ISAAC, Douglas W.

Author Tags: Poetry

Born in Edmonton, Douglas Isaac of the Fraser Valley has travelled widely as a child, teen and adult. He has "worked 6,000 feet underground, 40,000 feet in the air, with many fair & foul strata in between." He spent three decades in Montreal, but has also lived in China (PRC), Europe, New York City, Toronto, Vancouver, Whitehorse and rural Ontario. He has done stills photography, film and video and optioned optioned one feature script in Hollywood. He has shot a TV documentary in Palestine, and was a former advisor to Ministers in the Federal Government. With BFA and MA degrees from Concordia University, Montreal, he has re-settled on a farm in Mount Lehman.

He describes his fictional work Past, Present: Tense... (BuschekBooks, 2004) as a 91-page satirical, ironical, sometimes tragic, epic narrative, long poem. "In it a dis-spirited, contemporary urban man is snatched by the spirit of his dead, Russian Mennonite grandfather from a senior level meeting in an ad agency where he works, transformed into a Medieval flying gargoyle and whisked back to the beginning of Mennonite (Anabaptist) history, the Reformation, Munster, 1534. From there the two return in time, stopping as observers, sometimes participants, at other significant moments in history. Munster, Danzig, the trek to Chortitza, Epp's mad quest for the Messiah (1889), the emigration to Canada--none are spared the author's sharp-edged quill." 1-894543-19-X

While dividing his time between Seattle and Abbotsford, Isaac released a collection of his selected poems.

DATE OF BIRTH: Dec. 25, 1946


ARRIVAL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: 1st, 1981; 2nd, 1996


EMPLOYMENT OTHER THAN WRITING: Contract Communications Consultant to the Rich and Powerful, Pro Bono to the Meek & Impoverished, Teaches

AWARDS: Ontario Arts Council Award (1980), Concordia/Quebec Film Production Award (1976)


Altered Biography: The Womb years (Arsenal Pulp, 1999)
Past, Present: Tense... (Buschek Books, 2004)
Centres of Treatment: Selected Poems, 1992-2006 (Self-published, 2008)

[BCBW 2008] "Poetry" "Mennonite"

Altered Biography (Arsenal $15.95)

Fusing autobiography, memoir and satire, Douglas Isaac’s first book Altered Biography (Arsenal $15.95) is about the reincarnation of a man and a woman as sperm and ovum. The narrative careens recklessly from a Soho loft-like womb to an operating room to a fallopian tube–to depict an amoral millennial society of lost souls. Isaac lives in Vancouver. 1-55152-072-9


Annals & Orals

Douglas Isaac's new novel Annals & Orals is the second installment of The Altered Biography Quartet, the first volume of which, Altered Biography: The Womb Years, I reviewed here seven years ago (TAR121). (Isaac's epic poem Past, Present: Tense... I reviewed more recently in TAR 143.) The writing in this series is on the outer fringes of the experimental, so I wasn't totally shocked by the opinion anonymously offered on the back cover of Annals and Orals that the work "satirically debunks psychotherapy, derails postmodernism and redefines the narrative 'I'." Though these words may indeed have a peculiar aptness in reference to Isaac's novel, I would like to consider how all three works under review feature first-person narrators subversively resistant to "definitive" analyses.
I return, finally, to the notion that Isaac's work "derails postmodernism." Unlike Altered Biography: The Womb Years, Annals and Orals is self-published, so the anonymous words on the back cover may be seen as part of the work - something that Isaac wrote himself or at least with which he agrees. To me, it seems an open question whether or not the novel entirely lives up to the claim, though it definitely is heading in the appropriate direction. While it may not be more unsettling to a postmodern sensibility than the work of, say, Krukoff or Brown, it is unsettling in a different way, overtly challenging the structures that underlie both life and art. And even if some of these, such as psychoanalysis or New Criticism, may seem more modern than postmodern, that does not mean that they are not still with us, and still fair game.

-- John Fell, The Antigonish Review