Lilburn, Tim 1950-

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LILBURN, Tim 1950-

PERSONAL: Born 1950, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Education: University of Regina, Campion College, B.A. (education); Luther College, M.A. (philosophy).

ADDRESSES: Office—St. Peter's College, RPO Box 40, Muenster, Saskatchewan S0K 2Y0, Canada; St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, 1437 College Drive, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 0W6, Canada.

CAREER: Teacher, poet, and essayist. Member of faculty at University of Saskatchewan, St. Thomas More College, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, and St. Peter's College, Muenster, Saskatchewan. Former writer-in-residence, University of Alberta, Regina Public Library, University of Western Ontario, and St. Mary's University, Halifax, Canada. Has taught at Sage Hill Writing Experience, Banff School of Fine Arts, and in West Africa, and has lectured in China.

AWARDS, HONORS: Canada Governor-General's Award shortlist, 1990, for Tourist to Ecstasy; Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry for Moosewood Sandhills; Saskatchewan Nonfiction Award for Living in the World as if It Were Home; Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award for To the River.


Names of God (poems), 1986.

Tourist to Ecstasy, 1989.

Moosewood Sandhills: Poems, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

(Editor) Poetry and Knowing: Speculative Essays and Interviews, Quarry Press (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

To the River, (poems) McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

Living in the World as If It Were Home,(essays), Cormorant Books (Dunvegan, Ontario), 1999.

(With Erica Grimm-Vance) Imagining the Sacred: The Fruitful Alliance between Gospel and Art, Campion College, University of Regina (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2002.

(Editor and contributor) Thinking and Singing: Poetry and the Practice of Philosophy, Cormorant Books (Toronto, Canada), 2002.

Works also published in anthologies Twentieth Century Poetry and Poetics and A Matter of Spirit: Recovery of the Sacred in Contemporary Canadian Poetry.

SIDELIGHTS: In 1990 Tim Lilburn was shortlisted for Canada's Governor General's Poetry award for his second book, Tourist to Ecstasy. While Lilburn did not win the award, Michael Williamson believed he should have. In Canadian Forum, Williamson commented that, of the three books nominated, "One . . . has more than international appeal, it has universal appeal. It's the one by that guy hugging the goat on the back cover, and his name is Tim Lilburn." Nearly ten years later, on the St. Peter's College Web site, a reviewer for Lilburn's Living in the World as If It Were Home, wrote, "Fortunate the student who has a teacher of the calibre of Tim Lilburn. It may well be that the first-year college students are not ready to work their way through these essays unaided, but for some of us who have experience in the school of life, and are at a point of looking for meaning, this book might point in the right direction."

Jacqueline Dumas, writing in Confluence, also commented on Lilburn's collection of essays and paid particular attention to the philosophy contained therein: that is, the idea that sophisticated writing is a dichotomy, drawing us into the world while simultaneously working to alienate us from it. Lilburn wrote, "Language's quickness to overcome the conflict between person and the world, its inadvertence to the extreme difficulty of this, its solicitude for the homeless mind, causes it to reduce being utterly to its names.... language unhurt by wonder, confects a union between self and the world that seems right, the summation of yearning, but that in fact asserts this separation with fresh force by making what it is vanish in caricature. Poetry is the rearing in language of a desire whose end lies beyond language."

Writing for Canadian Book Review Annual, Bert Almon referred to Lilburn as an "excellent contemplative poet"; Thomas M.F. Gerry, in the same publication, called him "a contemporary of Gerald Manley Hopkins." Marnie Parsons, writing for the University of Toronto Quarterly, found Lilburn's work "so encyclopedic, so full, that I feel my smallness before it," and Iain Higgins explained in Books in Canada that "Lilburn offers the untaking, undoing activity of contemplation . . . crucial exemplars for him are the occasionally zen-like Desert Fathers of the early Christian Church and such practitioners of negative theology as Simone Weil and the anonymous author of 'The Cloud of Unknowing.'"

Lilburn, born and raised in Saskatchewan, worked in Nigeria, West Africa, before farming and studying for more than eight years with the Jesuits (Society of Jesus). His acclaimed writings embody his "negative way" of contemplating the universe—that is, pursuing the holy not through what is known but through what is unknown and unknowable. He explores the unknowableness of spirituality by becoming assimilated into the natural world. In Moosewood Sandhills, a collection of poetry, Lilburn wrote, "I am seduced by the shapeliness/of the failure of knowledge." To write the collection, Lilburn took himself into an isolated spot in the Saskatchewan woodland, living among the tussocky sandhills on the banks of the Saskatchewan River for a time. Here, he dug a root cellar, grew subsistence crops, slept under the stars in a coyote burrow, and watched. In his book, he writes: "looking with care and desire seemed like a political act....You could hold your beautiful gaze like a hand out to the world, say/'here, pup,' and it'd come." Regarding this poetry collection, George Woodcock, writing for Quill & Quire, stated, "What the poems represent is the experience of going into the wilderness . . . to witness nature spiritualized through privation and solitude. . . . A strange, wonderful book, to be absorbed rather than described, as one absorbs books of devotion."

Reviewing To the River in Quill & Quire, Tim Bowling called Lilburn's work so intense that "reviewing it seems almost like an interruption of someone at prayer." Again, for this book of poems, Lilburn draws from the natural world on the banks of the Saskatchewan River. Bowling notes that, while the book contains fourteen poems, they can be read together as "one long, connected celebration of physical detail, seasonal change, and the ways in which the Earth can lead us deeper and deeper into a fuller appreciation of our lives."

Parsons explained that the poems in To the River are virtually songs of praise, stemming from Lilburn's experience with poetic traditions in Nigeria while also reminiscent of Roman Catholic monastic traditions, particularly the "negative way." Dennis Lee, in his foreword to Living in the World as If It Were Home, identifies connections between Lilburn's works and those of Hector de Saint-Denys-Garneau, Robert Bringhurst, Thomas Merton, Gary Snyder, and John of the Cross. Noting these comparisons, Parsons wrote, "But while such sympathies are strong, Lee continues, 'Lilburn is his own man, and there's no need to strain for comparisons.' Lee is right; no one else has quite Lilburn's spit and crackle, his linguistic gumption, his irreverent reverence. Lilburn is his own man, and the prairie he writes towards could be no one else's."



Books in Canada, May, 1987, Margaret Avison, review of Names of God, p. 23; summer 1994, Brian Bartlett, review of Moosewood Sandhills, p. 43; June-July, 2002, Iain Higgins, review of Living in the World as If It Were Home, p. 26.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1995, Thomas M.F. Gerry, review of Moosewood Sandhills, p. 219; 1995, Bert Almon, review of Poetry and Knowing, p. 262; 1999, Patrick Colgan, review of Living in the World as If It Were Home, p. 257.

Canadian Forum, July, 1990, Michael Williamson, review of Tourist to Ecstasy, p. 27; April, 1999, Maggie Helwig, review of To the River, p. 40.

Quill & Quire, April, 1994, George Woodcock, review of Moosewood Sandhills, p. 27; April, 1999, Tim Bowling, review of To the River, p. 29.

University of Toronto Quarterly, winter, 2000, Marnie Parsons, review of To the River and Living in the World as If It Were Home, p. 208.


Confluence Online, (October 19, 2002), Jacqueline Dumas, "Issues of Othering and Translating Experience in Western Canadian Writing."

St. Peter's Community Web site, (October 19, 2002), review of Living in the World as If It Were Home.*