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Alden Nowlan (1933-1983) once wrote of a desire to leave behind “one poem, one story / that will tell what it was like / to be alive.” In an abundance of memorable poems, he fulfilled this desire with candour and subtlety, emotion, and humour, sympathy and truth-telling. For many years, Nowlan has been one of Canada's most-read and -beloved poets, but only now is the true range of his poetic achievement finally available between two covers, with the publication of Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan.
Nowlan takes us from nightmarish precincts of fear and solitude to the embrace of friendship and family. Delving into experiences of violence and gentleness, of alienation and love, his poetry reveals our shared humanity as well as our perplexing and sometimes entertaining differences. Nowlan's childhood and adult years are colourfully reflected in his poetry. These autobiographical threads are interwoven with fantasies, an astute historical consciousness, and a keen awareness of the shiftings and transformations of selfhood.
Nowlan wrote with formal variety, visually shaping his poems with a dexterity that complicates impressions that he was primarily a “plainspoken” poet. His varied uses of the poetic line — his handling of line-lengths and -breaks, stanzas, and pauses — show him to be a writer who skilfully uses the page to suggest and embody the rhythms of speech. This long-awaited volume enables readers to experience his poetic genius in its fullness and uniqueness.