Alden Nowlan: Essays on His Works


144 pages
ISBN 1-55071-254-3
DDC C811'.54





Edited by Gregory M. Cook
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


When I taught undergraduate courses on Canadian poetry, Nowlan was the
poet who invariably aroused the most enthusiastic response. Any book
bringing him a wider readership is therefore welcome. This one contains
eight items, including two interviews and a useful essay on his fiction,
though only the editor’s introduction appears for the first time. But
several are little known and not easily accessible, so republication is

Still, there are serious problems with this volume for which the editor
must be held responsible. To state the matter bluntly, it is the most
shoddily edited book I have encountered. The epigraph to the
introduction, from a Nowlan poem, contains a major typographical error,
the first of many. One of the contributors’ names is misspelt,
verb-tense problems are numerous, and errors combined with sloppy
vocabulary result at times in incoherent sentences. (And in his
interview with Nowlan, the poet’s own reference to Faulkner’s
Sartoris appears as “Sartotius”!)

Accuracy improves in subsequent contributions, though they are by no
means error free. But in the concluding essay by David Adams Richards
the same problems recur. This, too, is so carelessly written as to be
embarrassing, and is full of mistakes (this time Shelley’s name is
misspelt) as well as verbal solecisms.

The bibliography looks complete, but isn’t. For example, my own
substantial critical re-assessment of Nowlan’s poetry published in
Canadian Poetry in 2003 is absent. I mention this not out of personal
pique, but because it included detailed close readings of poems that the
contributors clearly admire as much as I do. Such readings are
conspicuously absent in this book. Yet sustained and detailed
examination of Nowlan’s poetry as poetry is essential for true
appreciation. The subtitle, after all, is Essays on His Works.

This could have been an excellent collection; some important issues are
raised. But the editing and the quality of much of the writing would
have appalled Nowlan himself.


“Alden Nowlan: Essays on His Works,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,