An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English, Volume II

Description

640 pages
Contains Index
$14.95
ISBN 0-19-540394-0

Year

1983

Contributor

Edited by Donna Bennett and Russell Brown
Reviewed by Neil Querengesser

Neil Querengesser taught in the Department of English, University of Calgary, Alberta.

Review

Here is an anthology that will undoubtedly be a standard classroom text and reference work for some time to come. A comprehensive survey, this volume contains selections of the best Canadian poetry, short fiction, and literary essays from the last four decades, as well as one full-length play. Forty-six Canadian writers born since 1914 (except Sheila Watson, b. 1909) are represented.

The opening piece is Sheila Watson’s mythological tale, “And the Four Animals.” In the words of the editors, it is “...perhaps the myth of the West, in which time and space, the finite and the infinite, civilization and wilderness vie for control and yet remain in a state of dynamic equilibrium.” And perhaps it helps to establish a framework of unity for the widely divergent strains of poetry and fiction which comprise this anthology, all of them part of the Canadian literary tradition.

The selections are generally well chosen. Familiar stories such as Henry Kreisel’s “The Broken Globe” and Mordecai Richler’s “The Summer My Grandmother Was Supposed to Die” and selections of poetry from Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susannah Moodie and bp Nichol’s The Martyrology are included. Occasionally an author’s familiar pieces are passed over in favor of equally meritorious but less well known ones, such as Rudy Wiebe’s “The Naming of Albert Johnson” and W. P. Kinsella’s “First Names and Empty Pockets.”

Two other genres are also covered in this anthology, although not as extensively as the poetry and short fiction. James Reaney’s play The Easter Egg is reprinted in its entirety. Also included are eight literary essays on various themes in Canadian literature, such as Eli Mandel’s “The City in Canadian Poetry,” D. G. Jones’s Introduction to Butterfly on Rock, and a section from Dennis Lee’s “Cadence, Country, Silence: Writing in Colonial Space.”

The format of the anthology, including numbered lines for the poetry, makes the works easily accessible. Excellent critical and biographical information about each author precedes his work. Long enough to be informative, yet concise and clear, these introductions provide a ready reference for the student and scholar alike. The textual annotations are selective and judicious, although at times, as with Mandel’s “Doors of Perception,” the length of commentary exceeds the length of the text. In other poems, certain reasonably obvious and distracting footnotes, such as the dictionary definition of a trilobite, would be better omitted. Generally, however, the commentary is illuminating, adding to rather than detracting from the reader’s appreciation of the text. Unfortunately lacking from this anthology is a bibliography of any sort.

Not everyone’s favorite authors will be found in this collection. A few of the missing notables are Elizabeth Brewster, Milton Acorn, Matt Cohen, and John Metcalf. While the limits of an anthology justify such omissions, the last section of the book, “Poets for Further Reading,” is disappointing in this respect, given the space it takes up. This section of eight respected poets seems rather like a gratuitous sampling of “also-rans.” Perhaps in subsequent editions, this section or its title can be dropped in favor of a more complete treatment of the major writers.

Minor problems aside, this volume is an invaluable introduction to contemporary Canadian literature.

Citation

“An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English, Volume II,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37403.