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literature

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Canadian Literature in English  
 
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A turning point in both women's and lesbian poetry in Canada was the anthology Women and Words (1984), edited by the West Coast Collective. Livesay and Marlatt are included in it, as well as another (now) western poet, Betsy Warland, who was the collection's coordinator.

Warland has also been very active in encouraging women's writing; she founded the Women's Writing Collective in 1975. Like Marlatt, Warland is included in another influential anthology, SP / ELLES (1986), where she writes of positioning herself against the "universalism" of imperial male discourse in the interests of what she calls "multi-versality," transversing and transcendence.

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A fine elegist of desire, she thus avoids sentimentality by looking through different eyes and finding new narratives. She and Marlatt, in their cooperative writing, exemplify a trend that is noticeable in the work of Canadian lesbians: All Names are Spoken (1992), by Tamai Kobahashi and Mona Oikawa, for instance.

In the poetry of Gwen Hauser, lament for the loss of Amerindian and classical goddesses is connected with her recognition that lesbian writing involves unmaking the language of men, syntactically as well as imagistically. That she does so in a poetic much influenced by a gay male poet, bill bissett, is consonant with her nice sense of irony.

Irony, however, is much more evident in the work of the Toronto poet Christine Donald, one of the two Canadian poets to be anthologized in Gay and Lesbian Poetry of Our Time. She brings a sharpness of eye and tongue to bear on cognition, the failings of the body, and the difficulties of language: "Under the closed eyelid / the tired mind races; in the still body / pain streaks through the belly."

Of contemporary lesbian poets, Dionne Brand is probably the best known. Film director, author of a work of nonfiction, short stories, and six collections of poems, her 1990 collection No Language is Neutral is a classic.

Gay Male Poetry

In spite of the pioneering bibliographical work by the gay poet Ian Young, gay Anglo-Canadian poetry is much more difficult to trace than drama. Poetry, unlike drama or even fiction, also suffers from having more aspirants than achievers, and there is much in the history of it since the 1960s (gay and straight) that is beneath consideration.

Of the achievers, clearly the most distinguished is Douglas LePan, a Toronto poet who came out very late in life with the collection of poems Far Voyages (1990). Largely elegies for a dead young lover, these poems are also a celebration of the reawakening to poetry that that love brought him: "Golden mouth to golden mouth. Our mouths / as they searched out each other. / By putting your lips to mine / you have brought me back from the drowse of exile."

The trail of Anglo-Canadian gay poetry, however, was blazed by another Toronto poet, Edward Lacey, and by Daryl Hine (from Vancouver), and later extended and elaborated by Ian Young's two anthologies, The Male Muse (1975) and The Son of the Male Muse (1983), both of which included Canadian poets.

Whereas Young, especially in Common-Or-Garden Gods (1976), is refreshingly physical in his celebration of the male body, Lacey and Hine share with LePan the more "Canadian" sense of deference and déférence: gentility and the unspoken.

Hine writes of "the educated ghost / Within me," but he is not able entirely to escape it or his Francophile moeurs. His poem, "Point Grey," about encounters with nude men on the beach, seems indebted to Thom Gunn, but he is left with the bloodless reflection: "A beauty of sorts is nearly always within reach."

Lacey, who has spent much of his life in Central and South America is more candid about a preliberation culture: "snow is our rule of churches, work and laws, / our reticence, our loneliness, our pause, / the emptiness we live in. This is snow." Nonetheless, he is not constrained, as Hine often is, by the traditional forms his poems often take, and his risks are sometimes full of juicy joy. "'Wanna get sucked off?' he said," is better than prosy melancholy.

The other distinguished poet is another Vancouver writer, bill bissett. His bibliography extends to more than a hundred titles (inkorrect thots, 1992, is his latest), but many of his poems would pass as heterosexual.

Influenced by sound poetry and a member of the influential group of poets, The Four Horsemen, bissett is also indebted to Ferlinghetti and cummings and mantra. His gay poems float like typographical exhalations, sound-bites on the page, full of passion: "my tongue in his / ear our heds so / togethr our hair / shaking thru th / waves th / waves th / moshun / uv / yuunyun."

Stan Persky, another Vancouver writer who understands the liturgical power of repetition as bissett does, also understands irony: "After lots of swans the desire for swans dies," he writes in his interesting collection Wrestling the Angel (1976).

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