Colombo, John Robert

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COLOMBO, John Robert


Nationality: Canadian. Born: Kitchener, Ontario, 24 March 1936. Education: Waterloo College, Ontario, 1956–57; University College, University of Toronto, 1958–60, B.A. (honors) 1959. Family: Married Ruth Brown in 1959; one daughter and two sons. Career: Editorial assistant, University of Toronto Press, 1957–60; assistant editor, Ryerson Press, 1960–63; senior advisory editor, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1964–70. Former editor, The Montrealer, Exchange, and Tamarack Review, Toronto; occasional instructor, York University, Toronto, 1963–66; writer-in-residence, Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario, 1978; host, Colombo's Quotes television series, 1978. Occasional columnist, Toronto Star, Toronto Voice, Danforth Report.Awards: Canada Council grant, 1967, 1971; Centennial medal, 1967; Harbourfront Literary award, 1987. D.Litt.: York University, 1998. Member: Ontario Arts Council Advisory Panel, 1966–67; Canada Council Arts Advisory Panel, 1968–70. Address: 42 Dell Park Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M6B 2T6, Canada.

Publications

Poetry

Fragments. Privately printed, 1957.

Variations. Kitchener, Ontario, Hawkshead Press, 1958.

This Citadel in Time. Kitchener, Ontario, Hawkshead Press, 1958.

This Studied Self. Kitchener, Ontario, Hawkshead Press, 1958.

In the Streets (as Ruta Ginsberg). Toronto, Hawkshead Press, 1959.

Poems and Other Poems. Toronto, Hawkshead Press, 1959.

Two Poems. Toronto, Hawkshead Press, 1959.

This Is the Work Entitled Canada. Toronto, Purple Partridge Press, 1959.

Fire Escape. Toronto, Hawkshead Press, 1959.

The Impression of Beauty. Toronto, Hawkshead Press, 1959.

Poems to Be Sold for Bread. Toronto, Hawkshead Press, 1959.

Lines for the Last Day. Toronto, Hawkshead Press, 1960.

The Mackenzie Poems. Toronto, Swan, 1965.

The Great Wall of China: An Entertainment. Montreal, Delta Canada, 1966.

Abracadabra. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1967.

Miraculous Montages. Toronto, Heine, 1967.

John Toronto: New Poems by Dr. Strachan, Found by John Robert Colombo. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1969.

Neo Poems. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1970.

The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1971.

Praise Poems and Leonardo's Lists. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1972.

Translations from the English. Toronto, Peter Martin, 1974.

The Sad Truths. Toronto, Peter Martin, 1974.

The Great Collage. Oakville, Ontario, Oasis Press, 1974.

Proverbial Play. Toronto, Missing Link Press, 1975.

Mostly Monsters. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1977.

Variable Cloudiness. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1977.

Private Parts. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1978.

The Great Cities of Antiquity. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1979.

Recent Poems. Toronto, League of Canadian Poets, 1980.

Selected Poems. Windsor, Ontario, Black Moss Press, 1982.

Selected Translations. Windsor, Ontario, Black Moss Press, 1982.

Off Earth. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1987.

Luna Park/One Thousand Poems. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1994.

Space Poems. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1995.

Contrails. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1996.

Earlier Lives. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1996.

Ether/Rewords. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1997.

What Is What. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1998.

Interspaces. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Half a World Away: Poems and Effects. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 2000.

Impromptus: One Thousand Poems. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 2000.

Other

CDN SF & F: A Bibliography of Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1979.

Blackwood's Books: A Bibliography Devoted to Algernon Blackwood. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1981.

Canadian Literary Landmarks. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1984.

Great Moments in Canadian History. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1984.

Toronto's Fantastic Street Names. Toronto, BAKKA, 1982.

1001 Questions About Canada. Toronto, Doubleday, 1986.

Mysterious Canada: Strange Sights, Extraordinary Events and Peculiar Places. Toronto, Doubleday, 1988.

999 Questions About Canada. Toronto, Doubleday, 1989.

Semi-Certainties: Some Aphorisms of John Robert Colombo. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1998.

Lambert's Day. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Mysteries of Ontario. Toronto, Hounslow, 1999.

Self-Schrift. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Open Secrets: Aphorisms of John Robert Colombo. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 2000.

Editor, Rubato: New Poems by Young Canadian Poets. Toronto, Purple Partridge Press, 1958.

