CanLit Rewind: The Stunted Strong by Fred Cogswell

October 8, 2015

Our fourth CanLit Rewind title is from the country's oldest independent literary press, Goose Lane Editions. The Stunted Strong was first published back in the 50s and Goose Lane has ensured that it is still in print and available to readers today. This collection of sixteen sonnets create a vivid picture of an inhabitant of a rural community in the St. John River valley. The poems portray country people confined by frustration, obsession, and small victories, and expresses in their characters the illimitable dreams and thwarting limitations of the human condition. Goose Lane shares with us why, over 60 years later, this title still resonates with their press, and the wider CanLit canon.

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This year marks forty years of supporting and celebrating some of Canada's finest literary presses for our parent organization, the Literary Press Group of Canada. To help celebrate, for the entire month of October All Lit Up will be highlighting books from our publishers that either helped launch a new voice in CanLit or made an impact at the press it was published with. Go on a CanLit Rewind with us to rediscover some backlist gems!

 

Our fourth CanLit Rewind title is from the country's oldest independent literary press, Goose Lane Editions. The Stunted Strong was first published back in the 50s and Goose Lane has ensured that it is still in print and available to readers today. This collection of sixteen sonnets create a vivid picture of an inhabitant of a rural community in the St. John River valley. The poems portray country people confined by frustration, obsession, and small victories, and expresses in their characters the illimitable dreams and thwarting limitations of the human condition. Goose Lane shares with us why, over 60 years later, this title still resonates with their press, and the wider CanLit canon.

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This was the first book published by the press in 1954 and it gave birth to Fiddlehead Poetry Books, which later became Goose Lane Editions.

Fred Cogswell, who had taken over as editor of The Fiddlehead in 1952, effectively remade the magazine by enacting a practice of eclecticism to accommodate as wide a range of readership as possible. By 1954, Cogswell and Al Tunis, a like-minded colleague in the UNB Sociology department, decided to found Fiddlehead Poetry Books, the logical extension of the periodical. The first book they published was Fred's own poetry, The Stunted Strong, a collection of hard-edged sonnets, which depicted the farm folk of Cogswell’s youth. The portraits personalized New Brunswickers as nothing before had done.

This first book opened the door for the others that followed and for Fred’s own commitment to Goose Lane. In the 25 years that followed, he published almost single-handedly more than 300 books, launching the careers of many of Canada’s most distinguished writers.

In terms of literary style, Cogswell was using a traditional form yet writing as modernist. In this collection of sonnets, he depicted ordinary farmers as they had rarely been depicted before in Canada. The Stunted Strong became an influential role model for younger writers such as Robert Gibbs and Alden Nowlan and later David Adams Richards, opening the door to a subject matter rarely treated in the literature of the time. The sonnets themselves represent some of Cogwell’s most vivid poetry and continue to have resonance for readers 60 years following their first publication. Goose Lane reissued the book in 2004, fifty years after its first publication.

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Cogswell went on to pioneer translating French Canadian poetry into English, and in the 1980s, he began his landmark translations of Acadian poetry. Along with Jo-Anne Elder, their most important books are the anthology Unfinished Dreams (1990) and Herménégilde Chiasson's award-winning collections Climates (1999) and Conversations (2001).

Thank you to Goose Lane Editions for sharing this important work of poetry with us. Catch up on all the other CanLit Rewind titles we featured so far here.


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