by George J. Dance

Dennis Lee. Courtesy Quill & Quire.

Dennis Lee
Born Robert Allison Ashley Lee
August 31, 1939
Toronto, Ontario
Occupation writer
Nationality Canada Canadian
Education M.A.
Alma mater U of Toronto
Notable work(s) Civil Elegies, The Gods, The Ice Cream Store, Alligator Pie
Notable award(s) Governor General's Award, Order of Canada

Dennis Beynon Lee, OC, MA (born August 31, 1939) is a Canadian poet, teacher, editor, and literary critic.[1] He is also a children's poet, well known for his book of verse, Alligator Pie.

Life[edit | edit source]

Lee was born in Toronto, Ontario.[1]

After attending high school at the University of Toronto Schools,[2] he earned a B.A. in English in 1962, and an M.A. in English in 1965, from the University of Toronto.[1]

He taught English at the University's Victoria College from 1963 until 1967, at which time he became "resource person" for Rochdale College.[2]

Also in 1967, Lee co-founded House of Anansi Press with Dave Godfrey, and served as its editorial director until 1972. From 1974 to 1979 he was a consulting editor for Macmillan of Canada.[1]

He was a writer in residence at Trent University in 1975, and at the University of Toronto in 1978-1979.

Writing[edit | edit source]

In 1967 House of Anansi published Lee's debut collection of poetry, Kingdom of Absence, a sequence of 43 sonnet variations. Lee followed that up in 1968 with a long meditative poem, Civil Elegies. (Civil Elegies, and other poems, a revised version of that work collected with some newer poetry, won Lee the Governor General's Award in 1972.) [1]

Lee began writing for children as part of his goal of "Reclaiming language and liberating imagination;" he "tries to free Canadian children from a colonial mentality by creating poems rooted in the words and activities of their everyday lives, poems which encourage free imaginative play."[1] His most famous work is the rhymed Alligator Pie (1974). He also wrote the lyrics to the theme song of the 1980s television show Fraggle Rock and, with Philip Balsam composing, many of the other songs for that show. Balsam and Lee also wrote the songs for the television special The Tale of the Bunny Picnic. Lee is co-writer of the story for the film Labyrinth.[3]

"On the adult level," says the Canadian Encyclopedia, "roots and play (including lovemaking) are further explored in Part I of The Gods (1979). Part 2, The Death of Harold Ladoo (1976), is an elegy for Lee's friend, a writer murdered in 1973.... The poem also meditates on the roles of mystical epiphanies and of artistic creation in its attempts to come to term with the problems of the contemporary world." [1]

Lee is also the co-editor of The University Game (1968, with H. Edelman), "in which he calls for freedom from inhibiting educational institutions" a la Rochdale; and the author of Savage Fields: An Essay in Literature and Cosmology (1977), which "explores the interrelationship between 'earth' and 'world' -- ie nature and civilization, or instinct and consciousness -- all with particular application to a critical analysis of works by Michael Ondaatje and Leonard Cohen." [1]

Recognition[edit | edit source]

(Civil Elegies, and other poems won Lee the Governor General's Award in 1972.)[1]

Lee twice won the CACL Bronze Medal for a children's book: in 1974 for Alligator Pie, and in 1977 for Garbage Delight. He also won the Vicky Metcalf Award, for body of work for children, in 1986, and the Mr. Christie's Book Award (for The Ice Cream Store) in 1991.

In 1993, Lee was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1995 he received an honorary doctorate from Trent University, and won a Toronto Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.[4]

In 2001, Lee became Toronto's first Poet Laureate, serving in that position until 2004.[5]

In 2009, Lee received an honorary doctorate from Victoria College in the University of Toronto.

Publications[edit | edit source]

Poetry[edit | edit source]

  • Kingdom of Absence. Toronto: Anansi, 1967.
  • Civil Elegies. Toronto: Anansi, 1968.
  • Civil Elegies, and other poems. Toronto: Anansi, 1972.
  • Not Abstract Harmonies But. (chapbook). Vancouver: Kanchenjunga Press, 1974.
  • The Death of Harold Ladoo (chapbook). Vancouver: Kanchenjunga Press, 1976.
  • The Gods (chapbook). Vancouver: Kanchenjunga Press, 1978.
  • The Gods. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1979.
  • The Difficulty of Living on Other Planets (illustrated by Alan Daniel). Toronto: Macmillan, 1987.
  • Riffs. London, ON: Brick Books, 1993.
  • Nightwatch: New & selected poems, 1968-1996. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.
  • Un. Toronto: Anansi, 2003.
  • The Bard of the Universe. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2007.
  • YesNo. Toronto: Anansi, 2007.
  • Testament. Toronto: Anansi, 2012.[6]

Non-fiction[edit | edit source]

  • Savage Fields: An Essay in Literature and Cosmology. Toronto: Anansi, 1977.
  • Reading Adonis (chaobook). Toronto: Coach House, 1987.
  • Body Music. Toronto: Anansi, 1998.

