George Whipple

George WhipplePhoto: Passing Through Eden, George Whipple
George Whipple
Photo: Passing Through Eden, George Whipple

George Whipple was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, on 24 May 1927 and grew up in Toronto, Ontario. After attending Vancouver Teachers College in 1952, he returned to Toronto and worked for more than thirty years as a postal and records clerk at Toronto’s City Hall. In 1985, he moved to Burnaby, British Columbia, where he resided until his death on 29 May 2014. He was a member of the League of Canadian Poets and has been featured in Canadian Author and Poet’s Market (US).

Among his early influences, Whipple had cited Edgar Allen Poe for his musicality and Francis Thompson for his verbal textures. As he matured as a poet, he turned to the metaphysical poets such as Robert Herrick, George Herbert, and Thomas Traherne. After reading Louis Untermeyer, Whipple also discovered an affinity with his contemporaries such as John B. Lee, who he considered the greatest living poet writing in English, and Hart Crane, whom Whipple admired for his excavation of the self-conscious. These influences had both challenged and helped to define Whipple’s own work. Studying and memorizing poems to sensitize himself to sound and form, his own training as a poet had been primarily autodidactic, though he did emphasize the importance of literary peers and had dedicated several of his collections to modernist poet Ralph Cunningham for his support and insight.

Whipple had published eleven books of poetry. His first, Life Cycle: Selected Poems (1984) was lauded by such Canadian luminaries as Louis Dudek, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Northrop Frye for its inventiveness and newness. Seven years later, Passing Through Eden (1991) was published, followed by Hats Off to the Sun (1996), and Carousel: Poems and Pictures (1999). His selected works, Tom Thomson and Other Poems (2000) soon followed. Since then, Whipple had published nearly a book a year: these include the collections Origins (2002), Fanfares (2003), Footprints on the Water (2005), The Peaceable Kingdom (2006), Kite (2007), and Swim Class and Other Poems (2008).

Stylistically, Whipple’s work engages with rhythm, off-rhyme, and structure, along with uniform stanzas. He saw his poetry as “multiple and off-the-wall metaphysical conceits” which encouraged new balances between such binaries as “ardor/order, rhetoric/slang, enlightenment/delight, pictures painted on sounds” (“Who’s Who”). Whipple did not attach a particular form to his poetry but allowed for an organic creation by “mixing every kind of meter, line length, ace and pitch, helping them find their voice, ‘thus attempting’ to create that variety in unity which changes boring excitement into the passionate calm of art” (“Who’s Who”). Whipple’s poetics are notable for their diction, which has been described as formal, apostrophic, playful, and inventive. Jeffrey Donaldson has described his syntax as “variegated tongue-and-groove” (213).

Over his career, Whipple had been involved in mixed-medium pursuits in order to galvanize new poetic venues and potentialities. In his thirties, he took up painting as an extensive experiment to connect with his untapped emotional range and modes of expression. Similarly, his study of music offered an exploration of a non-verbal medium capable of succinctly celebrating and communicating reverence. Whipple had underscored the power of music as possibly being, for him, the superior form of expression, declaring that these other media have helped to “shape” his poetry so that the poem is pleasurable visually as well as intellectually. Whipple thus believed that a well-conceived poem should challenge more than one of the senses and leave a reader with an alchemic understanding of poetry. The language tools he incorporated into his poetry to achieve this affect include “metaphor, meter, analogy, anagram, anaphora, rhyme, rhythm, rhetoric, slang, alliteration, mimesis, synesthesia, lofty hyperbole, low humour, wit and free association, among others” (Stedingh 125). As an illustrator, Whipple had collaborated on Ralph O. Cunningham’s collection, Schwanengesang, and had designed several of his own book covers. His sketches, which can be found in various collections, either supplement his poetry or work as stand-alone creations.

Considered erudite, blue-collar, and/or mystical, his subjects of interest include his notions of an Edenic Canada, Indigenous symbols and idioms, lifecycles, the natural world, religious awe, and death. His books are, for the most part, an extended exploration of these same themes. In all of his collections, his sensitivity to nature and to the progression of time challenges him to express a connection with the expansive world around him. Whipple’s poems are thus preoccupied with a Canadian mythology and a continual quest for Edenic garden motifs. Jeffrey Donaldson has noted that Whipple possesses a conversational ease with homage to literary precursors and that his voice, at times, makes it difficult “to distinguish between the Son of God and the poet son of God who would become the eyes and ears of the Creator spirit” (“Poetry” 239). Though Donaldson does criticize Whipple’s slippage into “high-end sentimentality” at times, especially in poems that explore death and aging, his Christian concerns and explorations have also earned him accolades. In 2007, Whipple received a best book prize for The Peaceable Kingdom from The Word Guild Canadian Christian Writing Awards.

