Mandel, Eli

Eli Mandel, poet, essayist, anthologist (b at Estevan, Sask 3 Dec 1922; d at Toronto, Ont 3 Sept 1992). Born to Russian-Jewish parents who had emigrated from Ukraine in their early teens, Mandel was raised on the Prairies during the Depression. After serving overseas during during WWII, he attended the University of Saskatchewan (BA 1949; MA 1950) and the University of Toronto (PhD, 1957) and held academic appointments at the University of Alberta and York University. He was the author of nine volumes of poetry.

Mandel's early poems, collected in Trio (1954) and Fuseli Poems (1960), are densely allusive, their grand rhetoric grounded in classical and biblical mythology. In subsequent works, his poetry moved from this rational ordering of materials in the direction of open verse forms, from language that is heavily rhetorical to a more colloquial idiom. In Black and Secret Man (1964), he became more personal and more inward, with many of the poems containing overt reference to Jewish life, and An Idiot Joy (1967) won the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD.

Mandel explored his memories and dreams of the prairies in Stony Plain (1973), and Out of Place (1977) is a striking long poem about his literal and spiritual return to Estevan. His travels abroad as scholar and poet lay behind Life Sentence (1981), a work that combines excerpts from his travel journals together with poems the occasions gave rise to. He also wrote a study of Irving LAYTON (1969), 2 volumes of literary essays, Another Time (1977) and The Family Romance (1986), and edited numerous poetry anthologies. Throughout Mandel's work, there is a profound sense that literature invents life and invests it with meaning; the poet speaks unpleasant but necessary truths, an essentially religious act marked by reverence and awe.