreams and realities of poetic communities, giving acute attention to the social and cultural determinations that structure even our most imaginary creations. "- Charles Bernstein, University of Pennsylvania
"This book is long overdue. Canadian poetry, like Canada itself, has changed dramatically over the past half-century, but much remains to be done to give Canada's post-colonial, revolutionary voices and their literary inventors their rightful place in anthologies, classrooms and the popular imagination. Writing in Our Time: Canada's Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003), by Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy, is valuable both for its reimagination of CanLit as a place where such voices belong and for its rethinking of the avant-garde. ...[and] is required reading for students and followers of CanLit, be they in or out of school. "- Meredith Quartermain, Literary Review of Canada