Author Tags: Poetry
George Whipple was born in St. John, New Brunswick on May 24, 1927. He was the son of Bert and Mabel (née Maling) Whipple. With his brother of Edward, he grew up in Toronto. He died in Burnaby, B.C. on May 29, 2014, aged 87.
George Whipple attended Vancouver Teachers College in 1952, returned to Toronto and worked for more than 30 years as a postal clerk, then as a records clerk in the City Hall until 1984. He arrived back in B.C. in 1985, taking up residence in Burnaby.
His first book gained lavish praise from Northrop Frye, Louis Dudek and Gwendolyn MacEwan, among others. The cover of Fanfares, dedicated to Margaret Avison, is a self-portrait. "Critic and creator both," he writes, "I sweat the fat from my poems by constant revision until they can dance in patterns more precise than speech, more true than reason."
In Whipple's tenth book of poems, Kites, divided into six sections — In the Beginning; The Changing World; The Flesh; Poetry; Kites and Obsequies — the poet invokes childhood wonder, the inner life of animals, forms of earthly passion and the wry experience of advancing age. [See review below]
Volume I of his collected poems is Tom Thomson and Other Poems. Volume II is The Colour of Memory. His papers and other works are archived in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, U of T.
Life Cycle: Selected Poems (Hounslow Press, 1984)
Passing Through Eden (Thistledown Press, 1991)
Hats Off To The Sun (Ekstasis Editions, 1996)
Carousel (Ekstasis Editions, 1999)
Tom Thomson and Other Poems (Penumbra Press 2001 $18.95)
Origins (Guernica 2002 $12) 1-55071-160-1
Fanfares (Ekstasis Editions, 2003)
Footprints on the Water (Black Moses, 2005)
The Peaceable Kingdom (Penumbra Press, 2006)
Kites (Ekstasis, 2007) $18.95
Swim Class and Other Poems (St. Thomas Poetry Series 2008)
The Colour of Memory (Penumbra 2010)
The Seven Wonders of the Leg (Ekstasis 2010)
[BCBW 2011] "Poetry"
from Hannah Main-van der Kamp
Some slight poetry is lite; other slight poems, too easily dismissed at a first glance, deserve re-reading. Whipple’s fall into the latter category. It is not necessary for a poem to be long in order to qualify for a second reading. Neither should rhymed poetry be dismissed as dated drivel. KITES is deceptively simple in content and form but these snippets, or “feather words,” are essentially mystic utterances. Not the /via negativa/ mysticism as in Tim Lilburn but the rapture of a St Francis.
The poet’s own whimsical drawings illustrate each section. The humour, not the /ha ha/ kind, is shy. In Silverfish, the glue and rot-eating pests are compared to the wildflowers in the sayings of Jesus, “They toil not neither do they reap.”
Whipple could strengthen his pieces by crossing out some of the many abstractions such as, “life, love, death, hope, joy, faith.” Not because the Age of Faith is over, it is, but because these words have lost their impact through mis-use and over-use. He might consider being more accurate about natural details. Salmon do not spawn under lily pads.
Who would have thought that contemporary mystic verse could be so accessible? An octogenarian Blake-ian child, Whipple rewards the seasoned reader as well as those who do not read poetry because they do not “get” it. In these pieces there is no guile; what you read is what you get: on the second reading if not the first.
As his publisher Richard Olafson puts it, “There is great erudition behind his simple verses. He was Margart Avison’s favourite poet. He has also never gotten his due even though he is up there with the best of them, a true poet mystic/seer. But he lives alone, an elderly man in a high rise in Burnaby. He has never gone to literary parties, never shows his face at readings, never gives readings of his own work, just working on his poems and drawings in seclusion, with a kind of quiet integrity. He is a poet I am proud to have published (four books by him) and I am proud to be his friend.”