Crossing Lines

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crossing-linesCrossing Lines

Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era

Edited by Allan Briesmaster and Steven Michael Berzensky

Crossing Lines is the first major anthology of poetry by men and women who grew up in the U.S. and then emigrated to Canada during the Vietnam War era (1965-75). It offers surprising insights into this watershed period and explores provocative themes related to our own time. 76 poets are represented here who have made, and continue to make, significant contributions to Canadian culture and society. A remarkable number have achieved great literary distinction, and all have powerful poetic statements in this book.


Bert Almon, George Amabile, Peter Anson, Rosemary Aubert, Edward Baranosky, Judith Hill Benson, Steven Michael Berzensky, E.D. Blodgett, Michael Boughn, Kent L. Bowman, Ronnie R. Brown, Terry Ann Carter, Sue Chenette, Jim Christy, James Deahl, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Jim Erkiletian, Guy Ewing, Chris Faiers, George Fetherling, Eric Folsom, Douglas Gary Freeman, Katerina Fretwell, Mark Frutkin, Kim Goldberg, Heidi Greco, Elizabeth Greene, Roger Greenwald, Jeremy Harman, Ernest Hekkanen, Bruce Iserman, Ellen S. Jaffe, Pat Jasper, Michael Lee Johnson, Joseph Jones, Kenneth Klonsky, Daniel M. Kolos, Richard Lemm, Edward Lemond, Alison Lohans, Keith Maillard, Dave Margoshes, Steven McCabe, Gary McCarty, Susan McCaslin, Marianne Micros, Isa Milman, Steve Moore, Wendy Morton, Joe Nickell, Ken Norris, Barry N. Olshen, Bud Osborn, Pam Oxendine, Wayne Padgett, Ruth Roach Pierson, Wayne Ray, John Reibetanz, Peter Richardson, Marcia Rodríguez, Leon Rooke, Bernadette Rule, Libby Scheier, Paul Schwartz, Norm Sibum, Ann Sorensen, Ken Stange, Allen Sutterfield, Robert Sward, Rae Marie Taylor, Richard Teleky, Judy Wapp, Sue Wheeler, J. Michael Yates, Liz Zetlin, Michael Zizis.

Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era

Note: The Editors have selected, especially for the Publisher’s website, and for any other links, the following excerpts from three of the sections in their original Preface.


from A migration of poets

It has been widely reported that as many as 50,000 young men of draft age came to Canada from the United States in the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. It is commonly accepted that most of this group of immigrants remained in Canada and became citizens. Not so well known, however, is that thousands of American women also emigrated during this historic period of upheaval and change in both countries. In light of such data, it should be seen as no coincidence that about a third of our Crossing Lines poets are women.

Although the Vietnam war and the Draft and anti-war protests were prominent in the news of the time, individual circumstances differed greatly, even among those wishing to avoid “crossing the line” into military service. These varied circumstances are in plain view in some of the poems here as well as in the contributors’ bios. At least two poets served in the U.S. armed forces. In their poems and/or bios, some poets are outspoken about resisting the Draft and the Vietnam war. Others were exempt from the Draft and came to Canada seeking opportunity or a fresh start. Quite a few were university students or teachers and professors.

A sizeable portion of these poets had little involvement with the politics of the day, or with the “counter-culture.” Some who did get involved have chosen not to write about their experiences in what, to them, is a confused, painful, and distant time. For some, the departure was wrenching. And for some, the arrival brought loneliness, a strong sense of separation, and a lowering of expectations. Others felt far more at home here than there. Some wrote of going back as more difficult than leaving.

However much they have differed in other respects, the lives of all the men and women whose voices are gathered in this book were radically changed by their passage, within that tumultuous time span, from the one country to the other. While the sense of transition and transformation may not always be evident in overt, literal terms – this is poetry, after all – it can still be felt implicitly and in depth on page after page. The editors are convinced that each of these poems could, in truth, have only been written by people who chose to cross the line into Canada. Crossing Lines is thus, in a very fundamental sense, an extended exploration of dual nationality. Though much more besides.

Altogether, the poems say and imply a great deal about these 76 men and women who chose to move north. Moreover, they stand as a microcosm of a large and unparalleled social phenomenon. One quality that characterizes this particular immigrant group is a dynamic individualism, a widely acknowledged American trait which they each brought undeclared across the border, prodding them to contribute something distinctive to Canada’s culture. The medium of poetry itself invites individual idiosyncrasy, and in reading the submissions for this book we did not find any poets who wrote exactly like each other, or who approached the same subjects from the same angle. We observe each poet stitching his or her own uniquely colourful patch into the variegated quilt of Canadian literature.

If CanLit remains to some extent an unresolved critical puzzle, then one or more of its missing pieces may prove to be the varied ways in which these writers have been able to add their singular viewpoints, styles, forms, subject matters, and voices to the development of our poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and drama.

from Clearing up misconceptions

The title of Crossing Lines will likely be subject to misconceptions about the book’s character and content in certain respects. The best way to get these cleared up, of course, is simply to read all the poems, not just a few here and there that might easily fit into some narrow preconception. “Vietnam” is in the full title deliberately, and this anthology contains a number of powerful reflections on that war and that period. It will be evident, though, that the majority of the poems here are not explicitly engaged with these subjects. The principal reason for emphasizing “the Vietnam War Era” is the editors’ recognition that this conflict indelibly altered the consciousness of virtually every young person (and their parents) living in the United States during that turbulent time. In Canada, too.

Scattered throughout this anthology are a number of poems which not only focus on that particular war – including its aftermath, its continuing repercussions, and its parallels to current events – but also consider war in general. The voices in these poems are not stuck in a single groove, repeating clichés. On the contrary, war is presented here with fresh imagery and metaphors and analogies (e.g., fishing and hunting), and from varied emotional, intellectual, and historical perspectives. We have even included some verses that gaze back with personal nostalgia on brothers and fathers, classmates and friends who have willingly fought in Vietnam and in previous wars. Some poems convey a sense of deep family pride, of a tradition of communal acceptance, and of a lost or diminished military glory. So it could truly be said that this book is not narrowly anti-war but simply and profoundly human.

The sad irony can hardly be lost on readers, however, that history does, unfortunately, replicate itself, and that a costly military adventure continues, with seemingly no end in sight, not dissimilar to the one which changed these poets’ lives four decades ago. A few controversial statements in this book on past wars and present wars run the risk of being quoted out of context by unsympathetic readers. Others may wish the anthology to have been more politically charged than it is. But what is most central here are the compelling, and somehow never trite, expressions of a profound aversion to war and of a longing for peace.

In any case, Crossing Lines, taken in its entirety, is clearly so multifarious in its angles of vision that it cannot be said to have a single political message. Seventy-six Americans peaceably crossed over at different times and in different ways and for different reasons, and, arriving, every one, in their own pair of shoes or sandals or boots, proceeded to leave their individual imprints on Canadian soil.

from Aims and concerns

Without minimizing any of its other dimensions, it is fair to say that the larger concerns and aims of this anthology are broadly cultural and social. Through the lens of poetry, a unique opportunity is provided for readers, whatever their nationality, to survey an unparalleled phenomenon and its ramifications. The reality of the matter is this: no other span of ten to twelve years saw so many poets-to-be move from one country to another. This phenomenon calls for greater recognition than it has so far been given, in Canada and elsewhere. Such recognition ought to come not only from those with an interest in this nation’s culture, but also from others able to realize how poetry (especially of the kinds on these pages) offers exceptional insights for which historical and sociological studies yield no equivalent.

Allan Briesmaster
Steven Michael Berzensky
March, 2008