A bit about me
Find my credo here.
Here are poems I have written over the years that I still look back on with some pleasure. Two were published (Antigonish, Fiddlehead), but most appear for the first time.
I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1945. My father, Merle Adams, was a violinist with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra), and he played under some of the greatest conductors of the time including Ormandy, Mitropoulos, and Dorati. We were cultured but poor. My father worked long hours, taught violin lessons to about 20 students per week, and taught my older brother, Dick, my sister Sandra, and me to play the violin. Two other older sisters, Barb and Nancy, did not take to music, but Nancy studied Visual Art at university. My mother stayed at home and looked after us – all but for the week she went on strike to demand more help. My brother was a gifted prodigy who played Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with the orchestra under Mitropoulos when he was 16 and had a free ticket to Juilliard to study with Ivan Galamian and Dorothy De Lay. I never approached that level, but violin playing was an important part of my life, with community orchestras, chamber music sessions, and occasional professional gigs. This lasted until 1999, when a physical disability forced me to stop.
I had a good public-school education in Minneapolis, and did my undergraduate degree in English and Music at the University of Minnesota. It was inexpensive – I paid my own tuition with summer jobs – and the enormous state university brought me in contact with teachers who are still legends in their fields – the poet Allen Tate, Samuel Holt Monk (Restoration-18th Century), G. Robert Stange (pronounced with two syllables, Victorianist), Sarah Youngblood (Modernist), historian John B. Wolf, and in Music, the composers Paul Fetler and Dominick Argento. One of my ambitions from early childhood was to be a composer, but that never came to pass.
When I finished my B.A. in 1966, the graduate school of choice for English Lit was Yale, but I instead made the eccentric decision to go to the University of Toronto. To my peers, going to Canada seemed like traveling to Mars. But the Vietnam War was raging, and America was polarizing. My family were Eisenhower Republicans, but I was appalled the War and the feeble rationale for its horrors. Canada looked good. And the school had both Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan to offer. I had already decided to stay in Canada and have been a Canadian citizen since 1974. My years in Toronto, 1966-1970, were life changing. I finished a hurried M.A. thesis on “Yeats and Homer” (I having Latin but no Greek), took a course from McLuhan, audited Frye’s lectures, and (because the Ph.D. program then required a graduate course from a department other than English), took a reading course in the Aesthetics of Music from the wonderful Maria Rika Maniates. I also found time for a social life, which included meeting and marrying my wife Ruth in 1970.
My life since then has been an extraordinary tale of good luck. Ruth was finishing her degree at Library School and just before we were married, was offered a job at London Public Library. London, Ontario, by coincidence, was where my sister Sandra was living, her then husband teaching Music at the University of Western Ontario. Pound studies were just beginning at that point: there were just a handful of general books, and Terrell had not published his Companion to The Cantos. I was just beginning work on my Ph.D. dissertation, “Ezra Pound and Music,” and discovered that the only way forward with such a topic was through the one person who possessed the knowledge and the physical materials, a young composer named Murray Schafer, who happened to be a Canadian teaching at Simon Fraser University. A few weeks after our wedding, I flew to Burnaby, British Columbia, where Murray gave me free access to the enormous archive of Pound material in his possession. He had produced the second performance of Pound’s first opera, Villon, for the BBC, and was editing Pound’s complete writings on music for New Directions. I don’t know if that old photocopy machine at Simon Fraser survived for long after I left.
Back in London, writing an interminable thesis, I took my first teaching position at Brescia College, a Catholic women’s school affiliated with Western. Having focused my studies mainly on poetry, I was asked, naturally, to teach the first-year course on fiction. Shown the syllabus of novels (some of which I had read), I gulped and said yes. Then, a week before classes were to begin, my dear mentor Sister Corona Sharp phoned with an emergency: she had a fully enrolled course in Great Books of Western Literature and had lost the instructor. If I agreed to take it, I could move from part-time to full-time. The major texts included The Odyssey, Oedipus, The Aeneid, The Inferno . . . all familiar stuff, and I quickly agreed. I didn’t realize that I’d also have to teach the Gospel according to Matthew with nuns sitting in the front row, but they were very forgiving. That first year of teaching, I learned to wing it.
I think it was a year later that I added a section of Extension teaching to my schedule, out of town in places like Owen Sound, Mount Forest, Simcoe, and Chatham. I also started playing first violin in the local semi-professional orchestra conducted by Clifford Evans; this lasted for several years, and gave me a chance to play some major repertoire – my first concert included both Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphoses. I also turned in my thesis and faced my examining committee, chaired by none other than Northrop Frye. By that time I had more or less forgotten what I had written, but Frye liked my monstrous tome, wrote a glowing appraisal (which I treasure), and my work won a national prize for the best Canadian thesis in the Humanities for that year.
Finances were still difficult, however. Barbara was born in 1974 and Ruth took time off her work at the library. (There was no maternity leave.) Meanwhile Brescia was having to scale back, and I was placed on part time. Fortunately, I was also called in to teach courses on a contract basis on main campus, so that one year, I was teaching four different courses – two at Brescia, one on main campus, and a fourth for the Music Faculty in Simcoe. I was in survival mode. Richard was born in 1977. It was that year the miracle happened: a full-time tenured position opened in the department on main campus in my field, Modernism – and I got it.
Grad students nowadays receive instruction, or “professionalization,” in career development. I’d had none and didn’t know what I was doing. I had placed several excerpts from the dissertation in print, but what next? I can’t remember just when that surprise call came from Murray Schafer. I hadn’t spoken to him for quite a while, but he said that the University of Toronto Press wanted to commission a book about him. Would I like to write it? I hesitated briefly, but said yes (never disclosing that the most I had written about music was a few undergraduate history assignments). Murray was again wonderful to work with, and with my editor John Beckwith saving me from several embarrassments, my first book turned out pretty well.
I returned to Pound studies while teaching a wonderful course in English-language Modernism for several years, and another in Twentieth-Century American Literature. My graduate courses were related to Pound, including a course in the Long Poem. I’d had trouble for a while in my research bridging the literature-music gap, and the Pound-music field had been assumed by Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher in California, who produced another performance of the opera Villon and recorded it. Meanwhile, I had developed a course in Poetry and Poetics, a joy to teach, and I wrote my second book Poetic Designs. At some point in the 1990s, the Department revised its undergraduate offerings, and I began teaching a full American Literature survey from Plymouth Rock to the present day, and completed my transition from “Modernist” to “Americanist.”
At around 2000, I was approached by Demetres Tryphonopoulos, once my student and by then a major Pound scholar, to produce The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. This was a major boost to my scholarly work. Unfortunately, it also coincided with a period of health problems that limited my ability to help Demetres. But I did pull through well enough to complete a good deal of dog-work editing, fact checking, and filling in of gaps.
At the same time, I was beginning a new line of investigation that branched off from my work on Pound. I had become curious about the genre of the Ode in American poetry: Why had American poets not used it as significantly as the British? I had always been troubled by the trivialization of poetry in the modern period. Why had it come to be identified solely with “lyric” poetry, the least of the classical genres? What had happened to epic, to the long poem, and to significant types of subject matter like politics and nationhood? My graduate course, beginning around 2001, addressed these questions in American poetry, and I knew from the very beginning that there were the makings of a book to fill this gap. In the process, I discovered an important and unrecognized genre in American poetry, the “progress poem,” which explained many of the problematic confusions about American epic and long poem.
I retired from teaching in 2014 and put all my material together in my last book, The Patriot Poets, published by McGill-Queen’s in 2018.