I’m sure by now you’re familiar with our ever-growing Essential Poets series. We’re working on our twentieth volume, and have so far had plenty of poets to feature and editors to step in for a volume or two.
But what is it about these “Essential Poets” that makes them so … well, essential?
In one sense, we’re suggesting that each volume has distilled the essence of the author’s full poetic career—of his or her development as an artist. We present the most influential poems out of what can be some exceedingly large collections of source material. We reproduce those poems that reveal innovation or evolution. We focus on the verses that have defined each poet within the wider field of Canadian literature.
But in another sense, we’ve collected poetry that we suggest is indispensable to the understanding of the current Canadian poetry landscape. We’re shining a spotlight not only on those poets who published widely and with great success, but also those whose comparatively smaller contributions have been nonetheless influential. In publishing these collections, we’re not only keeping the work of these poets alive, but also providing a reminder of why these works ought not to be forgotten. Together these editions are a snapshot of a certain time and place, a certain cultural era—one whose reverberations can still be felt today.
For example, our most recent release in the series is The Essential Douglas LePan, selected by John Barton. LePan wrote in the aftermath of WWII, and his verses are largely (understandably) concerned with themes of valour and comradeship and honour. His poetry captures an era in which poetry was both a balm and a celebration, and John Barton’s selection reflects the popularity of such pieces. But Barton has also taken into account more recent information about LePan’s sexuality, allowing a reinterpretation of some poems and a consideration of the ways in which LePan both concealed and revealed his true self. In this way, readers are invited to interpret the “essence” of LePan’s life’s work, and to think about the ways in which the editor’s selection has shaped this determination.
We invite you to pick up a copy of The Essential Douglas LePan—or any other volume in the series—and to spend some quiet time ruminating on the web of influences each book suggests. Consider the ways in which these texts might have influenced contemporary poets and their works, and appreciate them as the historical artefacts upon which modern endeavours find their foundation.
If you’d like to keep reading about the Essential Poets series, check out the series’ main page here. Don’t forget to read PQL Publisher Tim Inkster’s account of the origins of the series!