Cogswell, Fred(erick William)
COGSWELL, Fred(erick William)
Nationality: Canadian. Born: East Centreville, New Brunswick, 8 November 1917. Education: Provincial Normal School, 1937; Carleton Vocational School, graduated 1939; University of New Brunswick, Fredericton (Bliss Carman medal, 1946, 1947, Douglas Gold medal, 1949), B.A. (honors) 1949, M.A. 1950; University of Edinburgh(I.O.D.E. Overseas fellowship, 1950–52), Ph.D. 1952. Military Service: Canadian Army, 1940–45: sergeant. Family: Married 1) Margaret Hynes in 1944 (died 1985), two daughters (one deceased);2) Gail Fox in 1985 (divorced 1997); 3) Adele Bartleton in 1997. Career: Assistant professor, 1952–57, associate professor, 1957–61, professor of English, 1961–83, and since 1983 professor emeritus, University of New Brunswick. Editor, Fiddlehead magazine, 1952–66, Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1960–82, and Humanities Association Bulletin, 1967–72, all in Fredericton. President, Association of Canadian and Quebec Literatures and Atlantic Publishers Association, both 1978–80. Awards: Nuffield fellowship, 1959; Canada Council fellowship, 1966; Canadian-Scottish writing fellowship, University of Edinburgh, 1983–84; Aiden Nowlan Award for Literary Excellence, New Brunswick Legislature, 1995. LL.D.: St. Francis University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, 1982; Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, 1988. D.C.L.: King's College, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1985; Confederation Medal, 1967–92. Member: Order of Canada, 1981. Address: 31 Island View Drive, Douglas, New Brunswick E3A 7R7, Canada.
The Stunted Strong. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1954.
The Haloed Tree. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1956.
Descent from Eden. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1959.
Lost Dimension. London, Outposts, 1960.
Five New Brunswick Poets, with others, edited by Cogswell. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1962.
Star-People. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1968.
Immortal Plowman. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1969.
In Praise of Chastity. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Chapbooks, 1970.
The Chains of Liliput. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1971.
The House without a Door. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1973.
Light Bird of Life: Selected Poems. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1974.
Against Perspective. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1977.
A Long Apprenticeship: Collected Poems. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1980.
Our Stubborn Strength. Toronto, League of Canadian Poets, 1980.
Selected Poems. Montreal, Guernica, 1983.
Pearls. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Ragweed Press, 1983.
Meditations: 50 Sestinas. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Ragweed Press, 1986.
An Edge to Life. Saint John, New Brunswick, Purple Wednesday Society, 1987.
The Best Notes Merge. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1988.
The Black and White Tapestry. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1989.
Watching an Eagle. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1991.
When the Right Light Shines. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1992.
In Praise of Old Music. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1992.
In My Own Growing. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1993.
As I See It. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1994.
The Trouble with Light. Ottowa, Borealis Press, 1996.
Folds. Ottowa, Borealis Press, 1996.
A Double Question. Ottowa, Borealis Press, 1999.
With Vision Added. Ottowa, Borealis Press, 2000.
Recording: Fred Cogswell: A Poetry Reading, League of Canadian Poets, 1980.
Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and His Works. Toronto, ECW Press, 1983.
The Bicentennial Lectures on New Brunswick Literature, with Malcolm Ross and Marguerite Maillet. Sackville, New Brunswick, Mount Allison University, 1985.
Charles Mair and His Work. Toronto, ECW Press, 1988.
Editor, A Canadian Anthology. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1960.
Editor, Five New Brunswick Poets. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1962.
Editor, with Robert Tweedie and S.W. MacNutt, and contributor, The Arts in New Brunswick. Fredericton, University of New Brunswick, 1966.
Editor, with Thelma Reid Lower, The Echanted Land: Canadian Poetry for Young Readers. Toronto, Gage, 1967.
Editor and translator, One Hundred [and A Second Hundred] Poems of Modern Quebec. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1970–71.
Editor, The Home Place, by Marion McLellan. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, 1973.
Editor and translator, The Poetry of Modern Quebec. Montreal, Harvest, 1975.
Editor, with Kay Smith and Constance Soulikias, Mysterious Special Sauce. Ottawa, Canadian Council of Teachers of English, 1982.
Editor and translator, The Complete Poems of Emile Nelligan. Montreal, Harvest, 1983.
Editor, The Atlantic Anthology: Poems and Prose, Past and Present. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Ragweed Press, 3 vols., 1984–85.
