The Burning Alphabet confirms and extends Barry Dempster’s reputation as one of Canada’s most respected poets. Underpinning these poems, as in his previous work, there lies an unswerving dedication to emotional and spiritual honesty, clear-eyed recognitions rendered without pomp. In one section, "Sick Days", he focuses on that "other place" of chronic illness. Other poems present arguments against suicide, and explore the tropical wonders of a woman’s closet. The closing section renders, with great candour and poignancy, the powerful love-hate relationship with an aging father. Dempster writes as though it were simply natural to have speech and song cohabit with such grace.
In the thick of night, when we're dreaming of
corridors and Dali clocks, the soft brown
bodies of bucks and does are basking
in our moonlight, nibbling on the last of our
lettuce leaves, scratching impressions in our sand.
They are the children we wish we'd had,
fleeting images of ourselves before
inner lives grew blotchy, eyes heavy with
10 p.m. cop shows and those blessedly
nonsensical dreams. …
"In The Burning Alphabet, mood, with all its elaborate subtleties and manifestations, both in sickness and in health, constitutes a metaphysics. I feel as though I've lived an entire inner life in these pages, wrenching, dark, and amazingly sweet." —Roo Borson
Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry 2005; Winner of the CAA Jack Chalmers Poetry Award.
Barry Dempster was born in Toronto, Ontario, and educated in child psychology. He is the author of a novel, children's literature and over a dozen collections of poetry. His work has been nominated for the Governor General's Award twice and won the Canadian Authors Association Chalmers Award for poetry. From 1990 to 1997, he was the Poetry and Reviews Editor for Poetry Canada. He is currently the senior editor with Brick Books. He has been on the faculty at The Banff Centre as mentor for the Writing Studio, Wired Writing and Writing with Style programs, has conducted two master classes and has been the Writer-in-Residence at the Richmond Hill Public Library twice.
"Barry Dempster's The Burning Alphabet is a skillful navigation and sometimes irreverent meditation on illness, loss, and the transitory. It hums with honesty and unexpected delight."-- 2005 Governor General's Award Jury Citation
"The Burning Alphabet is the right mix of blistering honesty and adroit artfulness ... compelling images and lively cadences ... "--Barbara Carey, CBC Arts
"I admire the savage verve of Dempster's dark poetry, but even his happier poems are full of energy and vivid imagery."--M. Travis Lane, The Fiddlehead