Sutherland, Fraser 1946–

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SUTHERLAND, Fraser 1946–


Born December 5, 1946, in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada; son of Russell (a farmer) and Mary (a teacher) Sutherland; married Alison Armour (a librarian), October 21, 1978; children: Malcolm. Education: Attended University of King's College, 1965-66; Carleton University, B.J. (with honors), 1969. Religion: Presbyterian.


Home and Office—Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, reporter, 1966; Wall Street Journal, New York, NY, reporter from Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario, 1967; Globe and Mail, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, reporter, 1968; Toronto Daily Star, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, reporter, 1969; Maclean-Hunter Business Publications, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, staff writer, 1969-70; freelance writer, 1970—David Thompson University Centre, School of Writing, Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, instructor, 1982-83; Books in Canada, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, managing editor, 1984-86. Part-time reporter for Pictou Advocate, 1965-68; Parliamentary Press Gallery reporter for Canadian Dow Jones News Service, 1967. Conducts creative writing workshops; gives public readings. Scottish-Canadian Literary Celebration, organizer; 1979; Writing magazine, Nelson, British Columbia, member of editorial board, 1982-83.


European Association for Lexicography, League of Canadian Poets (member of executive committee from Atlantic provinces, 1979-80), Canadian Society for the Study of Names, Writers Federation of Nova Scotia (member of executive committee, 1978-80; chairman of Nova Scotia Writers' Council, 1979-80).


Grants from Canada Council, 1973, 1975, 1979, 1988, 2000, and Ontario Arts Council, 1975, 1986, 1987, 1988; silver medal, Kenneth R. Wilson Awards, 2004.


Strange Ironies (poems), Fiddlehead Poetry Books (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), 1972.

The Style of Innocence, Clarke, Irwin (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1972.

In the Wake Of (poems), Northern Journey Press (Ottowa, Canada), 1974.

Within the Wound (poems), Northern Journey Press (Ottowa, Canada), 1976.

Mad-women (poetry broadside), Dreadnaught Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

Some Cases in Point (poetry broadside), Word, 1977.

Mad-women (poems), edited and introduced by Al Purdy, Black Moss Press (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), 1978.

Scotland Here: A Checklist of Canadian Writers of Scottish Ancestry, Scottish-Canadian Literary Celebration (Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1979.

Dunrobin (poetry broadside), Scottish-Canadian Literary Celebration (Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1979.

The Last Words of the Reverend Jim Jones (poems), League of Canadian Poets (Ontario, Canada), 1980.

John Glassco: An Essay and Bibliography, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

Whitefaces, Black Moss Press (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), 1986.

The Death and Life of Doctor Bethune (poems), Letters Bookshop (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.

In the Village of Alias, Pottersfield Press (Porter's Lake, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1986.

The Monthly Epic: A History of Canadian Magazines, 1789-1989, Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

A Memorial (poems), Letters Bookshop (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

(Editor) Random House Webster's College Thesaurus, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

Jonestown: A Poem, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

(With Goran Simić) Peace and War: Poems, [Toronto, Ontario, Canada], 1998.

(Editor) E.A. Lacey, The Collected Poems and Translations of Edward A. Lacey, Colombo & Co. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

(With Steve Rivkin) The Making of a Name: The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

The Matuschka Case: Selected Poems, 1970-2005, Tsar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006.

Editor of Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary," 1992-96; contributing editor to Fitzhenry & Whiteside Canadian Thesaurus, 1995-98; editor of Nelson Canadian Dictionary, 1996; work represented in anthologies, including Nearly an Island: A Nova Scotian Anthology, Breakwater Books, 1979; A Pottersfield Portfolio, Pottersfield Press, 1979; Magic Realism, Aya Press, 1980. Contributor of poems, stories, and articles to magazines, including Canadian Literature, Quill and Quire, Fiddlehead, Poetry Toronto, Cross Country, and Modern Times. Co-founder and editor of Northern Journey, 1971-76; contributing writer for the Globe and Mail.


Fraser Sutherland has written numerous works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Speaking of Sutherland's poetry, a contributor to Contemporary Poets noted: "Many poets burst into bloom in their youth and then droop with age. Other poets cautiously but resolutely push out their buds from the earth and head for the sun. Sutherland is one of the latter, and his poems have increased in subtlety and depth." Among the author's nonfiction books is The Making of a Name:The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy, which Sutherland co-wrote with Steve Rivkin. The book focuses on the phenomenon of brand names, from their development to how they have influenced cultures around the world. Among the topics discussed are the development of brand names, the "engineering" of their sounds, and the basic name types, which are descriptive, allusive, and coined. Tami Oliphant, writing in the Canadian Annual Book Review, commented that the book "provides plenty of insight." Oliphant went on to write: "Both linguists and business students will learn much from this book. The writing style is informative but tongue-in-cheek." Washington Monthly contributor Jamie Malanowski noted: "There's no question that Rivkin and Sutherland have thought long and deeply about brand names, and they offer more than a few insights."

