People / Lionel Kearns

Writer. Lionel Kearns was born in Nelson, British Columbia in 1937. He spent his youth playing sports, hiking, boating, fishing, and hunting in the mountains with his father, who was an outdoorsman, aviator, and writer of adventure stories. Kearns moved to Vancouver in 1955 to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway and begin his studies at the University of British Columbia. While a student, Kearns made the acquaintance of George Bowering, Frank Davey, and the other members of the TISH magazine coterie, contributing significantly to the development of the magazine. Influenced by the media theory of Marshall McLuhan and the literary criticism of the Russian Formalists, Kearns began an exploration of traditional and modern prosody. His analysis resulted in his proposal for “Stacked Verse”, as laid out in his Master of Arts thesis, published by TISH Books as Songs of Circumstance (1962): a notional system for poetry spoken aloud, featuring a stress axis that intercepts with the most heavily accented syllable of each phrase of the poem.

In 1964, Kearns left Vancouver to study Structural and Generative Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. In London, Kearns was an active participant in the poetry scene. Absorbing the work of the European Concrete and Sound Poetry artists, Kearns wrote the first draft of his much lauded work, “The Birth of God.” He returned to Vancouver in 1966 after a year abroad researching the structure and history of English in Trinidad. He joined the English Department of the newly formed Simon Fraser University. Kearns’ work from the 1960s is startlingly prescient in regards to contemporary digital poetics. He taught at Simon Fraser University until 1986, taking a sabbatical to be the Writer-in-Residence at Concordia University in Montreal (1981-1982). He also was a Visiting Professor for the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. Kearns is deeply invested in online education. He is a guiding force behind WiER, Writers in Electronic Residence, a creative writing project that matches celebrated writers up with public school classes, and he also teaches a continent wide graduate course, The Cybernetics of Poetry, for ConnectEd, the distance education program through the New School for Social Research. He lives and works in Vancouver.