People / Milton Acorn

Writer. Milton Acorn was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1923. A polemical writer with strong Marxist leanings and an interest in existentialism, Acorn began publishing poetry in New Frontiers journal in 1952. In Love and Anger, his first collection of poetry, was privately published in Montreal in 1956. From 1960 to 1962, he co-edited the journal Movement with fellow poets Al Purdy and Gwendolyn MacEwen (whom Acorn married in 1962). During this period, Acorn also published a chapbook, The Brain’s the Target (1960), and a broadside, Against a League of Liars (1961). Contact Press published a small collection of verse entitled Jawbreakers in 1963, the same year that the Canadian poetry magazine, The Fiddlehead, devoted its Spring issue to Acorn’s poetry, thereby giving him wider critical and popular recognition. Acorn then moved to Toronto, where he quickly fell in with the poetry scene associated with the Bohemian Embassy coffee house—regular patrons included Margaret Atwood, David Donnell, Dennis Lee, George Miller—and Contact Press (1952-1967), the most important small Canadian press of its time.

After Acorn’s marriage to MacEwan ended in the mid-1960s, he relocated to Vancouver, where he co-founded the Georgia Straight in 1967, organized poetry readings at Advance Mattress, and was active in protests against the Vietnam War. Acorn’s fellow poets created the People’s Poet Award in recognition of his writing ability and political activism when he was passed over for the Governor General’s Award for I’ve Tasted My Blood (1969), his first major collection of poetry. That same year, Acorn returned to Toronto and was an active member of the literary community, winning the Governor General’s Award for his collection of poems, The Island Means Minago (1975). He returned home to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1981. Despite his travels, Acorn’s poetry was consistently informed by the everyday life and struggles of the working classes of the Island. He lived there until his death in 1986.

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