100 years after his birth, P.E.I. poet Milton Acorn hailed for his wildness and warmth
'He could go from very wildly political works to very warm and personal works'
Prince Edward Island poet Milton Acorn would have been 100 years old today.
The Island-born writer lived and worked in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver before coming back to Charlottetown, where he died in 1986. But his memory and his works live on.
On Thursday night, a group of friends and fans of Acorn's work are gathering to celebrate the centenary of his birth.
Jim Hornby is one of the people organizing the evening.
"He's a Prince Edward Island poet, but he's more importantly a Canadian poet from Prince Edward Island. He has a national reputation," Hornby said.
"He basically traded his carpenter's box for a typewriter in the late '50s… which was quite an unusual career change."
The People's Poet
When Acorn's first major work I've Tasted My Blood was passed over for a Governor General's medal for poetry, a group of his peers including Margaret Atwood, Pat Lane and Mordecai Richler dubbed him The People's Poet and gave him an award for that.
He finally received the GG's Award in 1975 for his collection The Island Means Minago.
Perhaps his most well-known poem from that book is The Island, which starts like this:
Since I'm Island-born home's as precise
as if a mumbly old carpenter,
shoulder-straps crossed wrong,
laid it out, refigured
to the last three-eighths of shingle.
Hornby said while Acorn is considered one of Canada's most important poets, his "wild character" wasn't appreciated by some.
"He spoke from the heart, and not everything he said I agree with or understand or am interested in. In particular, he went into great length on his views on episodes in Island history and he had a very political point of view, but he wasn't really a scholarly historian," Hornby said.
"He could go from very wildly political works to very warm and personal works. And he wrote a lot of his most feeling poetry about Prince Edward Island."
The honesty factor
P.E.I. poet laureate Tanya Davis has re-visited Acorn's work leading up to the centenary. She checked the public library system for his books and found many — something she was pleased to see.
"It seems like honesty was an important part of his work and his life, which I really value. One of the reasons I like writing and one of the things I try to stick to in my work, in my poetry, is just to be honest.
I think he was an outspoken poet and we need those and so I'm glad that he did his thing.— Tanya Davis
"I think he was an outspoken poet and we need those and so I'm glad that he did his thing."
Davis said she doesn't remember studying Milton Acorn's work in school, but she definitely knew of him.
"There will always be poetry and there always be people writing it, reading it, listening to it and appreciating it. Because it's just language. It's a way to put words together," she said.
"I think people like Milton Acorn — if I'm not directly influenced by his work, I'm definitely indirectly influenced because he wrote so much. That's one thing I learned in the last few days of reading some of his work. He wrote for so long and he really went for it," she said.
Thursday evening's event will feature two National Film Board films about Acorn, as well as readings and music. It begins at 7 p.m. at the Haviland Club in Charlottetown.