The Burning Alphabet

by Barry Dempster


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Winner of the 2006 CAA Jack Chalmers Poetry Award.
Shortlisted for the 2005 Governor General’s Award for Poetry
and longlisted for the 2006 ReLit Awards.

The Burning Alphabet confirms and extends Barry Dempster’s reputation as one of Canada’s most respected poets. Underpinning these poems, as in his previous work, there lies an unswerving dedication to emotional and spiritual honesty, clear-eyed recognitions rendered without pomp. In one section, “Sick Days”, he focuses on that “other place” of chronic illness. Other poems present arguments against suicide, and explore the tropical wonders of a woman’s closet. The closing section renders, with great candour and poignancy, the powerful love-hate relationship with an aging father. Dempster writes as though it were simply natural to have speech and song cohabit with such grace.

In the thick of night, when we’re dreaming of
corridors and Dali clocks, the soft brown
bodies of bucks and does are basking
in our moonlight, nibbling on the last of our
lettuce leaves, scratching impressions in our sand.
They are the children we wish we’d had,
fleeting images of ourselves before
inner lives grew blotchy, eyes heavy with
10 p.m. cop shows and those blessedly
nonsensical dreams. …

from “Deer”

“In The Burning Alphabet, mood, with all its elaborate subtleties and manifestations, both in sickness and in health, constitutes a metaphysics. I feel as though I’ve lived an entire inner life in these pages, wrenching, dark, and amazingly sweet.” – Roo Borson

Barry Dempster has written 8 previous collections of poetry, most recently The Words Wanting Out, Poems Selected and New (Nightwood Editions) as well as a children’s book, two volumes of short stories and a novel, The Ascension of Jesse Rapture (Quarry Press). He has received a Confederation Poets Prize and a Petra Kenney Award, among others. Born and raised in Toronto, he presently lives north of the city.

Nominated for the 2005 Governor General’s Award for Poetry – Jury Citation (2005) – “Barry Dempster’s The Burning Alphabet is a skillful navigation and sometimes irreverent meditation on illness, loss and the transitory. It hums with honesty and unexpected delight.”

Winner of the 2006 CAA Jack Chalmers Poetry Award Judges’ Comments – The Burning Alphabet by Barry Dempster – “Few if any poets encompass the range, the dynamism, and the spectrum of emotional colours Barry Dempster does. The Burning Alphabet bravely tackles such potentially demoralizing matters as chronic illness, the chasm between father and son, suburbia, and the gross derangements of our society with a combination of tender rambunctiousness, broad deep humour, and a fervent zest for the possibilities of language and for re-imagining life’s bewilderments that’s unparalleled.

Barry Dempster creates word music that is both delightfully insightful and memorable.”


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About the Author

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Award, is the author of fourteen previous collections of poetry. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts and in 2014 he was…

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Additional Info

  • ISBN: 189407842X
  • ISBN-13: 9781894078429
  • Pages: 144
  • Year: 2005
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.75 x 0.5 in
  • Category: , ,
  • Cover Art:

    Moving Towards Fire by Betty Roodish Goodwin, 1923

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