Poetry Preview: The Essential Jay Macpherson

You know that feeling when you read a novel of the Bildungsroman sort? That sense that you’re watching someone grow and change right in front of your eyes, like a distant but proud auntie? That’s sort of the feeling that I get when I read The Essential Jay Macpherson.

In reading the poems in this collection, you can’t help get a sense of Macpherson’s personal and artistic development, of her discovery of new interests along the way as she gains life experience. Of course there is conflict playing out behind the scenes—a quick glance at the table of contents will reveal her (very relatable) difficulty in finding her muse, particularly in the long years between writing The Boatman and Welcoming Disaster.

Perhaps most interesting to me is that, even during this period, she hadn’t abandoned literature altogether. The underlying theme of community that runs through her poetry lived on in contributions to Canadian publishing through her work with Emblem Books and her teaching at the U of T. And when the time was right, she published another collection, and another. That kind of patience and persistence, I think, results in poetry that we would term “essential”.

Keep reading for a taste of this essential volume of poetry, coming soon from PQL.



Poets & Muses

Poets are such bad employers,
Muses ought to Organize:
Time off, sick pay, danger wages —
Come, ye wretched of the skies!

Poets , to reverse the story,
Muse-redeemed, return and live:
Solomon in all his glory
Could not pay for what you give.


Breathing too is a simple trick, and most of us learn it:
Still, to lose it is bad, though no-one regrets it long.


The Ballad of Dr. Coolie

Here’s a man was born in China, he
Heard of Canada, thought he’d go and see—
Land of Bethune, snow, opportunity —
Why not have a try?

Comes to Canada, does quite brilliantly.
Talks good English, goes through Uof T,
Then to Berkeley, gets his PhD —
What’s next but the sky?

Welcome back to alma mater, be
Teacher, lab man, please do brilliantly.
Then they said, Hey, take it easy, we
Think you aim too high.

Good workhorses should know their places, they
Bring no blushes to colleagues’ faces, they
Keep their heads down, run no races, they
Crunch hay till they die.

Pie is not for Doctor Coolie:
God gives pie to white guys duly,
He knows white guys deserve it truly:
Professorial pie.


About the Author

JAY MACPHERSON (1931 – 2012) was an author, publisher and educator central to the development of Canadian mythopoetry in the 1950s and 60s. She became the first Canadian to win Poetry magazine’s Levinson prize in 1957. In 1958 she won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for The Boatman. In addition to her verse, Macpherson was the founder of Emblem Books and an instructor at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. Macpherson died in March of 2012.

About the Editor

MELLISSA DALGLEISH is a writer, researcher and research administrator whose work focuses on the professional development of graduate students and on mythopoeic modernism in post-war Canadian poetry. Her work has appeared in Canadian Literature and English Studies in Canada, and she regularly blogs for the feminist academic site Hook & Eye. She is also the co-editor of the online project Graduate Training in the 21st Century. She lives in Toronto.


You can find more information about The Essential Jay Macpherson on our website here. And of course, we offer fourteen other volumes of “essential” poetry for you to discover. Browse the full list here.

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.