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Winter 2022, Breakwater Books

The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry
By (author): Mary Dalton
Mary Dalton


Breakwater Books - St. John's



Product Form:


Form detail:

Paperback , Trade


General Trade
Feb 23, 2022
Print Run: 400
$14.95 CAD


7.5in x 4 x 0.2 in | 0.1 kg

Page Count:

64 pages
Breakwater Books Ltd
Breakwater Books
Literature: history and criticism|Literary studies: poetry and poets

Mary Dalton’s 2020 Pratt Lecture engages with the vernacular voice in Newfoundland poetry, illustrating the move from uncertainty to acceptance and welcoming of the beauty and variety of the language of Newfoundland.

The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry explores some of the tensions between the oral and the written in the poetry of Newfoundland, with particular emphasis on the struggle towards a confident incorporation of vernacular speech in the poetry of the island in the latter part of the twentieth century. As the word “strain” suggests, there were reservations and hesitancies about drawing on what is a hugely rich linguistic and sonic resource for poetry, one of many vitiating results of a colonial legacy. This Pratt Lecture celebrates the vitality of poetry which lets in Newfoundland idioms and cadences. Among the poets considered are Percy Janes, Tom Dawe, Al Pittman, David Glover, John Steffler and Harold Paddock, and the generation who followed them: Agnes Walsh, Gordon Rodgers, Carmelita McGrath, Michael Crummey, Robin McGrath.

The PRATT LECTURES were established in 1968 to commemorate the legacy of E.J. Pratt. Over the years, the series has hosted a litany of world-renowned authors and scholars, including Northrop Frye, Seamus Heaney, Helen Vendler, and Dionne Brand.

Mary Dalton is Professor Emerita of English at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Poet Laureate of St. John’s. She is the author of five books of poetry, including Merrybegot, Red Ledger, and Hooking: A Book of Centos. Merrybegot, winner of the E. J. Pratt Poetry Award and a nominee for the Pat Lowther Award, is also an audiobook. Red Ledger was short-listed for the Atlantic Poetry Prize and the E. J. Pratt Poetry Award. Hooking: A Book of Centos was shortlisted for the E. J. Pratt Poetry Award and the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry, and named a Top Book of the Season by the CBC and the Globe and Mail. A prose collection, Edge: Essays, Reviews, Interviews, was published by Palimpsest Press in 2015. A letterpress chapbook, Waste Ground, illustrated by engraver Abigail Rorer, was published by Running the Goat Press in 2017. Mary Dalton hosts the poetry podcast Flahoolic.

"The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry by Mary Dalton was an enlightening read. [...] It was, admittedly, a subject I knew next to nothing about beforehand, but I had no trouble following along due to the strength and clarity of Dalton's lecture. I found it very educational and it gave me a lot to think aboutboth at large and in regards to my own work."

- Oliver Hallett, Digitally Lit

“So it is in a spirit of celebration that I have read this thin volume, in which Dalton praises her fellow poets and their use of the everyday speech of her people.

As we’ve come to learn—too late in many cases—how language serves the transmission of a culture, Dalton makes a strong case for honouring, acknowledging, and preserving those words and phrases that have come to define the speech of Newfoundlanders.


Although the Pratt Lectures (after the poet E.J. Pratt) were established in 1968, this is only the second book in this series that I have encountered. Small enough to balance on one’s palm, they hold more than their weight in thoughtful inspiration.”

- Heidi Greco, The Miramichi Reader

"Again and again, language—dialects and tongues—proves a pivotal throughline. Although it was serendipitous that I picked up [Land of the Rock: Talamh an Carraig and The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry] together, in another way it’s no coincidence at all."

- Joan Sullivan, The Telegram

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