The Book of Were

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The Porcupine's Quill, 2006 - Poetry - 59 pages
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The medieval church fixed man on a balance beam between angel and animal. WereBook proposes that at present our scale makes us the center, and the animal shifts between adoration and veneration at one end, and contempt to extinction at the other.

Publisher Tim Inkster proposed to poet Wayne Clifford a bestiary based on old engravings, and the poet responded with verses that seem perhaps at first simplistic, but ask the reader to question deeper the relationships between creatures and humankind.

So. A Were-Book tells us about were-animals or were-folk, changlings at the edges of those stable and self-congratulatory worlds connected directly to Platonic forms. The fox in Japan is a powerful, unfriendly figure, but follows a version of human culture, in some tales playing music on local instruments. The Medusa in Greek gossip had immortal sisters, but a human enough face. An African frog becomes a model for our mutation experiments. O, Moreau, we hardly knew! A state of Were is where the worlds seethe still truly wild, the garden in which the ancestors stroll with the conversant god, and good and evil are being decided in the manner of a family living out its most ordinary conflicts.

 

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About the author (2006)

Wayne Clifford was born in Toronto in 1944. He studied English at University College at the University of Toronto in the mid sixties during which time he came to be associated with a small coterie of students that included Stan Bevington, Dennis Reid, Doris and Judith Cowan, and David Bolduc. Wayne also remembers Tangiers Al, but not clearly, which says something about the time. While still an undergraduate Clifford won numerous Norma Epstein prizes for his poetry and also one E. J. Pratt Award (1967) that he shared with Michael Ondaatje. (One poet kept the money, the other, the medal. In the end each felt equally cheated.)

Stan Bevington had started his fledgling Coach House Press in 1964 and asked Clifford to acquire a few poetry manuscripts suitable for book production of an experimental sort. Wayne secured early work from George Bowering, Victor Coleman, bpNichol and Michael Ondaatje. At the founding meeting of the League of Canadian Poets (1966) Wayne proposed a Writers' Anonymous akin to other, similar, twelve-step programmes. Clifford's idea was not seriously considered. Shortly thereafter, Clifford left Toronto to pursue graduate studies in creative writing at the University of Iowa. Clifford began working at St. Lawrence College in Kingston in 1969, when the College was just new, and was involved in the Creative Writing program and the Fine Arts Program, until both were discontinued in the 1980s. Clifford then joined the General Arts & Science Program (GAS -- and yes, he does enjoy this irony of this acronym) and began teaching remediation in language. He retired in June of 2004. He was working on a poetry collaboration (unpublished) with bpNichol at the time of bp's death in 1988.

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