The Quest for a "National" Nationalism

E.J. Pratt's Epic Ambition, "Race" Consciousness, and the Contradictions of Canadian Identity


In his 2018 Pratt Lecture, The Quest for a ‘National’ Nationalism, renowned author and critic George Elliott Clarke investigates E.J. Pratt’s poetic attempt to become the epic poet of Canada. And while Pratt’s epic poems, such as Brebeuf and His Brethren and Towards the Last Spike, stand as lofty poetic achievements, the poet is never able to escape his own identity and speak convincingly for all Canadians. Unable to speak for Francophones, Indigenous peoples, and People of Colour, Pratt becomes the epic poet of the establishment, but never truly of the people.


George Elliott Clarke

Poet, novelist, playwright, and critic George Elliott Clarke was born near Windsor, Nova Scotia and grew up in Halifax. He earned his BA from the University of Waterloo, MA from Dalhousie University, and PhD from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry including Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues (1983), Lush Dreams, Blue Exile: Fugitive Poems 1978-2993 (1994), Execution Poems: The Black Acadian Tragedy of George and Rue (2001), which won the Governor General’s Literary Award, Illuminated Verses (2005), Black (2006), and the dramatic poem Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path (2007).

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