Editor and translator, with Jo-Anne Elder, Unfinished Dreams: Contemporary Poetry of Acadie. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Goose Lane Editions, and Moncton, Editions d'Acadie, both 1990.
Translator, The Testament of Cresseid, by Robert Henryson. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1957.
Translator, Confrontation, by G. Lapointe. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1973.
Translator, with Jo-Anne Elder, Climates, by Herménégilde Chiasson. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Goose Lane Editions, 1999.*
Manuscript Collection: University of New Brunswick, Fredericton.
Critical Studies: Four Maritime Poets: A Survey of the Works of Alden Nowlan, Fred Cogswell, Raymond Fraser and Al Pittman As They Reflect the Spirit and Culture of the Maritime People (thesis) by Margie Williamson, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dalhousie University, 1972.
Fred Cogswell comments:
My poetry is a response, as a rule, to direct personal experience. It finds its own form instinctively out of the various forms which I have encountered, either traditional or modern. It is marked by directness, economy, sincerity, and the avoidance of long words.* * *
Fred Cogswell belongs to a generation of Canadian poets whose lives revolved around the academy and the professions. Their center was Montreal, where Louis Dudek, Frank Scott, P.K. Page, A.M. Klein, and John Sutherland were leaders. The poets' backgrounds were middle-class and their tastes intellectual.
A Long Apprenticeship: Collected Poems makes an allegory of the struggle of a skeptical intelligence against ingrained religion, of a loss of innocence and paradise partially regained. The rich variety of forms suits Cogswell's epigrammatic, ironic style. He ranges from the villanelle through imagism to sestinas. Early poems are controlled lyrics with careful rhyme schemes. A favorite form is the sonnet, usually with an octet for the initial deliberation and a sestet for the turn of thought or change of key or mood. Sometimes a couplet puts a sting in the tail.
The themes range from sacred and profane love to the expression of love for the natural world and particularly the New Brunswick countryside. Cogswell shares with the American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson the ability to write about country folk of northeastern North America with clear-sighted compassion, as in the sonnet "Valley Folk":
O narrow is the house where we are born,
And narrow are the fields in which we labour,
Fenced in by rails and woods that low hills neighbour
Lest they should spill their crops of hay and corn.
O narrow are the hates with which we thorn
Each other's flesh by gossip of the Grundies,
And narrow are our roads to church on Sundays,
And narrow too, the vows of love we've sworn.
But through our fields the Saint John River flows
And mocks the patterned fields that we enclose;
There sometimes pausing in the dusty heat
We stretch cramped backs and lean upon our hoes
To watch a sea-gull glide with lazy beat
To wider regions where the river goes.
Another of Cogswell's favorite forms, as demanding in its elusive and allusive way as the sonnet, is the haiku:
coin-silver on a
dark rich tablecloth, who will
pick you up, full moon?
To read A Long Apprenticeship is to be admitted to the friendship of a thoughtful, modest, passionate, scholarly man. Graceful, epigrammatic, rhymed lyrics mature as the years go by into freer, unrhymed, but always controlled stanzas—a testament to the examined life. Themes of love remembered, time passing inexorably, the close approach of death are turned and twisted in the bright light of the poet's mind to give off flashes of truth. In the natural world Cogswell is a butterfly catcher who entraps images. He is also a classicist, steeped in the mythology of Greece, Rome, the Middle East, and Christianity.
Meditations: 50 Sestinas amply illustrates Cogsell's fascination with, and mastery of, form. Here, in the spirit of Wordsworth's "Scorn not the Sonnet &" is part of the opening poem, "The Sestina":
You ask me why I write Sestinas now.
The form is out of fashion and it makes
Another barrier to the flow of thought.
Why not write free verse? Surely images
And the natural rhythms of our speech
Are enough to suit the needs of poesy.
I answer that the house of poesy
has many rooms. The one most crowded now
Is that you name. So thronged it is with speech
You can hardly tell the sound one poet makes
among the general din, and images
Are not the only means to capture thought.
Cogswell's verse is always musical, perhaps too musical for postmodern taste. Occasionally there are lapses, which probably illustrate nothing more than the change in poetic diction since the 1930s and 1940s.
Well along in his eighth decade, Cogswell has edited and translated a new collection of Acadian French poetry. He has, as well, produced yearly a new book of poetry in which postmodern prose poems form an intriguing part of the repertoire.