Accomplished poet comes to City


A renowned Canadian poet is heading to Red Deer for a reading at Sunworks slated for Sept. 20. Barry Dempster will be sharing from his plethora of accomplished works during the event, which starts at 7 p.m.

Originally from Toronto, Dempster is an award-winning poet and author, editor, educator and mentor. Besides his literary offerings, his background also includes studies in child psychology, — he graduated from Centennial College in 1974.

“Readings are really about concentrating on the language – listening for the music that the words are creating,” he explains during a recent interview. “I’m definitely trying to transport that music to the audience.”

Dempster will be spending about one week at the Banff School of Fine Arts this month as well as visiting Red Deer.

His work history also includes the Children’s Aid, the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital and 15 years as a member of the emergency crisis team at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre.

Those were clearly challenging times, but ultimately extremely fulfilling, he recalls. At the same time, his gift for writing was emerging all the more. And although his work as a writing was increasing, he didn’t realize in those early days that there could be an audience out there that would truly appreciate his work

A friend suggested he peruse some literary magazines and start gauging interest. And essentially, a new path began to be carved out.

“I had thought writing was something you just did all by yourself,” he says with a laugh.

But once he started tapping into a loyal readership, the accolades also started popping up.

Dempster landed a 1982 Governor General’s Award nomination for his first book Fables for Isolated Men. In 2005, he was again short-listed for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for The Burning Alphabet which won the Canadian Authors Association Chalmers Award.

In the last 27 years, Dempster has published 11 more volumes of poetry, two collections of short fiction, a children’s book, and a novel. Quarry Press came forward with an offer to publish his first novel, The Ascension of Jesse Rapture.

Dempster’s editing career began as one of the founding editors of Poetry Canada Review which quickly became one of Canada’s most esteemed literary magazines.

During this time, Dempster became known for his helpful, supportive letters to submitting writers, his astute book reviews and his “New Voice” discoveries of some of Canada’s finest poets.

These days, he sees holding workshops and teaching sessions as a way to give back. He appreciates the support he received when starting out, and wants to contribute to the beginnings of promising new careers. “The ability to articulate what you do really helps you in the work you are doing. Plus, you spend a lot of time alone when you’re a writer, so it’s nice to be around others as well.”

In 1999, he was invited by poet and founder, Don McKay, to join the prestigious Brick Books as an editor. Since then, he has edited 12 books, two of which garnered a Griffin Prize nomination and win, a Governor General’s Award and another which won the 2005 Trillium Book Award.

He knows it’s a blessing to be able to make a living at what he does, and there’s really nothing he’d rather be doing. But regardless of coming to a place where the financial pay-off makes pursuing a literary career feasible, he knew whatever the case it’s a creative path he simply had to follow.

Not that inspiration always hits like a lightning bolt. There are dry days. But Dempster doesn’t panic when they come along as he may have during his younger years as a writer.

“There are going to be days when it doesn’t gel. But the unconscious is clearing the decks for the magic to happen,” he says.

He prefers not to think of it as sudden inspiration as much as simply ‘paying attention.’

“It’s looking and listening and sensing all the time – it’s being aware. This gives you a constant relationship with the writing.”

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