Her Constellated Mind: Jay Macpherson's Modernism and the Canadian Mythopoeic Turn
Dalgleish, Melissa Anne
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Mythopoeic versewhich relies on biblical and Classical myth, and often works to create moments of heightened apocalyptic vision and revelationwas the dominant poetic mode in Canada from the late 1940s well into the 1960s, although its recognition as such is increasingly rare. The work of poet and scholar Jay Macpherson, who was once understood to be a driving force behind the mythopoeic turn, is likewise largely neglected, despite her 1957 collection The Boatman having long been recognized as the defining work of midcentury poetics in Canada. Given its rise alongside the work of archetypal theorist Northrop Frye, Canadian mythopoeic modernist verse is often falsely characterized as the work of the Frye School, but its true origins remain little understood. Given Macphersons long personal and professional relationship with Frye, understanding the highly individual development of her poetic career and distinctive brand of mythic poetics serves as a compelling case study of the varied personal, social, and historical factors leading to the establishment of a midcentury mythopoeic culture of letters in Canada. Employing a microhistorical method, which focuses closely on a single person at the margins of major trends or events in order to better understand those trends and events, and reframing literary influence as the creation of an identifiable culture of letters by likeminded writers, this dissertation traces the development of Jay Macphersons modernist mythopoetics over the first twenty or so years of her career. What it reveals is that Macphersons mythopoeic modernism, in its deployment of myth and archetype to create connections across national, temporal, and communicative barriers, emerged out of the ashes of the Second World War and the failed search for integritas that silenced the poets of the Montreal forties. From her earliest years, Macpherson sought out and supported other speakers of her mythic poetic language from across Canada and in Europe, and with them created an identifiable culture of letters of those who likewise believed in the communicative power of archetypal stories and in the transformative power of artistic vision. In doing so, this dissertation resituates Macpherson as a driving force behind the mythopoeic turn, places Frye within but not as the originator of this culture of letters, and invites a further exploration of the relationship between literary community, post-war culture, and poetic praxis in Canada at midcentury.