To see septuagenarianism looming in Dennis Lee’s near future is as inarguable a sign of time’s passing as exists for Canadian culture. His breakthrough success (1972’s Civil Elegies, the entirety of which Lee plans to read at the Scream) is so evocative of a certain point in the history of burdened optimism that it forever fixes its creator to a specific time and place ? as the perpetual radical twentysomething buzzing around Yorkville in the years before Canada stopped concerning itself with questions of what it meant to be Canadian.
Even more important than its introduction of Dennis Lee, Civil Elegies is memorable for its reintroduction of anger into Canada’s literary arsenal. A real, blood-and-spit kind of anger. And not just personal anger, either, or domestic anger. Instead, a massive, coast-to-coast, national anger. Anger as unifying theme. Lee’s early-career masterwork hums with a volatile disappointment that imposes itself on its readers, and that drags them into hard and surprising new territories. The humanism in Elegies is the kind that’s willing to put its head down and charge, unflinching, through to the far reaches of its philosophy and arrive as a kind of reactionary anarchism; as an anger that presents itself as both pout and polemics, before settling into its heartbreaking final movement as one young man sits in a public square surrounded by his fellow citizens and tries to give voice to his loneliness and rage.
And check out this event in this year's Scream Literary Festival. Lee will read Civil Elegies, Un, and Yesno in their entireties.