Milton Acorn (1923-1986) was the most dynamic, controversial and prophetic Canadian Anglican political poet in the latter half of the 20th century. Acorn was a poet who spoke to the people of Canada and did so in an accessible and not to be forgotten manner. The fact that Acorn was awarded by significant Canadian poets, the Peoples Poet Award in 1970 and the GG Award in 1975 speaks its own convincing language. Who was this poet who offended the trendy left by taking a definite stand on the Pro-Life issue yet offended the political right by opposing capitalism, militarism and American imperialism? Who was this unique Canadian nationalist who flirted with the ideological left but when day was a done was a conscious Red Tory? Who was this High Church Anglican that was convinced that the purpose and end of the grandeur of the liturgy was justice and peace in the streets and for the working class people? Who was this herald and pioneer in the 1950s of the ecological movement?
The time has finally come, and it is quite appropriate that the time has come, for a return and retrieval of the poetry of Milton Acorn. The publication of Milton Acorn: In A Springtime Instant: Selected Poems has appeared on the literary and publishing scene at just the right time, and the editorial work and Introduction by James Deahl (who lived with Acorn for a few years and published some of his poetry), makes this updated approach to Acorn a real keeper.
The incisive ‘Introduction’ by Deahl is a fine primer to the selected poems. The Introduction lights but does not land long on ‘The Great Generation’, ‘Poetry of the Natural World’, ‘The Art of Love’, ‘Ideology’, ‘What I Know of God’, ‘Fellow Writers’ and an informed ‘Conclusion’. I might add that Terry Barker wrote a timely ‘Foreword’ that briefly explained the origin of In A Springtime Instant.
Deahl has, wisely so, in his editorial role, guided the poetic ship of the book across the full waters of Acorn’s life and writing. Poems are judiciously chosen from Acorn’s earliest book of poetry, In Love and Anger (1956) to Acorn’s midstride classic I’ve Tasted My Blood: Poems 1956 to 1968 (1969), the later books of poetry that were published in his lifetime and the books of poetry that were published after his death. The collection, rightly so, is arranged chronologically and separates wheat from chaff, gold from dross in Acorn’s poetic journey. Deahl has dug deep into the motherlode of Acorn’s poetic output, and has brought back the finest of Acorn from his diligent spade work.
Milton Acorn: In A Springtime Instant is Acorn the poetic and probing genius at his challenging best. The Northern Oak of Acorn stands tall and stately, high above the lesser trees of much Canadian poetry, and the meticulous work of James Deahl, Terry Barker and Howard Aster (Mosaic Press) amply illustrates why this is the irrefutable case. We await, with much anticipation, the publication in 2013, from Mosaic Press, the book of critical essays on Acorn.