President's Report 2007

Memorial professor’s poetry explores unique language

Professor Mary Dalton

For Professor Mary Dalton, poetry is a kind of pure research where language is the laboratory and cadence the catalyst. Her experiments have made her one of the province’s – and the country’s – most important poets.

“Writing poetry is original research into the language,” she says, likening the work to that of mathematicians who devise original equations. “The best poetry is an exploration. It’s the making of something new which others can then build on.”

Her own explorations have been garnering accolades for years.

Prof. Dalton’s most recent book of poetry, Red Ledger, was nominated for both the Atlantic Book Awards Atlantic Poetry Prize and the Newfoundland and Labrador E. J. Pratt Award. (Memorial Librarian and poet Patrick Warner was also nominated for that award.)

In addition to favourable reviews locally and across the country, the collection appeared in the Globe and Mail’s Writers’ Round-up of the Top Books of 2006.

Like so much of her poetry, Red Ledger examines the natural, cultural, political and social landscape of her home province. Between its covers, readers will discover A Litany to Be Said for Newfoundlanders, as well as Lies for the Tourists and 25 riddles in verse. But Prof. Dalton’s treatment of this terrain is anything but prosaic. Rather, she turns salt piles that fill St. John’s harbour into Lot’s wife’s breasts – “these massive salt mounds/laced tight in their black vinyl tarps,” — and recalls Argentia in the forties, “streets paved with Americans.”

In March 2006, Prof. Dalton was the Canadian Poet of the Month for CBC.ca’s Words at Large. In an interview on that site, she said she began writing poetry because she was “besotted by words….”