Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"For My Own Damn Satisfaction": The Communist Poetry of Milton Acorn

By James Doyle
Canadian Poetry
No. 40, Spring/Summer 199740, Spring/Summer, 199

Milton Acorn
The most important fact about Milton Acorn, declared Al Purdy in 1968, "is that he is a Marxist poet, a Communist." But, Purdy continued, he "has quarreled violently with every socialist organization he ever had anything to do with, and is a member in good standing of none". Purdy acknowledged Acorn’s political radicalism as an important element in his life, but he ignored the poems in which this radicalism appeared in a dogmatic partisan form. In his two editions of selected Acorn poems, he included only a few of the works Acorn wrote while an actual dues-paying member of the Communist Party.

Most of Acorn’s biographers and critics have been similarly negligent of his communistic beliefs and activities. Francis Zichy, in an article on Acorn in Profiles in Canadian Literature 4 (1982), scarcely mentions them. Terry Goldie, in his Dictionary of Literary Biography entry on Acorn (1986), dismisses the communism briefly as part of the mythology the poet created for himself . Ed Jewinski’s Milton Acorn and His Works (1990) recognizes Acorn as a "Marxist" poet, but isolates the word in quotation marks, relating it to Acorn’s "self-declared" status as a "Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, and Canadian nationalist". The first book-length biography of Acorn, Chris Gudgeon’s Out of This World (1996), includes an account of Acorn’s literary beginnings in the Communist Party, but the account is brief and obviously skeptical about Marxism and Acorn’s commitment to it.

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