Author Tags: Jewish, Poetry

"Poetry provides an environment for people to share their feral fantasies, although very rarely do wild phantasms morph into poems.” -- Joe Rosenblatt

Born in Toronto in 1933, Joe Rosenblatt worked as an editor of Jewish Dialog and later wrote a memoir about his childhood called Escape from the Glue Factory. He will likely go down in literary history for writing the second book ever published by Coach House Press, The LSD Leacock, in 1966. In 1976 his book Top Soil won the Governor General's Award for poetry. He won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for Poetry Hotel in 1986. His work has appeared in more than 50 anthologies and literary magazines. He came to live in Vancouver in 1980. He then moved to Vancouver Island and served as Writer-in-Residence and visiting lecturer at the University of Victoria. He has traveled extensively for readings in Italy and several of his books have been translated into Italian.

Many of the personal essays in The Lunatic Muse reflect upon the influences of his writerly colleagues such as Gwendolyn MacEwan, Milton Acorn and Brian Brett, as well as his philosophy of poetry and writing: “Poetry is a way of going out on a blind date to meet your soul, and you’ve promised to meet your true essence at a trendy nightclub in some dark alley of the inner city. You arrive there, sit down at an empty table, without realizing your date is sitting right next to you. It sees that you are invisible to each other. And finally this cadaverously lean waiter appears out of the shadows and says: You want to order something from the bar? Sure, you reply, what’s on tap. The waiter reads out the brand names of some local brews: “we have Eternal Life, a fuzzy dark cumulous of an ale, we have Deep Space, a sparkly bitter beer, somewhat heavy, like a burnt-out lodestone – an acquired taste…. Suddenly you see your waiter fading away, and then it occurs to you that your date is never going to show up , and further, that you are in the wrong bar, the wrong cul de sac and even worse, you are talking to a complete stranger, your navel. That’s poetry!"

He lives in Qualicum Beach.


The LSD Leacock. Coach House Press, Toronto, 1966

Winter of the Luna Moth. House of Anansi, Toronto, 1968

Bumblebee Dithyramb., Press Porcepic, Erin l970

Tommy Fry & the Ant Colony ( fiction). Black Moss press, Windsor, l970

Blind Photographer. Press Porcepic, Erin, 1974

Dream Craters. Press Porcepic, Erin, 1975

Virgins & Vampires. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1975

Top Soil, Selected Poems (l962-1975). Press Porcepic, Erin, 1976

Loosely Tied Hands. Black Moss Press, Windsor, 1978

The Sleeping Lady. Exile Editions, Toronto, l980

Brides of the Stream. Oolichan Books, Lantzville, B.C., 1983

Poetry Hotel, Selected Poems (1963-1985). McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1985

Escape From the Glue Factory. (autobiographical fiction) Exile Editions, Toronto, 1985

The Kissing Goldfish of Siam. (autobiographical fiction) Exile Editions, Toronto, 1989

Beds & Consenting Dreamers. (an experimental novel) Oolichan Books, Lantzville, B.C. 1994

A Tentacled Mother (in the original plus new sonnets) Exile Editons, Toronto, Oct. l995

The Rosenblatt Reader (selected poems and prose, 1962-1995) Exile Editions, Toronto, Oct. 1995.

The Voluptuous Gardener (new poetry and slected drawings from Carleton University Art Gallery permanent collection) Beach Holme Press, Van couver, Oct. 1996.

The Lunatic Muse [ed. David Barry] (Exile Editions, 2007) $22.95 978-1-8

Dog (Mansfield Press, 2008). Poems by Joe Rosenblatt and Catherine Owen. Photos by Karen Moe.

The Bird in the Stillness (Porcupine’s Quill 2016) $16.95 978-0-889843-94-3

[BCBW 2016] "Poetry"

Bird in the Stillness
Review (2016)

Inspired in part by his love of the tall trees—ancient Douglas firs –and roving in the Qualicum Beach Heritage Forest, Joe Rosenblatt’s Bird in the Stillness (Porcupine’s Quill $16.95) is a collection of fifty forest devotionals dedicated to the mythic Green Man, a spirit of the woods of his own making. Rosenblatt tells a story through these sonnets, but it's a narrative that is slowly revealed in lines and fragments. Each offering to the Green Man can be digested individually, with no expectations toward a larger tale. Each piece reveals minute glimpses into Rosenblatt’s interior. Behind these sumptuous praises is a man in the twilight of his writing career, overwhelmed by the timeless gaze of the trees. The poet is cast, by juxtaposition, in a fleeting, ephemeral light. Each poem reveals a little more about his myriad inadequacies when in the Green Man’s mighty shadow.

At times Rosenblatt’s muse is cast in equally human tones, but the dominant narrative is the majesty of the Green Man beyond anything humans can achieve. This collection of poems serves as a reminder of the gossamer frailty and solemn power of the Qualicum Beach forests.

Describing the Green Man, he concludes one of his sonnets:

His spirit is indomitable – and he won’t let it go astray.

I want to be a greener man than he who rules the forest.

How can I wrest the power from that unsmiling potentate?

A voice in my belfry desires that I be interred inside a tree.

I will not abide the creepy moss moving in and choking me.

The driving rain turns the soul to rot and that is terrifying.

In a review for Tidechange, Sharon Abron Drache notes that he has been both writing and drawing in response to the environment since he gained notoriety for a series of sound poems in the 1960s, Bumblebee Dithyramb, praising bees at Toronto’s Allan Gardens as Mother Nature’s proletariats. She ably recalls the evolution of Rosenblatt's "nature-starved urban imagination. "As a teenager, Rosenblatt had fled to Allan Gardens to escape the death scene he witnessed daily while working in his Uncle Nathan’s Kensington Market fish store. For the young and sensitive poet, the fishmonger he previously respected had morphed into both a jailer and murderer as he confined fresh water carp in huge tanks before clubbing them to death for the gefilte fish made for the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays by his female customers – unlikely accomplices to his routine ichtycides."

The Bird in the Stillness can therefore be likened to a spiritual feast. Nature is in abundance. Starvation, begone. "Rosenblatt’s muse," writes Drache, "often a complex conglomeration of animated caricatures of naked women flitting in and out of his poems and drawings in their role as the perpetual guardian/nurturers of the natural world, are remarkably absent in his new book of sonnets, The Bird in the Stillness." The deity of The Green Man is enough.

by James Paley