Juvenile[edit | edit source]

  • Wiggle to the Laundromat (illustrated by Charles Pacher). Toronto: New Press, 1970.
  • Nicholas Knock and Other People (illustrated by Frank Newfeld). Toronto: Macmillan, 1974.
  • Alligator Pie (illustrated by Frank Newfeld). Toronto: Macmillan, 1974.
  • Garbage Delight (illustrated by Frank Newfeld). Toronto: Macmillan, 1977.
  • The Ordinary Bath (illustrated by Jon McKee). Toronto: Magook, 1979.
  • Living and Learning with Children: Three hundred one Activities for 3 to 8-year olds (illustrated by Paula Jorde Bloom). New Jersey: New Horizons Publishers. 1981.
  • Jelly Belly (illustrated by Juan Wijngaard). Toronto: Macmillan, 1983.
  • Lizzy's Lion (illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay). Toronto: Stoddart, 1984.
  • The Dennis Lee Big Book (illustrated by Barbara Klunder). Toronto: Gage, 1985.
  • The Ice Cream Store (illustrated by David McPhail). Toronto: HarperCollins, 1991.
  • Ping and Pong (illustrated by David McPhail). New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
  • Dinosaur Dinner (with a Slice of Alligator Pie) (selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Debbie Tilley). New York: Random House, 1997.
  • Bubblegum Delicious - 2000
  • The Cat and the Wizard (illustrated by Gillian Johnson). Toronto: Key Porter, 2001.
  • So Cool (illustrated by Maryann Kovalski). Toronto: Key Porter, 2004.
  • Alligator Stew: Favourite poems (illustrated by Rege). Toronto: Key Porter, 2005. Ill.
  • Willoughby Wallaby Woo (illustrated by Nora Hilb). Toronto: Key Porter, 2006.
  • The Dreadful Doings of Jelly Belly Dreadful Doings of Jelly Belly(illustrated by Nora Hilb). Toronto: Key Porter, 2006.
  • Rocking Chair (illustrated by Nora Hilb). Toronto: Key Porter, 2006.
  • Silverly/ Good Night, Good Night (illustrated by Nora Hilb). Toronto: Key Porter, 2006.
  • Skyscraper (illustrated by Nora Hilb). Toronto: Key Porter, 2007.
  • The Kitty Ran Up the Tree (illustrated by Nora Hilb). Toronto: Key Porter, 2007.
  • This Little Puppy (illustrated by Nora Hilb). Toronto: Key Porter, 2008.

Edited[edit | edit source]

  • An Anthology of Verse (edited by Lee & Roberta Charlesworth). Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1964.
  • The University Game (essays edited by Howard Adelman & Dennis Lee). Toronto: Anansi, 1968.
  • T.O. Now: The young Toronto Poets. Toronto: Anansi, 1968.
  • The New Canadian Poets, 1970-1985. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985.

Except where noted, bibliographic information courtesy the University of Toronto.[7]

Audio / video[edit | edit source]


Dennis Lee Recites "Alligator Pie"

  • Dennis Lee.. (cassette). Toronto: H. Barnet, 1970.
  • Alligator Pie, and other poems (LP). New York: Caedmon, 1978.

See also[edit | edit source]

Preceded by
inaugural position
Poet Laureate of Toronto
Succeeded by
Pier Giorgio Di Cicco

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 John R. Sorfleet, "Lee, Dennis Beynon," Canadian Encyclopedia (Hurtig: 1988), 1197
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Dennis Lee: Biography," Canadian Poetry Online., Web, Mar. 18, 2011
  3. Dennis Lee: Biography," Canadian Poetry Online. Web, Mar. 18, 2011
  4. "Dennis Lee: Awards and Honours," Canadian Poetry Online. Web, Mar. 18, 2011
  5. "Toronto's First Poet Laureate: Dennis Lee (2001-2004)," City of Toronto, Arts Heritage & Culture - Poet Laureate. Web, Mar. 18, 2011.
  6. Testament (paperback), Web, Dec. 29, 2012.
  7. "Dennis Lee: Publications," Canadian Poetry Online, University of Toronto Libraries,, Web, Apr. 19, 2011.

External links[edit | edit source]

Audio / video
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).
This page uses content from Wikinfo . The original article was at Wikinfo:Dennis Lee.
The list of authors can be seen in the (view authors). page history. The text of this Wikinfo article is available under the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.