The Vernacular Strain in Newfoundland Poetry
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.
"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 about—both at large and in regards to my own work."- Oliver Hallett
“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
"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