As a translator, Whipple has introduced poems by Jules Laforgue, Gerard de Nerval, Françis Jammes, Paul Valéry, Rene Guy Gadau, and Gilles Vigneault to an English audience. He considered translating a hobby and also a way to appreciate the French language’s ability to capture words, both literally and musically, better than English. He saw it as the “romance of the Romance languages” (Stedingh 124).

Whipple's work has also appeared in various anthologies such as Raymond Souster’s Poets 56: The Younger English-Canadians (1956). Northrop Frye said of this collection that Whipple’s work is experimental and “shows an affinity with cummings which goes farther than the typographical appearance” (153). In Introductions: Poets Present Poets, Whipple’s work was also celebrated by Margaret Avison. Farther afield, Whipple’s work has appeared in spiritually-based collections such as Poetry and Spiritual Practice, Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing (2008), Jailbreaks and Re-Creations: 99 Canadian Sonnets (2008), and Songs From the North: Inspirational Poems by 20 Canadians (1989). His work has also been included in two poetry textbooks, Susan Ioannou’s A Magical Clockwork (2000) and Michael Bugeja’s The Art and Craft of Poetry (2001).

Tammy Armstrong, Spring 2009
University of New Brunswick

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Whipple, George. Carousel: Poems and Pictures. Victoria, BC: Ekstasis Editions, 1999.

---. The Colour of Memory: And Other Poems. Penumbra Press Poetry Ser. 66. Manotick, ON: Penumbra, 2009.

---. Fanfares. Victoria, BC: Ekstasis Editions, 2003.

---. Footsteps on the Water. Windsor, ON: Black Moss, 2005.

---. Hats Off to the Sun. Victoria, BC: Ekstasis Editions, 1996.

---. Kites. Victoria, BC: Ekstasis Editions, 2007.

---. Life Cycle: Selected Poems of George Whipple. Toronto, ON: Hounslow Press, 1984.

---. Origins. Toronto, ON: Guernica, 2002.

---. Passing Through Eden. Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown, 1991.

---. The Peaceable Kingdom. Penumbra Press Poetry Ser. 61. Manotick, ON: Penumbra, 2006.

---. Swim Class and Other Poems. St. Thomas Poetry Ser. Toronto, ON: St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2008.

---. Tom Thomson and Other Poems. Penumbra Press Poetry Ser. 50. Manotick, ON: Penumbra, 2000.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

“BC Author Bank: George Whipple.” BC Book World. 5 Apr. 2009

Boone, Laurel. Rev. of Life Cycle: Selected Poems of George Whipple, by George Whipple. Canadian Literature 106 (Autumn 1985): 111-12.

Budeja, Michael J. The Art and Craft of Poetry. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.

Cunningham, Ralph O. Schwanengesang. USA: Multicultural Books, 2008.

Donaldson, Jeffery. “Letters in Canada 2003: Poetry.” Rev. of Fanfares and Origins, by George Whipple. University of Toronto Quarterly 74.1 (Winter 2004): 200-50.

---. “Poetry.” University of Toronto Quarterly 76.1 (Winter 2007): 197-244.

Dudek, Louis. “Reeling Poetry and Decapitating Books: Life Cycle: Selected Poems.” Rev. of Life Cycle: Selected Poems of George Whipple, by George Whipple. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, ON] 8 June 1985: E19.

Frye, Northrop, et al, eds. Northrop Frye on Canada. Toronto, ON: U of Toronto P, 2003.

Ioannou, Susan. A Magical Clockwork: The Art of Writing the Poem. Toronto, ON: Wordwrights Canada Books, 2000.

Jones, Evan. Introductions: Poets Present Poets. Markham, ON: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2001.

McCaslin, Susan, ed. Poetry and Spiritual Practice: Selections From Contemporary Canadian Poets. Toronto, ON: The St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2002.

Rempel-Burkholder, Byron, and Dora Dueck, eds. Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada. Mississauga, ON: John Wiley and Sons, 2008.

Souster, Raymond, ed. Poets 56: Ten Younger English-Canadians. Toronto, ON: Contact Press, 1956.

Stendingh, R.W. “Aesthetic Differences.” Rev. of Tom Thomson and Other Poems, by George Whipple. Canadian Literature 176 (Spring 2003): 144-5.

---. “An Interview With George Whipple.” The Antigonish Review 144 (Winter 2006): 118-27.

Sutherland, Fraser. “Collected and Selected: Five Gems.” Rev. of Tom Thomson and Other Poems, by George Whipple. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, ON] 4 Aug. 2001: D10.

Wells, Zachariah, ed. Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets. Emeryville, ON: Biblioasis, 2008.

“Who’s Who in the League of Canadian Poets: George Whipple.” The League of Canadian Poets. 5 Apr. 2009

Wilkinson, Keith. “Inside Scaffoldings.” Rev. of Origins, by George Whipple. Canadian Literature 187 (Winter 2005): 166-8.