John Douglas Underhill

Only the Salt, Doug Underhill
Only the Salt, Doug Underhill

John Douglas ("Doug") Underhill (writer, teacher, and producer) was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, on 23 January 1946. He spent most of his life in Newcastle, where he continues (2009) to reside. He graduated from Harkins High School and completed his BA degree at St. Thomas University (STU), graduating with Honours in English literature in 1968. He received his BEd degree from STU the following year. After graduating, Underhill went on to a long and successful career as an English teacher at Harkins High School and Miramichi Valley High School in Newcastle. He retired from teaching in June 2000.

Underhill began his writing career under the guidance of Professor Allen Bentley, who wrote the introduction for Underhill’s first published work, The Lazy Time of Day (1971), a book of poems. In the introduction, Bentley writes: “Underhill’s range of vision and form is impressive.” This collection shows the influence of James Joyce, who Underhill names as a major influence in his writing. Other influences include Alden Nowlan, Fred Cogswell, David Adams Richards, Robert Frost, and Robert Bly. Underhill would follow this work with two other collections of poems entitled Only the Salt (1997) and River Poems (2007).

Only the Salt is divided into three parts: prose poems, poems on human nature, and poems on the natural world. Of their interdependence, Michael O. Nowlan writes: “Poetry is the music of the muse, and Doug Underhill knows the rhythm” (“Poems are Long Lasting”). Underhill’s most recent collection, River Poems, also received favourable reviews, including a stirring introduction from his star student, David Adams Richards who writes: “Underhill was my first literary teacher and my best. These poems, like the poems of the great New Brunswick poets before him, Alden Nowlan and Fred Cogswell, have something of the eternal in them, something we can cherish as our own.” Underhill’s poetry has been featured in the Cherish Our Heritage anthology, The Pottersfield Portfolio, The Cormorant, and Stubborn Strength: A New Brunswick Anthology (1983).

While poetry may be his preferred genre, Underhill has also enjoyed success in other forms. He has written a humorous Miramichi Dictionary (1996), two folklore books—Miramichi Tales, Tall and True (1999) and Proud Stories From the Miramichi (2001)—a sports book entitled Miramichi Baseball and Softball (2003), and a collection of fishing stories, Miramichi Fishing Stories: All True of Course! (2006). He has also written three children’s books: The Popcorn Cat and Pumpkin Moon (1985), The Popcorn Cat and the Pumpkin Moon Make Friends (1986), and Popcorn and Pumpkin Save Tommy’s Christmas (1993).

Underhill has also enjoyed a long career as a freelance journalist, writing for the Moncton Times and Transcript and the Miramichi Leader among other New Brunswick newspapers. His journalism began in 1988 with a report on David Adams Richards who won the Governor General’s Award for Nights Below Station Street (1987). He continued writing weekly columns as a freelance journalist with a focus on sports, fishing, and local stories until March 2008. At that point, his popular “Fishing Report” went online, where it continues to have a devoted following of anglers eager for news of water levels, fly patterns, and seasonal salmon runs.

Beyond his writing, Underhill has been involved with radio, film, and television. He was featured on CBC Radio’s Basic Black with Arthur Black, reading from his Miramichi Dictionary. He has also been part of a documentary film about the Miramichi River by the Discovery Channel in its Great Canadian Rivers Series. Finally, he has co-produced with Bob Gillis three videos titled The Dungarvon Whooper (1982), The Headless Nun (1983), and The Great Miramichi Fire of 1825 (1986). Underhill has, in other words, been a busy cultural producer.

Underhill has been influential in various writing organizations throughout his career. He was a founding member of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, serving on the Board of Directors for almost fifteen years. He was also on the founding committee for the New Brunswick Arts Alliance, and continues to be involved with the Miramichi Writers Group.

