Sunday October 22, 2017

A feature interview with Canadian poet Dennis Lee

Although he's best-known for the children's rhyme "Alligator Pie," Dennis Lee is the author of more than 30 books, and winner of nearly every literary prize in Canada.

Although he's best-known for the children's rhyme "Alligator Pie," Dennis Lee is the author of more than 30 books, and winner of nearly every literary prize in Canada. (The Canadian Press)

Listen 42:47

A biographer once described Dennis Lee as a man "so much in motion that the edges of the picture will always remain a blur."

Alligator Pie

Alligator Pie won the Book of the Year award from the Canadian Library Association in 1975. (HarperCollins)

Lee has been a university teacher, an editor, a publisher, a song lyricist and a civic advocate.   

In the mid-sixties, he worked at Toronto's Rochdale College, Canada's first experimental student-run free university.

In 1967, he co-founded the House of Anansi Press, where he edited many of a generation's bright lights, including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Marian Engel, Matt Cohen, Austin Clarke and Graeme Gibson.

And then there's the poetry.

His first book came out in 1967, but his first poem was published when he was just a child.

And it was children who led him to this:

Dennis Lee Heart Residence

(House of Anansi Press)

Alligator Pie has had been chanted and sung by generations of children. The rhyme moved Margaret Laurence to say she could "almost hear the skipping ropes slapping the sidewalk."

Dennis Lee says he's "the only poet with 8-year old groupies", and there have been many. When Alligator Pie was published in 1974, it began a boom in children's publishing in Canada.

Dennis Lee has written more than 30 books. He's won pretty well every literary prize in Canada, is an Officer of the Order of Canada and was the first poet laureate of Toronto.

He spoke to Michael Enright about his latest book, Heart Residence: Collected Poems 1967-2017, the 50th anniversary of House of Anansi Press, and his many years of writing and civic engagement.


Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview. 

Sometimes the best audio happens after our interviews end. In this case, Dennis Lee read Michael one of his awful poems. We're happy to share it with you.