Editor, The Varsity Chapbook. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1959.

Editor, with Jacques Godbout, Poésie 64/Poetry 654. Toronto and Montreal, Ryerson Press-Editions du Jour, 1963.

Editor, with Raymond Souster, Shapes and Sounds: Poems of W.W.E. Ross. Toronto, Longman, 1968.

Editor, How Do I Love Thee: Sixty Poems of Canada (and Quebec) & Edmonton, Hurtig, 1970.

Editor, New Direction in Canadian Poetry. Toronto, Holt Rinehart, 1970.

Editor, Rhymes and Reasons: Nine Canadian Poets Discuss Their Work. Toronto, Holt Rinehart, 1971.

Editor, An Alphabet of Annotations. Montreal, Gheerbrant, 1972.

Editor, Colombo's Canadian Quotations. Edmonton, Hurtig, 1974; as Colombo's Concise Canadian Quotations, 1976.

Editor, Colombo's Little Book of Canadian Proverbs, Graffiti, Limericks, and Other Vital Matters. Edmonton, Hurtig, 1975.

Editor, Colombo's Canadian References. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1976; London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1977.

Editor and translator, with Nikola Roussanoff, The Balkan Range: A

Bulgarian Reader. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1976.

Editor and translator, East and West: Selected Poems, by George Faludy. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1978.

Editor, The Poets of Canada. Edmonton, Hurtig, 1978.

Editor, Colombo's Book of Canada. Edmonton, Hurtig, 1978.

Editor, Colombo's Names and Nicknames. Toronto, NC Press, 1978.

Editor, Colombo's Book of Marvels. Toronto, NC Press, 1979.

Editor, Other Canadas: An Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Toronto, McGraw Hill Ryerson, 1979.

Editor, Dark Times, by Waclaw Iwaniuk, translated by Jagna Boraks. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1979.

Editor, Colombo's Hollywood. Toronto, Collins, 1979; as Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers, London, Hamlyn, 1979; as Popcorn in Paradise, New York, Holt Rinehart, 1980.

Editor, The Canada Colouring Book. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1980.

Editor, 222 Canadian Jokes. Cobalt, Ontario, Highway Book Shop, 1981.

Editor, Far from You: Poems, by Pavel Javor, translated by Rom Banerjee. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1981.

Editor, Friendly Aliens. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1981.

Editor, Poems of the Inuit. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1981.

Editor, with Michael Richardson, Not to Be Taken at Night: Classic Canadian Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural. Toronto, Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1981.

Editor, Years of Light: A Celebration of Leslie A. Croutch. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1982.

Editor, Colombo's Last Words. Cobalt, Ontario, Highway Book Shop, 1982.

Editor, Colombo's Laws. Cobalt, Ontario, Highway Book Shop, 1982.

Editor, Windigo: An Anthology of Fact and Fantastic Fiction. Saskatoon, Saskachewan, Western Producer, 1982, and Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Editor, Colombo's Canadiana Quiz Book. Saskatoon, Saskachewan, Western Producer, 1983.

Editor, Colombo's 101 Canadian Places. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1983.

Editor, René Lévesque Buys Canada Savings Bonds and Other Great Canadian Graffiti. Edmonton, Hurtig, 1983.

Editor, Songs of the Indians. Ottawa, Obereon Press, 2 vols., 1983.

Editor and translator, with George Faludy, Learn This Poem of Mine by Heart, by Faludy. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1983.

Editor, The Toronto Puzzle Book. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1984.

Editor, with Michael Richardson, We Stand on Guard: Poems and Songs of Canadians in Battle. Toronto, Doubleday, 1985.

Editor, Colombo's New Canadian Quotations. Edmonton, Alberta, Hurtig, 1987.

Editor, Extraordinary Experiences. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1989.

Editor, Songs of The Great Land. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1989.

Editor, Mysterious Encounters. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1990.

Editor, Voices of Ram. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1990.

Editor, with Cyril Greenland, Walt Whitman's Canada. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1992.

Editor, Close Encounters of the Canadian Kind. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1994.

Editor, Voices of Rama. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1994.

Editor, Ghosts Galore! Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1994.

Editor, Strange Stories. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1994.

Editor, Ogdenisms. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1994.

Editor, Ghost Stories of Ontario. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1995.

Editor, Erotica Canadiana. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1995.