He has won awards in teaching, journalism, and poetry. In 2000, he was given the Outstanding Teacher Award by the New Brunswick High School Council. In 2001, two of his news stories went national and he received the Miramichi Leader’s “2001 Reader’s Choice Award as the No. 1 Favorite Journalist/Columnist in the Miramichi.” In 2005, he received the Media Coverage Award by Softball New Brunswick. For poetry, Underhill received an honourable mention from the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick in 1987 and an honourable mention for his poem “Arriving in Newfoundland” in the “Cherish Our Heritage” contest. He remains a busy and committed member of Miramichi's cultural community.

Ryan O’Shea, Summer 2009
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Underhill, Doug. “Antler,” The Nashwaak Review 5 (1998): 92.

---. “Brown Moth,” The Nashwaak Review 11.1 (2002): 60.

---. “Celtic Cross.” The Nashwaak Review 11.1 (2002): 63.

---. “Driftwoods,” The Nashwaak Review 5 (1998): 93.

---. “Joist,” The Nashwaak Review 11.1 (2002): 61.

---. The Lazy Time of Day. Chatham, NB: Miramichi Press, 1971.

---. “Meteorite,” The Nashwaak Review 11.1 (2002): 62.

---. Miramichi Baseball and Softball. Saint John, NB: Neptune, 2003.

---. Miramichi Dictionary: An Interpretive Guide. Ed. Herb Curtis. Saint John, NB: Neptune, 1996.

---. Miramichi Fishing Stories: All True of Course!. Saint John, NB: Neptune, 2006.

---. Miramichi Tales Tall and True. Illus. Karen Wheaton. Saint John, NB: Neptune, 1999.

---. Only the Salt. Fredericton, NB: Broken Jaw Press, 1997.

---. Popcorn and Pumpkin Save Tommy’s Christmas. Illus. Karen Wheaton. Newcastle, NB: Newcastle Printing, 1993

.---. The Popcorn Cat and the Pumpkin Moon. Illus. Karen Wheaton. Miramichi, NB: Walco Print & Litho, 1986.

---. The Popcorn Cat and the Pumpkin Moon Make New Friends. Illus. Karen Wheaton. Miramichi, NB: Walco Print and Litho, 1986.

---. Proud Stories From the Miramichi: History, People and Places. Saint John, NB: Neptune, 2001.

---. “A Rainy Evening.” Stubborn Strength: A New Brunswick Anthology. Ed. Michael O. Nowlan. Don Mills, ON: Academic Press Canada, 1983. 119.

---. River Poems. Ottawa, ON: Borealis, 2007.

---. “Upon Seeing Blind Lake for the First Time,” The Nashwaak Review 5 (1998): 94.

---. “Walnut.” The Nashwaak Review 5 (1998): 95.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

“Doug Underhill’s Latest Book Scheduled for Launch Tomorrow; Latest Publication of Retired Teacher Takes a Humourous Look at the Many Fishing Tales He’s Collected on the Miramichi.” Times and Transcript [Moncton, NB] 9 Nov. 2006: D3.

Goss, David. “Underhill Is an Expert on the Miramichi.” Telegraph-Journal [Saint John, NB] 16 Apr. 2004.

Gowan, Derwin. “Author and Folklorist has Tall Tales to Tell.” Telegraph-Journal [Saint John, NB] 23 July 1999.

Mazerolle, Brent. “Underhill Launches River Poems on Thursday in Miramichi” Times and Transcript [Moncton, NB] 7 Oct. 2007: B5.

“Miramichi’s Doug Underhill Ponders Nature in Sixth Book.” Times and Transcript [Moncton, NB] 30 Mar. 1998.

Nowlan, Michael O. “Book Tells Some Great Miramichi Fishing Stories.” The Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, NB] 6 Jan. 2007.

---. “Poems Are Long Lasting.” The Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, NB] 7 Mar. 1998.

Richards, David Adams. Introduction. River Poems. By Doug Underhill. Ottawa, ON: Borealis, 2007.