Newlove, John (Herbert)

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NEWLOVE, John (Herbert)

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Regina, Saskatchewan, 13 June 1938. Family: Married Susan Mary Phillips in 1966; one step-son and one step-daughter. Career: Senior editor, McClelland and Stewart publishers, Toronto, 1970–74; writer-in-residence, Concordia University, Montreal, 1974–75, University of Western Ontario, London, 1975–76, University of Toronto, 1976–77, Regina Public Library, 1979–80, and David Thompson University Centre, Nelson, British Columbia, 1982–83. Since 1986 English editor, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Ottawa. Awards: Koerner Foundation grant, 1964; Canada Council grant, 1965, 1967, 1977, 1983; Governor-General's award, 1973; Saskatchewan Writers' Guild Founders' award, 1984; Literary Press Group award, 1986; Archibald Lampman award, 1994. Address: 105 Rochester Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 7L9, Canada.



Grave Sirs. Vancouver, Robert Reid, 1962.

Elephants, Mothers and Others. Vancouver, Periwinkle Press, 1963.

Moving In Alone. Toronto, Contact Press, 1965.

Notebook Pages. Toronto, Charles Pachter, 1966.

Four Poems. Platteville, Wisconsin, It, 1967.

What They Say. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1967.

Black Night Window. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1968.

The Cave. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1970.

7 Diasters, 3 Theses, and Welcome Home. Click, Vancouver, Very Stone House, 1971.

Lies. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1972.

The Fat Man: Selected Poems 1962–1972. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

Dreams Surround Us: Fiction and Poetry, with John Metcalf. Delta, Ontario, Bastard Press, 1977.

The Green Plain. Lantzville, British Columbia, Oolichan, 1981.

Three Poems. Prince George, British Columbia, Gorse Press, 1985.

The Night the Dog Smiled. Toronto, ECW Press, 1986.

La verde piana, introduced and translated by Carla Comellini. Bologna, Italy, Piovan Editore, 1990.

Apology for Absence: Selected Poems, 1962–1992. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine's Quill, 1993.


Editor, Dream Craters, by Joe Rosenblatt. Erin, Ontario, Press Porcépic, 1974.

Editor, The Collected Poems of Earle Birney. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 2 vols., 1975.

Editor, Canadian Poetry: The Modern Era. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

Editor, The Collected Poems of F.R. Scott. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1981.


Bibliography: "An Annotated Bibliography of Works by and about John Newlove" by Robert A. Lecker, in Essays on Canadian Writing (Downsview, Ontario), spring 1975; John Newlove and His Works by Douglas Barbour. Toronto, ECW Press, 1992.

Manuscript Collections: University of Toronto Library; Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin; Elizabeth Dafoe Library, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.

Critical Studies: "How Do I Get Out of Here: The Poetry of John Newlove" by Margaret Atwood, spring 1973, and "Something in Which to Believe for Once: The Poetry of John Newlove" by Jan Bartley, fall 1974, both in Open Letter (Toronto); "Weather Report: 'Stars, Rain, Forests'" by Douglas Barbour, and "Driving Home with John Newlove" by Susan Glickman, both in Essays on Canadian Writing (Toronto), 36, spring 1988; "Place in the Poetry of John Newlove" by E.F. Dyck, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver, British Columbia), 122–123, autumn-winter 1989; "John Newlove and His Works," in Canadian Writers and Their Works, edited by Robert Lecker and others, Toronto, ECW, 1992, and in ECW's Biographical Guide to Canadian Poets, edited by Robert Lecker and others, Toronto, ECW, 1993, both by Douglas Barbour.

John Newlove comments:

If I had a statement to make on my own work, it would consist of the fifth part of Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." In any case, I would rather read than write.

*  *  *

The voice in the poetry of John Newlove is that of an individual in search of absolution, but from what, and from whom, is not always clear. At times absolution is asked of the self, as if personal scrutiny and self-criticism will lead to a better understanding of the person within the persona. At other times absolution is asked from the world, as if the persona has somehow betrayed himself, his lovers, and his better instincts. Never does the persona ask for absolution from the reader, and it is this that is at the center of the enigma, the source of strength, and the core of the truth in Newlove's poetry. Like Rilke, Newlove is a poet in search of the uncertain, if only to find in himself what cannot be betrayed or made inconstant.

