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List of groups and movements

Country and region

English poetry • Scottish poetry
Anglo-Welsh • British poets
Timeline of British poetry
Irish poetry • Irish poets
American poetry • U.S. poets
African-American • Chicano
Timeline of American poetry • Canadian poetry • poets
Timeline of Canadian poetry
Caribbean poetry • poets
Australian poetry • poets
New Zealand poetry • NZ poets
Anglo-Indian poetry • poets
Asian English-language poets South African poetry • SA poets
African Engiish-language poets


List of literary critics
List of literary magazines
List of poetry anthologies
List of poetry awards
List of poetry organizations
Online poetry resources

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First Nations poetryEdit

Prior to European settlement of Canada, many if not all of the First Nations had established oral traditions of both poetry and song, but no written tradition.

The earliest First Nations writer of record was George Copway or Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh (1818-1869). Copway became a Methodist minister, who worked on the translation of the Bible into Ojibway. He also wrote several books, including his 1847 autobiography, The Life, History, and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, which contain translations of traditional Ojibway songs.[1]

Another notable figure in First Nations poetry was Chief K'HHalserten Sepass (?1841-1943), of the Salish of British Columbia, who in 1911 supervised the translation of all of his songs into English in order to preserve them. The translations, done by Sophia White (a daughter of missionaries who had learned Salish as a child), were published only in 1963, as Sepass Tales: The songs of Y-Ail-Mihth.[2]

A 3rd notable First Nations writer of poetry was Pauline Johnson, or Tekahionwake. However, Johnson wrote within the Canadian English poetic tradition, which is where she is usually treated.

French-Canadian poetryEdit

Main article: Canadian poetry in French

French-Canadian poetry has had a history as long and distinguished as English-Canadian. The earliest book of poetry in French by a Canadian was printed in Montreal in 1830. However, the 2 poetries have developed in almost complete isolation from each other.

Pierre Chauveau, the 1st Premier of Quebec, compared the separation of the French and English cultures in Canada to the famous double staircase of the Château de Chambord, that was built to allow 2 persons to climb it without meeting, and without even seeing each other except at intervals: "English and French, we climb by a double flight of stairs toward the destinies reserved for us on this continent, without knowing each other, without meeting each other, except on the landing of politics."[3]

English-Canadian poetryEdit


The earliest works of poetry in English were written by explorers, pioneers, and visitors from the United Kingdom. They often described the new territories in optimistic terms for a European audience. The earliest poetry written in English in what is now Canada was Robert Hayman's Quodlibets, composed in Newfoundland and published in 1628. As Governor of Newfoundland's Hope Colony, Hayward wrote to attract colonists.[4]

With the growth of English-language communities near the end of the 18th century, poetry aimed at local readers began to appear in local newspapers. These writings mainly reflected the prevailing cultural values of the time and were modeled after English poetry of the same period.

The Rising Village, a long poem by Oliver Goldsmith (not to be confused with his great-uncle, also named Oliver Goldsmith), was published in London, England in 1825. A response to The Deserted Village by his namesake and great-uncle. it was the earliest book of poetry by a Canadian-born author to be published.

In the 1st half of the 19th century, poetic works began to reflect local subjects. Acadia by Joseph Howe and The Saint Lawrence and the Saguenay by Charles Sangster are examples of this trend. Early nationalistic verses were composed by writers including Thomas D'Arcy McGee. Many "regional" poets espoused the British political and aesthetic jingoism of the period. such as high Tory Thomas H. Higginson.

In 1857, Charles Heavysege attracted international (British and American) attention for his verse drama Saul.[5]


The earliest book of poetry published in Canada following the formation of the new Dominion of Canada in 1867 was Dreamland by Charles Mair (1868).

A group of poets now known as the "Confederation Poets",including Charles G.D. Roberts, Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, Duncan Campbell Scott, and William Wilfred Campbell, came to prominence in the 1880's and 1890's. Primarily inspired by nature (both the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth, and Canada's own nature), their work was drawn from their own experiences and, at its best, written in their own tones. Isabella Valancy Crawford, Frederick George Scott, and Francis Sherman are also sometimes associated with this group.

During the 1890s', E. Pauline Johnson and William Henry Drummond were writing popular poetry - Johnson's based on her part-Mohawk heritage, and Drummond (the "Poet of the Habitant") writing French-Canadian dialect verse.

Early 20th centuryEdit

In 1907 Robert W. Service's Songs of a Sourdough, Kipling-style verse about the Klondike Gold Rush, became enormously popular: the book would go on to sell more than 3 million copies in the 20th century. His success would inspire other poets like Tom MacInnes.

