The People’s Poet in Three Dimensions

Milton Acorn
The People’s Poet

Compiled by Kent Martin and Errol Sharpe  Photographs by Kent Nason  

Though I had heard of Milton Acorn for many years before his death in 1986, I never knew his poetry very well. Acorn was the political enfant terrible of the Canadian poetry scene, infamously passed over for a Governor-General’s Award in 1969, the year his book I’ve Tasted My Blood was in contention for the prize. In a gesture of defiant celebration of their belief that he deserved the award, Margaret Atwood, Al Purdy, Mordecai Richler and other literary heavyweights threw him a party at Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto, where they presented Acorn with the first People’s Poetry Award. In 1975, Milton Acorn finally won the GG for his poetry collection, The Island Means Minago, and, in the year after his death, the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award was established in his memory. Since then Milton Acorn has faded somewhat from the national poetic consciousness, something this book aims to remedy, with excellent results. Filmmaker Kent Martin and publisher Errol Sharpe have reprinted the 1978 edition of I’ve tasted My Blood along with an attached CD. In a new preface, “Remembering Milton,” Sharpe tells us what it was like to work with Milton , to argue with him to recognize his enormous talent, and to become a lifelong, though often physically distant, friend. The entire package gives us Milton Acorn in as close to three dimensions as is possible: there he is on the CD, in the wistful, charming, black and white documentary Milton Acorn: The People’s Poet, made in 1971 and originally aired on CBC’s “Thirty Minutes.” On the same CD we also grow familiar with the contours of Acorn’s voice as we listen to studio recordings of him reading 19 of his most anthologized poems. Some of these he performs without affectation in front of live audiences, some of them he almost sings, and others, like “Callum,” a poem dedicated to the death of a young miner on the job, have been re-mastered for dramatic effect.

— Brenda Austin-Smith for Canadian Dimension

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