Sussing out trends during a round-up of new Canadian poetry, Evan Jones reminds us that there is always unseen "variety" beyond the large reputations:.
In the 90s in Toronto, there were only two poets any young buck with his tail in the air talked about: Al Purdy and bpNichol. I remember because I was reading George Seferis at the time. Purdy and Nichol were opposites, sort of, in a way, signs of kids hanging out in different kinds of crowds. The one a poet of the nation and the land, of horse-piss beer and backbreaking days, the other zany, inventive, in cahoots with St. Ein and St. Anza. Purdy had shit on his boots, Nichol was barefoot. Both had lived in Toronto, at least for a spell. Neither was very good. But at least we knew where people stood, on one side of the fence or the other. Or, as in my case, wondering why all these people were standing round a stupid fence. These were the starting points, the gateway drugs, for many of the Canadian poets of my generation, following either Purdy into the country or Nichol into conceptualism. That such a small country—there are more Texans than Canadians—locks onto certain figures, invests in them, holds them up and hopes for more than the best, shouldn't surprise. The problem has always been what gets left out when there is only room for the select few.