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Pitt, David G.

Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1987. 555pp. cloth, $34.95, ISBN 0-8020-5753-5. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 16 Number 4
1988 July

Pitt's portrait, formal and balanced, gives us the whole life: Pratt the poet and Ned the man. If this second volume of the Pratt biography has a problem, it is that Pratt, in both his personal and his public life, is so exemplary that he comes off as something of a bore. He's just too nice.

With the publication of Newfoundland Verse and The Iron Door, Pratt had begun to free himself of that regrettable weakness of poets "to go mad over the way a grasshopper cocks his legs while jumping on a cabbage leaf." He had begun to write "vigorous red-blooded verse." serving notice that "the usual fifth-rate, airy fairy stuff” that one could expect from Canadian poets was now posse. A storm had passed over the land, hastening the erosion of the beaver dam school of Canadian poetry. In 1930, with the publication of The Roosevelt and the Antinoe,, his great sea epic. Pratt unquestionably became Canada's greatest poet. But already the manly poet of the muscular verse felt the young practitioners of the new poetry breathing down his neck. In an important essay called "The Fly-Wheel Lost," Pratt launched an assault on the growing "cult of unintelligibility”.

Scholarly and sympathetic, Pitt's biography is most satisfying when it examines the circumstances surrounding the composition of a poem or when it provides us with a glimpse of the writer at work. In the end, Pitt gives us not just a life of Pratt and an analysis of his work, but a context in which to read Canadian poetry.

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin Collegiate, St.Thomas, Ont.
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