Brian Bartlett

Brian BartlettPhoto: Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia
Brian Bartlett
Photo: Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia

Brian Bartlett (poet, editor, and English professor) was born 1 October 1953 in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. His publications include six collections of poetry: The Watchmaker’s Table (2008), Wanting the Day: Selected Poems (2003), The Afterlife of Trees (2002), Granite Erratics (1997), Underwater Carpentry (1993), and Planet Harbour (1989). He has also published five chapbooks: Being Charlie (2009), Travels of the Watch (2004), Cattail Week (1981), Brother’s Insomnia (1972), and Finches for the Wake (1971). Bartlett has also edited three compilations: Don McKay: Essays on His Works (2006), Earthly Pages: The Poetry of Don Domanski (2007), and The Essential James Reaney (2009).

Though born in St. Stephen as the third of six children, Bartlett moved to Fredericton in 1957 with his parents, Lester and Marjorie (Wills). Lester worked as a high school science teacher, and subsequently with the New Brunswick Department of Education as the Director of Curriculum. Brian attended public school in Fredericton, moving between Albert Street School, Connaught Street School, and Montgomery Street School during his primary years. For secondary education, he attended Albert Street Junior High School and then Fredericton High School. As a child, he enjoyed reading, writing, bird watching, studying nature, and playing baseball and hockey.

While attending the University of New Brunswick for his Bachelor of Arts degree (English with Honours), Bartlett encountered renowned poet and creative writing teacher Fred Cogswell, who called his work “kaleidoscopic” (qtd. in Compton 139). Cogswell’s sentiments were later echoed by Clark Blaise at Concordia University in Montreal, where Bartlett obtained his MA degree. He then attended the Université de Montréal for his PhD, where he wrote a thesis on the work of A.R. Ammons, a principal and sales executive who, like Bartlett, wrote a personal poetry that transcends the personal viewpoint.

After graduating with his PhD, Bartlett lived in Montreal for fifteen years while teaching at Concordia University. In 1990, he moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia to teach English at St. Mary’s University. He still (as of 2010) resides in Halifax with his wife, Karen Dahl, and their children, Joshua and Laura.

In an interview with Mark Medley for the National Post, Bartlett said that he finds inspiration in a wide variety of poets: Don McKay, P.K. Page, Don Coles, and Don Domanski are his favourites among Canadian poets, while A.G. Bailey, Alden Nowlan, Bob Gibbs, Bill Bauer, and M. Travis Lane —all New Brunswick poets— made an impact on Bartlett in his youth. As Bartlett has said: “I’m convinced it’s most rewarding to soak up influences from all over the place” (qtd. in Compton 150).

With influences from such varied sources, it is easy to see why Bartlett’s work has been hailed as “precision in word and fact, wit and playfulness” (Compton 131) and “yet it still contains all the twists of lyric, the surprising detours, the plosive metaphors” (Leckie 138). Writing often on a deeply personal level, Bartlett captures each sentiment and situation with passion. His work may be rooted in the everyday, but the effect of his poetry transcends that.

The Watchmaker’s Table is a good example of this transcendence. Writing first of traveling in “All the Train Trips,” Bartlett then focuses his viewfinder on home in the poems “An Offer of Warmth,” “6364 Edinburgh St.,” and “Three Candles and a Fan.” Other poems focus more tightly still on family, including “Walking Laura Home from Daycare” with its especially poignant line, “While clouds keep melting into the moon she is sliding from my arms again” (29). Elsewhere in the book, he writes about his life in Halifax in poems like “West End, Halifax” and “on teaching Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ the 12th time.” In the last section, Bartlett connects to the metaphysical, focusing on the connection between time and nature. The poem “Brier Island, Spring Weekend” reflects this connection especially well with lines like:

Wizened, blackened,
last year’s rosehips
wind-shaken, still attached

Bone-coloured, wind-buffed
dead trees lift limbs —
ghosts incarnate in wood. (120)

Along with the critical acclaim his work has received, Bartlett has also been honoured with national and international fellowships and awards. These include the 2009 Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award, the 2004 Atlantic Poetry Prize, the 2000 Petra Kenney Poetry Award (a British award founded by Canadian Morgan Kenney in memory of his late wife, Petra), the 1991 and 1998 Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, a 1996 Hawthorndon Castle International Writers’ Fellowship, and a 1993 Banff Writers’ Studio Scholarship.

Cassandra Inch, Winter 2009
St. Thomas University

For more information on Brian Bartlett, please visit his entry at the New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English.

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Bartlett, Brian. The Afterlife of Trees. Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2002.

---. Being Charlie. Vancouver, BC: Alfred Gustav, 2009.

---. Brother’s Insomnia. Fredericton, NB: The New Brunswick Chapbooks, 1972.

---. Cattail Week. Montreal, PQ: Villeneuve, 1981.

---, ed. Don McKay: Essays on His Works. Toronto, ON: Guernica, 2006.

---, ed. Earthly Pages: The Poetry of Don Domanski. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2007.

---, ed. The Essential James Reaney. Erin, ON: Porcupine’s Quill, 2009.

---. Finches for the Wake. Fredericton, NB: Fiddlehead, 1971.

---. Granite Erratics. Victoria, BC: Ekstasis, 1997.

---. Planet Harbour. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 1989.

---. Travels of the Watch. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau, 2004.

---. Underwater Carpentry. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 1993.

---. Wanting the Day: Selected Poems. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2003.

---. The Watchmaker’s Table. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2008.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

“Brian Bartlett.” Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. 12 Feb. 2010

Bushell, Kevin. “The Afterlife of Trees.” Rev. of The Afterlife of Trees, by Brian Barlett. The Antigonish Review 137 (2004): 113-17.

Callanan, Mark. “A Loneliness which Must be Entered.” Rev. of Wanting the Day: Selected Poems, by Brian Barlett. Books in Canada 33.6 (2004): 32.

Compton, Anne. “‘A Many-Veined Leaf’: Minutiae and Multiplicity in Brian Bartlett’s Poetry.” Studies in Canadian Literature 28.2 (2003): 131-52.

Laird, Darrell. “An Artificial Paradise.” Rev. of Planet Harbour, by Brian Barlett. Canadian Literature 128 (1991): 189-91.

Lane, M. Travis. “Temporary Shelter.” Rev. of Underwater Carpentry, by Brian Barlett. Quill & Quire 59.7 (1993): 48.

Leckie, Ross. “Granite Erratics.” Rev. of Granite Erratics, by Brian Bartlett. The Fiddlehead 193 (1997): 138.

McCallum, Kirstie. “Some of These Petals: A Review of Brian Bartlett’s The Watchmaker’s Table.” Rev. of The Watchmaker’s Table, by Brian Bartlett. Antigonish Review 156 (2009): 67-72.

Medley, Mark. “The NaPoMo Questionnaire: Brian Bartlett.” The National Post [Don Mills]. 28 Apr. 2009.

Weston, Joanna M. Rev. of Wanting the Day: Selected Poems, by Brian Barlett. The Danforth Review (March 2005). 1 Mar. 2005