Editor, Metro's Goldwyn Mayor. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1995.

Editor, Haunted Toronto. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1996.

Editor, 666 Canadian Jokes. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1996.

Editor, The Stephen Leacock Quote Book. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1996.

Editor, Slightly Higher in Canada. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1996.

Editor, Iron Curtains. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1996.

Editor, with Cyril Greenland, The New Consciousness. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1997.

Editor, Marvellous Stories. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1998.

Editor, Closer Than You Think. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1998.

Editor, All about Us. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1998.

Editor, More Iron Curtains. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1998.

Editor, Conjuring Up the Owens. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Editor, The Occult Webb. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Editor, Three Mysteries of Nova Scotia. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Editor, Singular Stories. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Editor, The UFO Quote Book. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Editor, Weird Stories. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 1999.

Editor, Ghosts in Our Past. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 2000.

Editor, Small Wonders. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 2000.

Editor, Canadian Capers. Toronto, Colombo and Company, 2000.

Translator, with Robert Zend, From Zero to One, by Zend. Vancouver, Sono Nis Press, 1973.

Translator, with Nikola Roussanloff, Under the Eaves of a Forgotten Village: Sixty Poems from Contemporary Bulgaria. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1975.

Translator, with Nikola Roussanoff, The Left-Handed One, by Lyubomir Levchev. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1977.

Translator, with Nikola Roussanoff, Remember Me Well, by Andrei Germanov. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1978.

Translator, with Nikola Roussanoff, Depths, by Dora Gabe. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1978.

Translator, with Waclaw Iwaniuk, Such Times: Selected Poems, by Ewa Lipska. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1981.

Translator, with Robert Zend, Beyond Labels, by Zend. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1982.

Translator, with Petronela Negosanu, Symmetries, by Marin Sorescu. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1982.

*

Manuscript Collection: Mills Memorial Library, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

Critical Studies: By Northrop Frye, in University of Toronto Review, July 1959; by Al Purdy, in Toronto Globe and Mail, 4 June 1966; by George Woodcock, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), summer 1966; by Louis Dudek, in Montreal Gazette, 22 October 1966; by Miriam Waddington, in Toronto Globe and Mail, 18 March 1967; by Hugh MacCallum, in University of Toronto Review, July 1967 and July 1968; "John Robert Colombo: Documentary Poet as Visionary" by Jean Mallinson, in Essays on Canadian Writing (Downsview, Ontario), 5, 1976; "Redeeming Prose: Colombo's Found Poetry" by Manina Jones, in Canadian Poetry (London, Ontario), 25, fall-winter 1989; "Redeeming Riel" by Loise Drew, in Canadian Poetry (London, Ontario), 31, fall-winter 1992; "A Publishing Giant &" by Robert Fulford, in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 17 April 1999; The Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes by Richard Kostelanetz, New York, Schirmer Books, 2nd edition, 2000.

John Robert Colombo comments:

I have written, translated, and compiled more than 140 books, and I have edited more than 125 for Canadian publishing houses. I discuss all of this in my memoir Self-Schrift (1999). I am nationally known as the "Master Gatherer" for my compilations of Canadiana. Lately I have been called (by Robert Girard of Arcturus Books) "Canada's Mr. Mystery" for my books about paranormal Canadiana. As well, I have done a fair amount of column writing and broadcasting. Finally, I have written and translated and compiled a great deal of poetry. I have chosen not to live the life of the poet. An old adage goes, "You have to choose between living like an artist or being an artist." I opted for the latter way of life. To me the artist is the artisan of awareness and the transmitter rather than the originator of wonders. All of these activities are to me complementary concerns, for they arise out of my desire and need to raise the awareness of Canadians and others of the continuity and complexity of the various words that we inhabit. The words are largely comprehended through words, all of which take form and wondrously appear on one of my computer screens!

*  *  *

Although John Robert Colombo's activities as an accomplished editor and prolific anthologist have obscured his work as a poet, the latter is of a piece with the former. Not only are the same eclectic interests at play—quotations, proverbs, translations, science fiction, fantasy, the paranormal—but the same procedures of selection and combination are apparent. Colombo plainly does not regard his use of found or documentary materials as any less creative than the more or less spontaneous generation of original poems, even his own. We find Colombo's muse less hovering over his shoulder than wherever he casts his eye.

