The Essential D. G. Jones

By (author): D. G. Jones

In The Essential D. G. Jones, volume editor Jim Johnstone presents a selection of the most important writings of Douglas Gordon Jones, one of the few of Canada’s great lyric poets to expertly straddle the line between the modern and postmodern era.


D. G. Jones

Douglas Gordon Jones was a Canadian writer, translator and critic. Born in 1929 in Bancroft, ON, he studied English Literature in university at McGill and Queen’s. He continued his career in academia, teaching at Bishop’s University before settling into a post at the Université de Sherbrooke. While there, he co-founded a bilingual literary journal ellipse: Writers in Translation (1969-2012), the only magazine of its kind in Canada. Jones was the author of ten books of poetry, and won the A. J. M. Smith Award for Poetry (1977), the A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry (1989, 1995) and the Governor General’s Award, once in 1977 for his collection of poems, Under the Thunder the Flowers Light Up the Earth, and again in 1993 for his translation of Normand de Bellefeuille’s Categorics: 1, 2 & 3. In 2007, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Jones passed away in March 2016 in North Hatley, Quebec.


The Essential D. G. Jones has distilled the essence of the man’s work into a small, potent package.

In the latest in its outstanding `Essential Poets’ series, publisher The Porcupine’s Quill presents a concise but grand retrospective in The Essential D. G. Jones.

Jones died in 2016 after a long career as a poet, translator, critic, editor, and teacher, having published many collections of poems. This collection’s excellent foreword perfectly describes his poetry as demanding `a change of pace from readers submerged in the digital age.’

Indeed, unlike much of modern poetry’s stuffed-to-the-gills allusions and references (classical and pop-cultural alike), Jones’s poems utilize such devices sparingly, with exception of the poem `Odysseus’- for obvious reasons, given its title. When Jones does use literary references, it’s often to deliver vivid imagery, as in `lily-of-the-valley in a glass / stems tangled like Ophelia’s hair’ (from `Spring Flowers’), or in describing sun and flowers as `Nanabozho’s gift’ (a reference to an Ojibwe creation myth, from `The Perishing Bird’).

Jones uses human creations to illuminate nature and the way human beings relate to their environment. Deceptively simple at times, Jones’s poems traffic in subtlety, as if they were a series of still lifes or sound recordings layered atop one another, slowly giving up their secrets, as in `Winter Comes Hardly’: `winter is boredom / the slow shift of the light / filtered by shutters, the late afternoon / light under eaves, in the weathering / grain of the shingles’.

Vital to Jones’s work is the sense of humans as part of nature; he draws a memorable and moving comparison between children and butterflies in the exquisite poem `Beautiful Creatures Brief as These’: `So slight they look within their clothes, / Their dresses looser than the Sulphur’s wings, / It seems that even if the wind alone / Were not to break them in the lofty trees, / They could not bear the weight of things.’

Despite his fondness for nature as a touch-point, Jones shows a number of diverse styles; those more interested in poetic wordplay will appreciate poems like `The Pioneer as Man of Letters,’ in which Jones gives creative expression to the outdoors using an obtuse alphabetic formula.

Providing a wide representation of Jones’s evolution as a poet, The Essential D. G. Jones offers poems from eight collections spanning thirty-eight years, with an additional four poems that had gone uncollected at the time of his death. The Essential D.G. Jones has distilled the essence of the man’s work into a small, potent package that proves itself truly essential for any lover of poetry.

– Peter Dabbene

`Jim Johnstone’s very judicious selection of poems from Jones’s nine collections teaches us much about the poet apart from his lifelong grounding in nature.’

– Bruce Whiteman

`A strong example of the classic, traditional approach, with great touches like the textured cover stock and asymmetric folios.’

– Alcuin Awards Citation


  • Alcuin Award for Excellence in Book Design 2016, Commended
  • ForeWord Indies Book Award 2017, Long-listed
  • Excerpts & Samples ×

    I Annihilate

    I annihilate the purple finch
    in the apple tree

    it is a winter dawn

    it is `La Guerre’ Henri Rousseau
    saw charging through the shattered space
    of the Second Empire

    it is a faint
    in the silent cosmos

    c’est une tache
    sur la page blanche

    un cauchemar en rose

    c’est le Québec

    a bird

    c’est ça
    un oiseau dans un pommier

    it may fly off
    but it won’t go away

    I neglected to mention the snow


    the craft of making buttons
    that we may come apart
    in style

    horn, pewter, even plastic

    pray, sir
    undo this button

    oh, we would clothe the mind
    in politeness, even
    in extremity

    to button up is seemly, to
    unbutton, step
    seemingly without art into
    nothing, is grace

    Reader Reviews



    64 Pages
    8.75in * 5.56in * 0.26in


    September 30, 2016


    Porcupine’s Quill



    Book Subjects:

    POETRY / Canadian

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