Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets.


368 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 978-1-55152-217-9
DDC C811'.08'09206642





Edited by John Barton and Billeh Nickerson
Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is Assistant Director of Libraries at the University of


This publication is long overdue. In an introduction where he delves, for instance, into the famous “outing” of poet Patrick Anderson by critic and reviewer John Sutherland in 1943, John Barton notes the peculiar challenge of identifying gay poets and the barriers to self-identification that exist even to this day, some 40 years after the 1969 Trudeau decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults.


In literary terms this introduction is a succinct, yet masterful, analysis of the problems and inherent limitations of defining “gay poetry” and of the obstacles that have made bringing the results of such efforts finally to anthologized publication. He is meticulous in characterizing the scope of previous anthologies, notably those by Ian Young (The Male Muse) and Stephen Coote (The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse)both published in 1983 and only peripherally inclusive of Canadian writingbut also of more modest efforts published since then. Barton’s anthology includes 56 poets (besides himself) arranged by their year of birth (dates ranging from 1879 to 1981). The selections themselves are also generally given in order of the date of their first appearance in book form. This arrangement coincides nicely with his introductory characterization of the generations of gay sensibility demarked by the Stonewall event. The poems themselves represent a panoply of styles and come from every region of the country. Along with Canada’s own Arthur Rimbaud figure—Émile Nelligan—commendably there appears other Québecois poetry, some translated here for the first time into English.


Quite apart from the broad spectrum represented in the selected pieces and the incisive historical perspective given in the introduction, Barton’s anthology distinguishes itself by the invaluable reference material at the end: biographical notes situating the poets and their literary import, a list of published collections of each, as well as a brief listing of selected secondary sources for their study.


Seminal lives up to its resonant and evocative title in many ways. Without any doubt it belongs in all collections where poetry or gay studies are honoured.


“Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,