Bookmark and Share


The Essential D. G. Jones by D. G. Jones and Jim Johnstone  

In The Essential D. G. Jones, volume editor Jim Johnstone presents a selection of the most important writings of Douglas Gordon Jones, one of the few of Canada’s great lyric poets to expertly straddle the line between the modern and postmodern era.

Known for his confident and elemental lyrics, and subtle shifts in diction, tone and voice, the poetry of D. G. Jones offers a portal to the natural world. Though initially his poetry tended toward formality and rigorous control, Jones’s style gradually evolved to become looser, more instinctual, given to linguistic flexibility and visual experimentation. The Essential D. G. Jones celebrates this poetic transformation, presenting the most important lyrics from all stages of Jones’s career, along with a few, never-before published poems to round out the collection.

The Essential Poets Series presents the works of Canada’s most celebrated poets in a package that is beautiful, accessible and affordable. The Essential D. G. Jones is the 14th volume in the series.


2017—ForeWord Indies Book Award,


2016—Alcuin Award for Excellence in Book Design,

Table of contents

  • Foreword
  • The Sun is Axeman (1961)
    • Portrait of Anne Hébert
    • Northern Water Thrush
    • Winterkill
    • Odysseus
    • Beautiful Creatures Brief as These
  • Phrases from Orpheus (1967)
    • The Perishing Bird
    • Music Comes Where No Words Are
    • Stevie and Sea
    • The Path
    • The Stream Exposed with All its Stones
  • Under the Thunder the Flowers Light Up the Earth (1977)
    • A Garland of Milne
    • Spring Flowers
    • That’s It
    • I Annihilate
    • Winter Comes Hardly
  • A Throw of Particles (1983)
    • Tremor
    • Between Wars
  • Balthazar and Other Poems (1988)
    • The Pioneer as Man of Letters
    • Fatigue at Night
  • The Floating Garden (1995)
    • A Thousand Hooded Eyes
  • Wild Asterisks in Cloud (1997)
    • Singing up the New Century
    • Stumblesong
    • The Cut Back Beds
  • Grounding Sight (1999)
    • Epistolary
    • Grounding Sight
    • Praise
  • Uncollected
    • Ideas of the End of the World
    • Goldfinchen
    • The Docks Have Been Hauled Out
    • Suddenly
  • About D.G. Jones
  • A Bibliography

Review text

The Essential D. G. Jones has distilled the essence of the man’s work into a small, potent package.

In the latest in its outstanding ‘Essential Poets’ series, publisher The Porcupine’s Quill presents a concise but grand retrospective in The Essential D. G. Jones.

Jones died in 2016 after a long career as a poet, translator, critic, editor, and teacher, having published many collections of poems. This collection’s excellent foreword perfectly describes his poetry as demanding ‘a change of pace from readers submerged in the digital age.’

Indeed, unlike much of modern poetry’s stuffed-to-the-gills allusions and references (classical and pop-cultural alike), Jones’s poems utilize such devices sparingly, with exception of the poem ‘Odysseus’— for obvious reasons, given its title. When Jones does use literary references, it’s often to deliver vivid imagery, as in ‘lily-of-the-valley in a glass / stems tangled like Ophelia’s hair’ (from ‘Spring Flowers’), or in describing sun and flowers as ‘Nanabozho’s gift’ (a reference to an Ojibwe creation myth, from ‘The Perishing Bird’).

Jones uses human creations to illuminate nature and the way human beings relate to their environment. Deceptively simple at times, Jones’s poems traffic in subtlety, as if they were a series of still lifes or sound recordings layered atop one another, slowly giving up their secrets, as in ‘Winter Comes Hardly’: ‘winter is boredom / the slow shift of the light / filtered by shutters, the late afternoon / light under eaves, in the weathering / grain of the shingles’.

Vital to Jones’s work is the sense of humans as part of nature; he draws a memorable and moving comparison between children and butterflies in the exquisite poem ‘Beautiful Creatures Brief as These’: ‘So slight they look within their clothes, / Their dresses looser than the Sulphur’s wings, / It seems that even if the wind alone / Were not to break them in the lofty trees, / They could not bear the weight of things.’

Despite his fondness for nature as a touch-point, Jones shows a number of diverse styles; those more interested in poetic wordplay will appreciate poems like ‘The Pioneer as Man of Letters,’ in which Jones gives creative expression to the outdoors using an obtuse alphabetic formula.

Providing a wide representation of Jones’s evolution as a poet, The Essential D. G. Jones offers poems from eight collections spanning thirty-eight years, with an additional four poems that had gone uncollected at the time of his death. The Essential D.G. Jones has distilled the essence of the man’s work into a small, potent package that proves itself truly essential for any lover of poetry.

—Peter Dabbene, Foreword Reviews

Review quote

‘Jim Johnstone’s very judicious selection of poems from Jones’s nine collections teaches us much about the poet apart from his lifelong grounding in nature.’

—Bruce Whiteman, Canadian Notes & Queries

Review quote

‘A strong example of the classic, traditional approach, with great touches like the textured cover stock and asymmetric folios.’

—Alcuin Awards Citation

Excerpt from book

I Annihilate

I annihilate the purple finch
in the apple tree

it is a winter dawn

it is ‘La Guerre’ Henri Rousseau
saw charging through the shattered space
of the Second Empire

it is a faint
in the silent cosmos

c’est une tache
sur la page blanche

un cauchemar en rose

c’est le Québec

a bird

c’est ça
un oiseau dans un pommier

it may fly off
but it won’t go away

I neglected to mention the snow


the craft of making buttons
that we may come apart
in style

horn, pewter, even plastic

pray, sir
undo this button

oh, we would clothe the mind
in politeness, even
in extremity

to button up is seemly, to
unbutton, step
seemingly without art into
nothing, is grace


Douglas Gordon Jones was a Canadian writer, translator and critic. Born in 1929 in Bancroft, ON, he studied English Literature in university at McGill and Queen’s. He continued his career in academia, teaching at Bishop’s University before settling into a post at the Université de Sherbrooke. While there, he co-founded a bilingual literary journal ellipse: Writers in Translation (1969-2012), the only magazine of its kind in Canada. Jones was the author of ten books of poetry, and won the A. J. M. Smith Award for Poetry (1977), the A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry (1989, 1995) and the Governor General’s Award, once in 1977 for his collection of poems, Under the Thunder the Flowers Light Up the Earth, and again in 1993 for his translation of Normand de Bellefeuille’s Categorics: 1, 2 & 3. In 2007, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Jones passed away in March 2016 in North Hatley, Quebec.


Credit: Erica Smith

Jim Johnstone is a Toronto-based poet, editor, and critic. He is the author of seven books of poetry, and his essays and reviews have appeared in magazines such as Canadian Notes & Queries, The Kenyon Review, Maisonneuve, The Manchester Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, The Rumpus, and The Rupture. In 2016, he was the second Canadian to win Poetry’s Editors Prize for Book Reviewing.

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.

Site Search

Buy from your local independent booksellerBuy UTPBooksBuy AbeBooksBuy PQLPreview Google

POETRY / Canadian

POETRY / General

ISBN-13: 9780889843981

Publication Date: 2016-09-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 64

Price: $14.95