5. Michael Boughn, Great Canadian Poems for the Aged, Vol. 1

2012, BookThug, Toronto ON

$20, 978-1-927040-37-9, 81 pages

reviewed by rob mclennan


You can’t get much farther from snow

bound retreats into mountains, moose

and Mounties than where walking into endless

walking leads you. Walking while standing still


is another trick associated

with irresponsible identity violations. This

indicates a new range of mountains

walking away from the world making


a figure displacing her into a limited

number of elements. (“Walking Woman”)


Toronto writer, editor and critic Michael Boughn has been skimming just under the radar now for some time, far less known than perhaps he should be, for his editorial work with Victor Coleman, co-editing, The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan (The University of California Press, 2010), as well as his own individual works, that include the poetry collections Iterations of the Diagonal (Shuffaloff, 1995), Dislocations in Crystal (Coach House Books, 2003), the Governor General’s Award-shortlisted 22 Skidoo / SubTractions (BookThug, 2009), and now, Great Canadian Poems for the Aged, Vol. 1 (BookThug, 2012). Great Canadian Poems for the Aged, Vol. 1 is a collection of twenty poems that plays with “the fundamental elements of the Canadian struggle for identity,” composing tongue-in-cheek poems on what was considered a deeply-held (predominantly late 19th and early 20th century) Canadianism, one that feels nearly antiquated now, more than a century later. Reading, in part, as an in-joke for a particular generation of Canadian readers (the “aged” in the title, one presumes), might younger readers even comprehend Boughn’s references to Johnny Canuck, “The Great White North,” Wyndham Lewis, Michael Snow’s “Walking Woman,” Murray McLaughlin, the “Ladies and Escorts” door on ancient taverns, Foster Hewitt, or the Mad Trapper? Might younger readers even know that Canada Day was, from its origins on July 1, 1867 until July 1, 1982, known as “Dominion Day”? As he writes to open the poem with the same name:


O Canada who’s on top is your

anthem of immaculate plenitude, your endless

refrain. No domicile is complete without

it, no tempest truly fine. Who’s on top


resists metaphorical resolutions and leafy

insistence on benevolent and scalable

magnitudes as long as no answer



A self-aware collection of references, Boughn uses these bits of information as jumping-off points, utilizing fragments once so strong in the label of “Canadian identity” that have fallen by the wayside, or simply become outdated, irrelevant or simply forgotten. Utilized as triggers, he composes thick and playfully-dense, fully compact language poems relaying masses of information, making the play itself the purpose and the point. In an energized language, Boughn plays with “Doukhobor Butts,” “Foster Hewitt goes to heaven,” “Stubbies,” “Wyndham Lewis goes to Wawa,” and “Johnny Canuck and Miss Canada go to Wonderland,” the first sections of which read:


If it was as simple as the Queen

on a stamp the glaciers would be

just an embellished disclaimer.

The other side of the mountains


however, exclaim later plenitudes

till glacial restitution circulates

freely among elk herds by the side

of a road that never gets there


because toward ends it.







Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012) and grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). The Uncertainty Principle: stories, is scheduled to appear in spring 2014. An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com