Colombo attempts to produce what Viktor Shklovsky called "defamiliarization"—the making strange of the familiar. The found poem, reproducing the words of others while framing them in a different context, lends itself to this strategy, and Colombo was one of the first Canadian practitioners of the form. The Mackenzie Poems and John Toronto recast the words of two early nineteenth-century political rivals, William Lyon Mackenzie and Bishop John Strachan. In many other collections, including the significantly titled Translations from the English, Colombo raids heterogeneous sources for his rearrangements, usually for comic or ironic effect. The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire manipulates James Russel Wilson's prose account of the disaster:

   Weddings in great number
   resulted from the disaster.
   Women, driven out of their homes
   and left destitute,
   appealed to the men to whom
   they were engaged,
   and immediately marriages were effected.
   "I don't live anywhere,"
   was the answer given in many cases
   when the applicant for a licence
   was asked where his residence is.
   "I used to live in San Francisco."

Similarly, a sequence of messages on cards in the Monopoly board game, for example, culminates in the following:

   YOU HAVE WON SECOND PRIZE
   IN A BEAUTY CONTEST
   COLLECT $11.00

The list poem, often of clichés, proverbs, and catchphrases, is another favorite device, especially in Abracadabra, Neo Poems, and Leonardo's Lists. Colombo is unafraid of such material, and as he says in The Great Wall of China, "All the truisms/are true &" The risk he takes is that sometimes the banal original simply cannot be redeemed. Then, too, his methods sometimes seem too mechanical or schematic, as in "After Stesichorus" in The Sad Truths, in which historical facts (e.g., the fall of Troy and Columbus's voyage) are stated, then intermingled ("Feudalism rose and the Renaissance fell").

Although Selected Poems conveniently presents the wide range of his work, Abracadabra may be the best single collection, including, as it does, the wonderfully witty "Recipe for a Canadian Novel," which ends,

   Slice or leave whole.
   Serves twenty million all told—
   when cold.

Colombo typically states a theme and then gives variations or else resolves game-playing or puzzle-making rules he has stated or implied at the outset. Anagrams, concrete poems, and verse forms like the haiku or its parodic version, the senryu, all are in Colombo's grab bag of what he calls in Off Earth "poems and effects."

The effects are lavishly displayed in a large-format, limited-edition selection that includes Luna Park and the arrestingly titled One Thousand Poems. The latter, true enough, consists of one thousand (alphabetized) poems, but each is no longer than four words or so, and many are just one. Here are a few:

   ADULTery
   affluenza
   Bang Cock, Thigh Land
   ex ile
   Jacques Lacan't
   liarwyer
   Mao Tse Ching
   SalMAN RushushIE
   United States of AmerCIA

If the puns and wordplay are sometimes juvenile or otherwise ill judged, the performance remains remarkable.

Colombo's philosophical bent and love of paradox hold abundant sway in What Is What and Half a World Away. His date-lined "poems and effects," each book written over one calendar year and ordered, respectively, by the seasons and by zodiacal signs, record the interplay of words and worlds. Terms "effects" as "poetic undertakings," Colombo gives poems no precedence over them. In both cases he typically uses parallelism and "hypallage," which in "Muses" he helpfully defines as "the interchange of two elements/In a proposition or statement." Sometimes these rhetorical devices are combined, as in the two-line poem (or is it an effect?) "Intimacy":

   Her here
   His her

Social comment, elegies, quotations, and travel notes mingle in these poetic daybooks, as do aphorisms and banality. Colombo is, in fact, a connoisseur of the banal, noting in "Proem" that "some things are so predictable that their occurrence is always slightly surprising." With its tone of cheerful pessimism, which is suitably paradoxical, Colombo's work essentially concerns transformation, a two-way metamorphosis of "the real world of consensual reality and the equally real world of imaginal reality," as he puts it in the preface to Half a World Away. The poet is a coolheaded observer of both.

Most of Colombo's poems are in a sense translations, but he also does straightforward renditions from other languages. Collected Translations renders sixty-five poems from eleven languages, including Bulgarian, Romanian, and Inuktitut. Some are "co-translations" with native speakers, and all are arranged "as if they would be in a book of original poems by a single author." If Colombo's entire oeuvre has a metaphysical subtext, it may be that the universe itself is the work of a single author—a highly quotable one.

—Fraser Sutherland

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Colombo, John Robert

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