In the poems about his childhood in the Canadian prairie towns of Verigin and Kamsack, including "Verigin" and "My Daddy Drowned" from Elephants, Mothers and Others, Newlove questions the world of his childhood, a time and place where he feels he did not belong, where violence, isolation, and separateness (the three plagues of life in his poetry) rear their absurd heads in such innocent acts as the birth of kittens and swimming with Doukhobor boys at a watering hole. In such poems details and events play against one another with a kind of cold irony. The persona is stung by his experiences, so that the only refuge from the world resides in the acknowledgment of its absurdities.

In "An Accidental Life," which prefaces The Green Plain, Newlove confides (although he suggests that his life has had nothing but a series of prefaces) that poetry was a way with which the absurd could become an avenue for atonement:

That paradise was broken, ruined abruptly after an eternity. Child's time. I ran home, crying, in shame: in shame, because I was the ruiner: not as Adam ruined Eden, seeking wisdom, but as Cain the spoiler disrupted a second Arcadia. I was Cain, the guilty one who did what he had to do. Is the mark on me? No. In the end, it was only, I suppose, a child's misunderstanding of the world and himself.

For Newlove the search for sin within himself, and the discovery that sin is a natural human phenomenon, is a kind of surrogate for religion, where the processes of doubt and confession imply a secular redemption for which the poet still appears to be waiting. The closest Newlove comes to such a resolution is in his sequence, or "spiritual epic," "White Philharmonic Novels" in The Night the Dog Smiled, where he asks, "What do you remember / after you've been happy?" Newlove argues that

The message is that there is no message.
You can't live forever on resentment.
The thing is whether to stuff stuff
into the middle or into
the many endings.

Like a dissonant, atonal symphony, or perhaps like an orchestra tuning before a conductor takes the stage, "White Philharmonic Novels" is a pastiche of notes, anecdotes, literary references, observations, and miniature chronicles of a man slowly moving toward contentment.

As with Rilke's Duino Elegies, most of Newlove's work in The Night the Dog Smiled and The Green Plain is meditative, reflexive, and self-critical. Gone is the rowdy man of his early work:

I made these voices.
The arrangement is all.
It grew and grew until it was bigger than I was
and it made me think that I was bigger than I was.

As Newlove suggests in the final lines of "White Philharmonic Novels," there is no use for a witness who cannot tell his tale. The choice is simple; the persona would rather be a survivor—a giver and receiver of love—than a dissipated romantic. As if to underline his new stance, Newlove concludes "The Permanent Tourist Comes Home" (possibly a play on Leonard Cohen's poem from the 1960s titled "The Only Canadian Tourist in Havana Turns His Thoughts Homeward") with the line "Awkwardly, I am in love again."

For the Newlove canon the trek toward self-realization and contentment has gradually sublimated itself into an internal monologue, and it is for this reason that Newlove's poetry stands as a touchstone for the transformation of an external vision to an internal one that has been the key development in Canadian poetry over the past quarter century or so. In an earlier statement on his work Newlove referred readers to part 5 of Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," with the implication that Newlove considered his poems to be in a state of transition between a poetry of inflection and a poetry of innuendo.

Nowhere is this transition more apparent than in "Ride Off Any Horizon" from Black Night Window. Like "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," Newlove's poem examines the processes of vision: the historical, the sociological, the geographical, and the personal. The implication throughout the poem is that the external, the visible, the real can be transformed into the metaphysical by acts of memory and imagination. Like the later "White Philharmonic Novels," "Ride Off Any Horizon" is a pastiche of scenes drawn from a variety of sources—sources that coalesce in a blurring of boundaries and distinctions between genres of vision and the way one perceives through them. The resulting impression is an extension of horizons or, failing that, the amalgamation of limits. "Ride Off Any Horizon" is a benchmark poem in Canadian literature because it signals the start of an era in which there has been a conscious desire on the part of poets to blur the distinction between the internal and the external realms of perception. The "new internalization," which has become the hallmark of such poets as Bronwen Wallace and Lorna Crozier, can be attributed in large part to Newlove, a poet whose oeuvre has charted a course for others to follow between inflection and innuendo.

Newlove's sense of innuendo has a darker and almost spiritual side. His awareness of mortality, which represented a kind of "daredevil's game" in the earlier works, has metamorphosed into an urgency as both he and his vision have matured. In poems such as "Cold, Heat" and part 2 of "Syllables" in The Night the Dog Smiled, the proximity of death to life has sharpened the poet's appetite for love to the point that love has become the reason for existence, a recognition that is itself a form of redemption.

—Bruce Meyer