McFadden, David

views updated


Nationality: Canadian. Born: Hamilton, Ontario, 11 October 1940. Family: Married Joan Pearce in 1963 (divorced 1979); two daughters. Career: Night proofreader, 1962–70, and reporter, 1970–76, Hamilton Spectator; freelance journalist and editor, 1976–79; writerin-residence, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, 1978; instructor in writing, David Thompson University Centre, Nelson, British Columbia, 1979–82; taught creative writing, Victoria Park and Don Mills schools, Toronto, 1982–83; writer-in-residence, University of Western Ontario, London, 1983–84, Metropolitan Toronto Public Library, 1985–86, and Hamilton Public Library, 1987–88. Founding editor, Mountain Magazine, Hamilton, 1960–63, and Writing Magazine, Nelson, British Columbia, 1979–82; member of editorial board, Swift Current, 1983–84; contributing editor, Quill and Quire, Toronto, 1983–84. Awards: Canada Council bursary, 1968, and fellowship, 1976, 1982; Mickey award, 1975; Nebula award, 1977; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prize, 1979; National Magazine award, 1981, 1982. Address: David Thompson University Center, Nelson, British Columbia V1L 3C7, Canada.



The Poem Poem. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1967.

The Saladmaker: A Humility Cycle. Montreal, Imago, 1968; revised edition, Montreal, Cross Country, 1977.

Letters from the Earth to the Earth. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1968.

Poems Worth Knowing. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1971.

Intense Pleasure. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1972.

The Ova Yogas. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1972.

A Knight in Dried Plums. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1975.

The Poet's Progress. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1977.

On the Road Again. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1978.

I Don't Know. Montreal, Véhicule Press, 1978.

A New Romance. Montreal, Cross Country Press, 1979.

My Body Was Eaten by Dogs: Selected Poems, edited by George Bowering. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, and Flushing, New York, Cross Country, 1981.

Country of the Open Heart. Edmonton, Longspoon Press, 1982.

A Pair of Baby Lambs. Toronto, Front Press, 1983.

The Art of Darkness. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1984.

Gypsy Guitar: One Hundred Poems of Romance and Betrayal. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1987.

Anonymity Suite. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1992.

There'll Be Another. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1995.


The Collected World of David McFadden (produced Hamilton, Ontario, 1977).

Nirvana at Twilight (produced Toronto, 1982).

At the Corner of King and Kenilworth (produced Toronto, 1983).


The Great Canadian Sonnet. Toronto, Coach House Press, 2 vols., 1970.

A Trip around Lake Huron. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1980.

A Trip around Lake Erie. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1981.

Canadian Sunset. Windsor, Ontario, Black Moss Press, 1986.

A Trip around Lake Ontario. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1988; with A Trip around Lake Huron and A Trip around Lake Erie, as Great Lakes Suite, Burnaby, British Columbia, Talonbooks, 1997.

Short Stories

Three Stories and Ten Poems. Toronto, Prototype, 1982.

Animal Spirits: Stories to Live By. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1983.


An Innocent in Ireland: Curious Rambles and Singular Encounters. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1995.

An Innocent in Scotland: More Curious Rambles and Singular Encounters. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1999.


Critical Study: "Proofing the World: The Poems of David McFadden" by George Bowering, in Canadian Poetry (London, Ontario), 7, fall-winter 1980.

*  *  *

"I'm particularly pleased to inhabit the same world as McFadden," wrote Al Purdy when he read the manuscript of Intense Pleasure, "even if he's crazy as a bedbug." Although David McFadden—at the time a poet and newspaperman who lived and wrote in Hamilton, Ontario, a community not celebrated for its artists—had been publishing short collections of his poems and Richard Brautigan-like prose since 1967, it was not until 1972, with the appearance of Intense Pleasure, that his work reached a wide public and the nature of his singular talent became clear.

McFadden is not as "crazy as a bedbug," for he is as "crazy as a fox" and as witty and often as irrelevant as any number of stand-up comics who specialize in witty one-liners and put-downs and oneupmanships. Many of his poems are nightclub routines with fast lines like "He knew he was pregnant," "I'm addicted to toothpicks," and "Now I'm middle-aged I want to be an alligator." The poems are amusing, lively, and light and often exhausting to read.

In the poem "Ova Yoga," McFadden wrote, "Inside every chicken is a human being trying to get out." Inside McFadden there is another poet beginning to be heard. This is the observer of modern society beset, but not swallowed up, by the incongruities and irrationalities of contemporary life. This is the poet who in one poem presents a midget's-eye view of the world and who in another discovers that Adolf Hitler is alive and well in Hamilton and arranges an interview. This is the poet who is attracted to the pop and kitsch characteristics of Canadian advertising: "This is Bruce Marsh speaking /for Kraft Foods in Canada."

But McFadden the poet is more than the stand-up comic, the entertainer. He is an artist who like Apollinaire seeks to celebrate "the heroic of the everyday," who tries to grant a modicum of immortality to such things as "three Motorcycles parked diagonally at the curb / in front of 111 Brucedale Avenue." One looks at Liverpudlian poets like Roger McGough for an approximation of McFadden's tone. More to the point perhaps are the long dead but ever useful dadaists, with their nostalgia for the evanescent. McFadden is a dadaist prophet of the ephemeral present.

McFadden's later poems are as funny as ever. In one poem Lord Vishnu speaks in a Scots accent. In another the astrophysicist Edwin Hubble "discovered the universe was a bubble." In "Moonkat" the poet writes about "the moon, /Chubby as a checker, as a billionaire," taking the reader on a number of little mental trips. The later poems are rather more philosophical than the early ones. "Pictograms by Starlight" offers a few quasi-philosophical quips of the low caliber of "Why am I Here? So I won't have to be /Elsewhere." Yet the poem itself explores new terrain, the psychological rather than the social landscape, as informed by lucid dreaming:

Some invent what they write but there's no dream
Like the dream of whatever happens to be transpiring
In your mind in the moment. Impossible to capture
In all its thrilling brilliance.

"Impossible to capture" by anyone but David McFadden.

—John Robert Colombo