Sutherland once commented: "When I began writing full time ten years ago, I was a convinced cultural nationalist. Although I still believe in the idea of a Canadian literature and the inescapability of cultural roots, specifically Nova Scotian, I have gradually realized that the artist's true subject matter is the discovery of self. I've long conducted a civil war between public and private selves. Doing so, I've come to react against many things, and, I hope, acquired the power to say no. No to the provincial society from which I emerged; no to journalism; no to the mainstream of Canadian literature. My travels—Bulgaria, Spain, England, New York, Mexico, Columbia, and Ecuador, and six years' residence in Montreal—have all contributed to that end. Cultural background, social forces are indispensable, but primarily as material to react against, and to shape artistically. Everything seems fiction; hence, I am writing more fiction, and being more careful about the choice between prose and poetry. I have more ideas than I know what to do with. That's the aesthetic, one may even say the moral, struggle; like most writers, I also struggle economically. Combining them, my obsessions are sex, religion, vocation, and money."

Sutherland later told CA: "I have done many kinds of writing—essays, journalism, lexicography, criticism, short fiction—but poetry remains the core of my being and professional practice. The following remarks, made during a panel discussion in 2006 in Sarajevo, reflects my current thinking about how I go about it: We were asked to make a 'confession.' To confess is especially difficult when a sinner faces, not one priest, but an entire audience of priests. But there's an even bigger problem about confession. How will you know whether I am telling the truth about my sins? How will I know? So I think that the wisest policy for you is to assume that everything I say will be false.

"I began to write poetry about the time of puberty, though I don't think I did it to impress some girl. I did it as an act of imitation or appropriation, like a mynah bird that mimics another bird's song, or a cuckoo that lays its eggs in another bird's nest. I think I still do this unconsciously. So you see that there is no way I can ever be original. However, a mynah bird or a cuckoo is still a bird, and wants to make sounds and lay eggs. Like them, I keep doing it.

"I have no style. I have no program. I have no poetics. Or if I do have a style, program, and poetics it is up to you, not me, to say what they are. I don't know what I'm doing. I do hold general beliefs about poetry, but I don't understand how, or even whether, they get transferred to my work.

"For what it's worth, here are a few of my beliefs: Poetry is radically different from prose fiction. It's true that fiction can have many poetic effects, and poetry can have prose rhythms. Both use the effects of voice and tone. However, poetry uses smaller units—usually the word, phrase, clause, or line. Like fiction, it may tell a story but the story is self-contained, whereas a piece of prose fiction in theory could go on forever. We could just go on living with the characters the author creates. From this point of view, Tolstoy's War and Peace is too short. But the world the poet makes, and which the reader briefly inhabits, has a fixed scope and boundary.

"Despite what the poet may say, a poem is not a song, except in a narrow sense. True, it has its own musical line but it is not the rhythm of a guitar or an a capella melody. I get very bored when people say that poetry is an oral form. Are they saying that poetry has been in decline ever since pre-literate people chanted it around a camp fire? Or that the poem on the page is inferior to what is shouted, whispered, or sung? I don't believe that either the written or the spoken word is intrinsically superior. In a poem, form and content should be indivisible. If form is overemphasized, the poem is merely a shell filled with virtually meaningless, even interchangeable, words. If content is overemphasized, the poem might as well be prose. If the poet grows so obsessed with language that the poem has no referents to anything beyond itself, it resembles masturbation. If the poet only thinks of referents in the world beyond the poem, it resembles promiscuity.

"How important is content? Speaking here in Sarajevo, the scene of so much bloodshed, agony, and loss, I know that if a poem emerges from a social crisis, war, or revolution, it can be a call to join a cause or battle, or be a powerful act of witness or testimony. When poems address such focal human issues as life, death, and survival they are plainly 'about' something, just as they would be if they emerged from the joys, sorrows, and conflicts of a person's life. But I also don't think we should be compelled to adore a love poem because it is about love, or to applaud an 'anti-war' poem because it opposes a particular war, or war in general. I believe that a great poem has a form that, transcending the accidents of what is being said, becomes itself the supreme content.

"I also believe that poetry ought to be closer to sacred than to secular modes. I think that a poem should be closer to a prayer, hymn, or sermon than to a commercial message, an instruction manual, or a political speech.

"I don't like Shakespeare very much. I find that he's faking most of the time. But he's certainly quotable. So I will quote Hamlet talking to himself. He says, 'Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.' Now suppose that it's not Hamlet but the poet who is speaking and that he is begging forgiveness, not from Ophelia, but from the Muse. Perhaps he is telling her to remember his artistic sins. Which is the end of my confession. Please forgive me."



Colombo, John Robert, editor, Colombo's Canadian References, Hurtig (Edmonton, Canada), 1978.

Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Milner, Philip, editor, Nova Scotia Writes, Formac (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada), 1979.


Canadian Book Review Annual, annual, 2004, Tami Oliphant, review of The Making of a Name: The Inside Story of the Brands We Buy, p. 343.

Washington Monthly, March, 2005, Jamie Malanowski, review of The Making of a Name, p. 42.

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Sutherland, Fraser 1946–

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