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E.j. Pratt: Selected Poems

by Sandra Djwa,W. J. Keith, and Zailig Pollock, eds.

E. J. Pratt: Selected Poems is the third major work to emerge from the Pratt project. A welcome addition to the Complete Poems (1989) and the two-volume biography of the poet (1984; 1987), it makes available much of Pratt’s best-known work in an attractive, accessible, and scholarly edition. Like the Selected Poems of A. M. Klein – also published recently by University of Toronto Press – this edition is designed for use in undergraduate and graduate classrooms.

Pratt’s Selected Poems is shaped by its sweeping knowledge of editorial practice and of the poet’s life and work. In her introduction, Simon Fraser University English professor Sandra Djwa outlines the main events of Pratt’s life and traces in broad outline the development of his poetry. She contextualizes his work in terms of literary trends and historical events in and outside Canada, and describes Pratt’s “mythmaking imagination,” which created the long, narrative poems “The Titanic,” “Brebeuf and His Brethren,” and “Towards the Last Spike.” Zailig Pollock, a professor of English Literature at Trent University, cites sources and a separate set of glossary notes following the poems, giving dates of composition and first publication. A chronology of the poet’s life and a selected bibliography round out the volume, which also refers readers to a comprehensive web site managed by the book’s editors.

The poems were chosen with a view to their “intrinsic merit and representativeness,” according to the editors, who admit to omitting “The Great Feud,” for example, since it would have increased the length and cost of the volume. However, many of Pratt’s narrative poems are included along with a judicious selection of his shorter lyrics. The reader will be rewarded with a broad sense of the poet’s achievement, all the more remarkable – as the editors point out – since Pratt wrote during the first half of the 20th century, a period of relative quiet for Canadian poetry.