Marjorie Pickthall received much critical attention in this period. In 1915, John McCrae, serving as a surgeon in the Canadian Army, wrote the famous war poem "In Flanders Fields".

After the war, in Newfoundland, E.J. Pratt described the struggle to make a living from the sea in poems about maritime life and the history of Canada; while in central Canada, poets such as Ralph Gustafson, Raymond Knister, and W.W.E. Ross were moving away from traditional verse forms.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Montreal Group (a circle of young poets which included A.J.M. Smith, A.M. Klein, and F.R. Scott) helped inspire the development of modernist poetry in Montreal through the McGill Fortnightly Review and the 1936 anthology New Provinces. The "new poetry" valued intellect over sentimentality, or as some have put it, logic over human emotions . Under the literary editorship of Earle Birney, the Canadian Forum helped promote similar developments in Toronto. Dorothy Livesay, born in Manitoba, was an important contributor to the Toronto movement.

The Maritimes remained a holdout for traditional verse. The Song Fishermen of Halifax were a magnet for new poetic talent in the late 1920s, due to having Bliss Carman and Charles G.D. Roberts as members. The most notable of the newer Maritime poets were the sonneteers Charles Bruce, Kenneth Leslie and Robert Norwood.

Indeed, traditional verse was what sold in Canadaa all through this period; and it was what Canadian Poetry Magazine, founded by Pratt in 1935, emphasized. Besides Pratt and Service, Tom MacInnes and Wilson MacDonald were bestselling Canadian poets of the time; while Pickthall's verse was still considered the best Canada had to offer.


Following World War II, a new breed of poets appeared, writing for a well-educated audience. These included James Reaney, Jay Macpherson and Leonard Cohen. Meanwhile, some maturing authors such as Irving Layton, Raymond Souster, Harold Standish and Louis Dudek, moved in a different direction, adopting colloquial speech in their work.

In the 1960s, a renewed sense of nation helped foster new voices: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel and Margaret Avison. Others such as Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, and Earle Birney, already published, produced some of their best work during this period.

The TISH Poetry movement in Vancouver brought about poetic innovation from bpNichol, Jamie Reid, George Bowering, Fred Wah, Frank Davey, Daphne Marlatt, David Cull, and Lionel Kearns.

Since the 1990s, several Governor General's Award-winning poets, in particular Jan Zwicky and Tim Lilburn, have been engaged in nonfiction writing that maps the relationships between poetry and philosophy. Zwicky's "Lyric Philosophy" and "Wisdom and Metaphor", as well as Lilburn's collection "Thinking and Singing", are representative works.

A younger generation of Canadian poets has been expanding the boundaries of originality: Ken Babstock, Karen Solie, Sonnet L'Abbé, George Elliott Clarke and Barry Dempster have all imprinted their unique consciousnesses onto the map of Canadian imagery. Evie Christie's collection, Gutted, seems to evoke the 17th century metaphysical conceit, but in a modern, urban Canadian guise.

A notable anthology of Canadian poetry is the 1982 New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse, edited by Margaret Atwood (ISBN 0-19-540450-5).

Literary prizesEdit

Notable literary prizes for English Canadian poetry include the Governor General's Awards, the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Gerald Lampert Award, Pat Lowther Award.

Uniquely Canadian formsEdit


Tom MacInnes reportedly invented "a 5-line stanza of his own he called the "mirelle".[6]


Main article: Viator

The Viator poem form was invented by Canadian poet Robin Skelton. It consists of any stanza form in which the first line of the first stanza is the second line of the second stanza and so on until the poem ends with the line with which it began. The term, Viator comes from the Latin for traveller. An example of Skelton's form may be found in his excellent reference book, The Shapes of our Singing, and is entitled Dover Beach Revisited.

See alsoEdit



  1. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies, "George Copway (Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh)", Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings Through the First World War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1994, 84. Print.
  2. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies, "Chief K'HHalserten Sepass", Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings Through the First World War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1994, 354. Print.
  3. D. Louder, "Quebec, Canada and la francophonie ," Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs in Lethbridge, Alberta, Dec. 11, 1997., Web, July 5, 2011.
  4. Gerson and Davies, 3.
  5. "Charles Heavysege," Gale Encyclopedia of Biography, Web, Mar. 12, 2011.
  6. Donald Stephens, "Tom MacInnes Biography," Encyclopedia of Literature, 8275,, Web, May 25, 2011.

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