WATSON, Wilfred

Author Tags: Poetry

Born in Rochester, Kent, England on May 1, 1911, Wilfred Watson was the son of a Royal Navy sailor who brought his family to Duncan on Vancouver Island in 1926. After only one year at Duncan High School, he dropped out to work in a sawmill. He eventually attended University of British Columbia, married fellow writer Sheila Doherty in 1943, and graduated with a B.A. in 1943. He joined the Canadian Navy in 1943 and later received his Ph.D from the University of Toronto in 1951. He gained recognition as a poet in the 1950s and became a fixture at the English department of the University of Alberta until he retired from teaching in 1976. At his volition, the Watsons moved to Vancouver Island in 1980 after he retired from teaching in 1976. Along the way he won the Governor-General's Award for Poetry for Friday's Child in 1955. It includes references to Emily Carr, Jack Shadbolt, Doris Shadbolt and W.B. Yeats.

After Sheila Watson and her husband founded the literary quarterly White Pelican in 1971, Wilfred Watson's second collection, Sorrowful Canadians and Other Poems, was published by White Pelican in 1972. It contained overtly experimental visual procedures. Watson had previously collaborated with Marshall McLuhan for From Cliché to Archetype in 1970, having written a play that was produced in 1969 called Let's Murder Clytemnestra, According To The Principles of Marshall McLuhan. He published 'number grid verse' in I Begin With Counting (1978) and continued to write plays that were produced by the University of Alberta Studio Theatre, including a trilogy about Antonio Gramsci, leader of Italy's Communist Party during the rise of Mussolini. Watson continued to make consciously experimental poems in volumes such as Mass on Cowback (1982) and two Edmonton publishers, Longspoon and NeWest Press, jointly published Poems: Collected, Unpublished and New (1986). His lone collection of short stories appeared as The Baie-Comeau Angel and Other Stories (NeWest, 1993).

Wilfred Watson died in Nanaimo on March 26, 1998. Sheila Watson died less than two months earlier, in Nanaimo, on February 1, 1998. As critic and poet Stephen Scobie has summarized, Wilfred Watson has never been an easy poet to classify, which may be one reason why critics don't feel comfortable with him." Literary historian George Melnyk has also charitably noted, "Watson was the pioneer of a style that others have yet to emulate." As a big fish in a small pond, he could splash around pretty much as he wanted, and he had numerous extra-marital affairs that caused his wife much anguish.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "Poetry"