Hugh MacDonald and Brent MacLaine edit new anthology
by Lee Ellen Pottie
While the year 2000 was a great year for Island poetry with the publication of books by Brent MacLaine, Richard Lemm, John MacKenzie, and Thomas O'Grady, the year 2001 promises to be even more special with the Spring release of the book, Landmarks-An Anthology of New Atlantic Canadian Poetry of the Land.
Landmarks is the inspiration of three Island poets who, while attending a reading by the Prince Edward Island Writers' Guild, noticed the commonality of the "land" motif in the poems being read. As Hugh MacDonald explains, "Brent [MacLaine] and I, together with Laurie Brinklow, publisher of The Acorn Press, decided that this passion for the land, from an Atlantic perspective, would make a good subject for a poetry anthology."
Poetry about the land is not unusual when one considers nineteenth-century poets such as Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, and Bliss Carman. As Brent points out in his introduction to the book, "Poems about the land are like landmarks because they organize the wilderness of our lives. They orient us. Amid the chaos, confusion, and uncertainties of daily life, poems can show us where and how to find mind. Historically, without landmarks, sailor, explorer, settler, and wanderer alike risked becoming lost." However, considering the usual image of "Atlantic" conjures up the folklorish ideal of lighthouses and lobster traps, fishing boats and granite or red clay cliffs, the concept of the land-based anthology from Atlantic Canada is original.
Consequently, approximately a year ago, Hugh, Brent, and Laurie issued a request for poetry submissions on all a variety of subjects, all relating to land: discovery and settlement, wilderness, women and men of the land, the family farm, the Acadian, English, Celt, and First Nations people, pollution, urbanization, exile and homecoming (to name just a few). And the responses pored in; hundreds according to Hugh. "I was surprised and pleased that people bothered to take us that seriously."
Landmarks is a serious book of poetry by a spectrum of established and new writers. Brent explained that in deciding to organize the anthology, the editors had to draw certain boundaries about whom and what to include, deciding to forgo an historical approach, and limiting the submissions to new and previously unpublished poems. The writers, Atlantic Canadians by birth or adoption, would then present a balanced representation of content according to the suggested themes and the variations thereof.
While the names of the poets in Landmarks are too numerous for this column, Island poets Shauna McCabe, John Smith, Deirdre Kessler, Jane Ledwell, John MacKenzie, and Catherine Matthews are included. Cover artwork is by Island-based artist Julia Purcell.
The anthology's launch, according to publisher Laurie Brinklow, is scheduled tentatively for Atlantic Book Week, May 23 to 26, in the four Atlantic capital cities.