Eric Schmaltz

Poetries of the Mouth and Canadian Imaginary

Fighting back

Lillian Allen's poetry of speech, song, and social justice

In 1984, following a tremendously successful year of touring and performing for large audiences across Canada in support of an album entitled De Dub Poets (1983), Lillian Allen, Clifton Joseph, and Devin Haughton sought membership with The League of Canadian Poets. The League is a Canadian literary organization whose mission it is “to nurture the advancement of poetry in Canada” and to promote “the interests of poets.”[1] As Allen recounts in Toronto-based This magazine, their membership applications were denied at a meeting in Regina, Saskatchewan that same year because the League did not recognize them as poets. Instead, they were distinguished as performers. “Are we all supposed to get up and do that?” one League member reportedly quipped.[2] In her poem on the Regina Affair, Allen refers to the League’s decision as an effort to maintain the Board’s firm grasp on literary power and what it meant to be a poet in Canada at that time.[3]

At the opening

The mouth opens. It burps and yowls, gasps and laughs, mumbles and yawns. The mouth sings —loudly or quietly and can do it with a shimmer. The mouth whispers. The mouth SCREAMS. The mouth speaks, stutters, and stops.