Milton Acorn is a Canadian icon. Affectionately known as the people’s poet, a title given by several poetic peers, including Margaret Atwood, Pat Lane and Mordecai Richler. When Acorn’s collection I’ve Tasted My Blood (1969) was overlooked for the Governor General’s Award in 1970, they created and lauded him with the People’s Poetry Award, which they presented in a ceremony at Toronto’s Grossman’s Tavern.
In this curated collection, Acorn’s handwritten notes weave in and out of the typed text of the poems. Readers will also discover the poet through never before seen black and white photographs, and a DVD featuring an audio of Acorn reading his poems, and a short documentary film by Kent Martin and Errol Sharpe.
Poems like “To Conceive of Tulips,” surprise. Both descriptive and poetic, he wades through the existential reconciliation of freedom, “the pain of choice, the pain/ of another’s choice.” In Milton’s poetry, tulips are a “refuge from rage.” The people’s poet is true to his moniker in “Detail of a Cityscape,” a poem that describes a disabled man getting on a bus. Milton doesn’t hide behind floral description. He uses simple diction and street language, and meets life with life.
Much like his contemporary Irving Layton, Acorn tells it like it is. His poem in dedication to Layton, “The Lost Leader,” explores their poetic connection, loving, perhaps competitive, or even dismissive, and ends with a truce. Acorn, who was briefly married to poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, speaks to the nature of love in “Lover That I Hope You Are.” He notes the stakes, potential and essence of what it means to love another – a risky heart lesson.
Milton Acorn: The People’s Poet
Compiled by Kent Martin & Errol Sharpe
$24.95, paperback, 136 pp.
Roseway Publishing, March 2015