Ken Babstock's first collection, Mean (1999), won the Milton Acorn People's Poetry Prize and the Atlantic Poetry Prize. Mean is preoccupied with the meanness of mundane human existence - how it imprisons us, threatens to kill us - and the means by which we seek, only sometimes successfully, to break free from these self-imposed jails. In "Sawteeth," for example, a gerbil runs itself out on its wheel under the "stunned" gaze of a boy, whose "cluttered" bedroom suggestively parallels his pet's "littered" cage. The poems "Finishing" and "Deck. It's a Deck" meditate on how we as human beings continually attempt to render our houses, those "bland" and "formless" self-made prisons, more aesthetically pleasing. The process is ultimately dehumanizing, stranding us on a gerbil's wheel of the mundane: "A plot of middle ground, our own paddock with / centre-post to circle around. We / work and drink and / sweat through unbridled dreams of the mean."
Days into Flatspin (2001), Babstock's second collection, won the K.M. Hunter Award. In these poems, everyday experiences and events are not always imprisoning; they can sometimes function as portals to heightened states of being. In "Carrying someone else's infant past a cow in a field near Marmora, Ont," for example, Babstock transforms this quotidian event into an elaborate meditation on human beings' relationship with the natural landscape. Similarly, "The 7-Eleven Formerly Known as Rx" is narrated from the viewpoint of a renovated convenience store, giving rise to a complex rumination on life's essential mutability and flux. Babstock's poems are dense with keen observation of minute details, and they are technically versatile, employing free verse as often as more traditional forms. "Fire Watch," a poem that mimics the difficulties of communicating via "field phone" by repeatedly using the word "Over" and inserting sections of "[inaudible]" speech, was made into a five-minute movie in 2002, directed by Anthony Wong.
Babstock's collection Airstream Land Yacht (2006), won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist for both the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD and the GRIFFIN POETRY PRIZE. In this collection, Babstock retains his tight focus on everyday experiences, but in these poems the poetic personas more actively participate in and intellectually shape those experiences. An "Airstream Land Yacht," as the title poem puts it, is "sort of like a / brain" because it ranges over the landscape in much the same way that a human brain ranges over ideas and experiences. Even the structure of the collection mimics this expansiveness: it is divided into four sections, each containing several poems that explore a single syllable in the collection's title: "Air," "Stream," "Land," and "Yacht."
Methodist Hatchet (2012), Babstock's fourth collection, won the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize and confirmed Babstock's status in Canadian poetry. The collection, fittingly named for a double-sided axe, continues Babstock's exploration of the often bewildering, kaleidoscopic connections within our contemporary world, surveying its popular culture and mediated landscapes. Babstock's characteristic voice, with its compression and quick shifts, is here imbued with a satirical lightness. Play with form and a clear attention to the music of the line is, as ever, much in evidence; Babstock himself has commented "I'm one of those people that has... invested everything in sound, except that meaning won't leave me alone."
Babstock's poetry has been translated into several languages, including French, German, Dutch, and Czech, and he has participated in numerous poetry festivals throughout the world, including the Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic. He is considered one of the most significant Canadian poets of his generation.
Author ROBERT G. MAY Revised: SUSANNE MARSHALL
Links to Other Sites
View a video clip of poet Ken Babstock reading "Compatibilist" from his book "Airstream Land Yacht." From the website for the Griffin Poetry Prize.
See synposes and excerpts from books written by critically acclaimed poet Ken Babstock. Click on the book covers for more information. From House of Anansi Press.
An Interview with Ken Babstock
An Interview in which Ken Babstock talks about writing poetry and his perceived relationship with readers. From "The Puritan," an online Canadian literary journal.
Hatchet Job: Ken Babstock returns with his fourth collection of poetry
A feature article in which Ken Babstock ponders his evolving approach to poetry. From the National Post.
A critical review of Ken Babstock's diverse collection of poetry "Methodist Hatchet". From Another Chicago Magazine.
Read Ken Babstock's poem "Fire Watch", from "Days into Flatspin". From the "Poetry In Voice" website.
Poet of the Month: Ken Babstock
Read a brief CBC interview with acclaimed poet Ken Babstock.