Archives Online Showcase

This page is dedicated to showcasing some of the interesting works that the University's Archives has to offer. Past features can be found in the Past Archives Features section. To explore our collection of rare books, please visit the Rare Books Online Showcase.

February 2014 Archives Feature: Collection Connections

This month's archival / rare books feature focuses on the connection between three Canadian poets across two collections held at the University's Archives and Special Collections. At the center of this exploration is a book of 24 poems by author J. Michael Yates called Canticle for Electronic Music.

J. Michael Yates:


YatesJ. Michael Yates was born in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri in 1936. He has published not only poetry, but also fiction, drama, translations, and philosophical essays. After working for several years at universities across the United States, Yates moved to Canada where he became a professor of Creative Writing and writer-in-residence at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1966. At this time he also became involved in the publishing industry, setting up the Sono Nis Press, where he worked publishing many books including a number of his own, until 1976. He continues to live and work in Vancouver, teaching languages, science, and history of ideas with his wife from their home.

Yates published Canticle for Electronic Music in 1967, during his tenure as writer-in-residence at the University of British Columbia. The selection of 24 poems thrum in an emotional space between reckless energy and numbing despair. Each poem is a set of eight stanzas of three carefully constructed lines, the individual poems in their structure mimicking the book as a whole (each poem being 24 lines, and the book itself being made up of 24 poems).


What is particularly unique about the University Archives and Special Collections' copy of this text, is, firstly, that it is signed by the author himself, and secondly that it was signed to another famous Canadian poet, Al Purdy. The University's Archives and Special Collections has an extensive accumulation of Al Purdy's papers, available to researchers upon request. This collection includes his correspondence with a number of other prominent Canadian writers, manuscripts, photographs, reviews, articles, and works by Purdy's peers.

Al Purdy:

Al Purdy was born in 1918 (almost two decades before Yates)  in Wooler, Ontario. Later in life, he dividpurdyed his time between Roblin Lake (Ameliasburgh), Ontario and Sidney, British Columbia. Purdy was a poet, T.V. and radio playwright, editor, travel writer and book reviewer. He is considered to be one of Canada’s greatest poets – called by the League of Canadian Poets “The Voice of the Land.” He is often referred to as a “people’s poet” and was immensely popular amongst fellow writers and the public alike. This popularity was in part due to his working class background and accessible subject matter. Purdy won a number of awards, including two Governor General’s Awards (for The Cariboo Horses in 1965 and The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, 1956-1986 in 1986). Al Purdy died in Sidney, B.C., on April 21, 2000.

His popularity is reflected in the avid and ongoing correspondence Purdy maintained with other Canadian authors, critics, literary figures and media personalities-- and his reputation is reflected in such items as the signed copy of Yates' book.

One individual with whom Purdy corresponded quite frequently was Canadian poet and literary critic, Peter Stevens. As is the case with Al Purdy, the University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special collections stores a variety of Stevens' manuscripts, correspondence, published poems, book reviews, articles, and books, available for research upon request. Stevens corresponded with Purdy on a number of subjects, including poets and poetry in general, and a project he was working on regarding the social/poetic history of the Thirties in Canada.

Peter Stevens:

Peter Stevens was born in Manchester, England in 1927 and graduated from the University of Nottingham with a B.A. in 1951. He came to Canada in 1957 and taught while working on his M.A. From 1964 to 1968 he taught at the University of Saskatchewan and received a doctorate in Canadian literature in 1968. Throughout his life, Stevens was involved in the publishing industry, and acted as a dedicated editor for a number of well known publications. Deeply interested in the jazz scene, Stevens also was a regular contributor to the CBC's Jazz Radio Canada series in the 1970s, and jazz columnist for the Windsor Star. 

In his capacity as a critic and editor, Peter Stevens frequently had occasion to review the works of other Canadian authors. He not only gave a number of glowing reviews of the works of Al Purdy but also, interestingly, reviewed Canticle for Electronic Music in The Canadian Art Forum (Aug. 1968). He describes the book as a "swinging tightrope", the reading of it a "nerve wracking experience" as the reader is thrown into Yates' "bleak" "poetic world".

Above we have the finished version of Stevens review as published in The Canadian Forum, while following we have a typewritten working copy of the text:

While not, perhaps, the most complimentary review, it is interesting to think of how this same text might have been read both by Stevens, and Purdy--and by Yates himself. Drawing lines between the poets, and the collections, gives us a sense of how tightly knit the Canadian poetry community was at the time at which Yates wrote Canticle for Electronic Music.It is worth contemplating what the benefits (or drawbacks) would have been of having such a deeply involved community, and considering whether we have any modern equivalent for Canadian poets today.


"About J. Michael Yates" J. Michael Yates Official Site, 2014.

"Literary Archives: Yates, J. Michael." Library and Archives Canada List of Fonds and Collections.

"Peter Stevens Obituary". The Windsor Star, May 15-16, 2009;

Stevens, Peter. "Canticle for Electronic Music [Review]". The Canadian Forum. Aug. 1968. pp. 115.

"The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections". McMaster University Liubraries.

Yates, J. Michael. Canticle for Electronic Music. Victoria: Morriss Printing co., 1967.

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