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.
Praise for The Burning Alphabet:
“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’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.” — Jury Citation 2005 Governor General’s Award for Poetry
“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.” — Jury Citation 2006 CAA Jack Chalmers Poetry Award