NOVELS

 

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George and Rue

Any one sentence could be lifted from the novel and offered up as sublime poetry.
— The Calgary herald

In 1949, George and Rufus Hamilton bludgeoned a taxi driver to death with a hammer in the dirt-poor settlement of Barker's Point, New Brunswick. Less than eight months later, the brothers were hanged for their crime.

Although half a century has passed since then, the brutal murder lives on in New Brunswick. In George & Rue, George Elliott Clarke draws from this disturbing chapter in Canadian history, brilliantly reimagining the lives - and deaths - of the two brothers. Fiercely human and startlingly poignant, the novel shifts seamlessly through the two killers' pasts, examining what kind of forces would reduce these men to violent lives of crime. Infused with a sensual, rhythmic beauty, George & Rue is a masterful blend of fiction and reality from one of Canada's most daring and original writers.

Reviews

Dara N. Byrne, Ph.D. and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Entertainment Weekly Review - January 11, 2016.

The Motorcyclist

Carl Black is an intellectual and artist, a traveller, a reader and an unapologetic womanizer. A motorcyclist. He burns for the bohemian life, but is trapped in a railway porter’s prosaic—at times humiliating—existence. Taking place over one dramatic year in Halifax, Nova Scotia, The Motorcyclist vividly recounts Carl’s travels and romantic exploits as he tours the backroads of the east coast and the bedrooms of a series of beautiful women. Inspired by the life of George Elliott Clarke’s father, the novel tells the story of a black working-class man caught between the expectations of his times and gleaming possibilities of the open road.

In vibrant, energetic, sensual prose, George Elliott Clarke brilliantly illuminates the life of a young black man striving for pleasure, success and, most of all, respect.

Reviews

Robert Wiersema (The Toronto Star, February 8, 2016).

Adam Nayman (Quill & Quire, January 2016).

The National Post, February 3, 2016.

 
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BOOKS OF POEMS

 

Canticles I (MMXVI)

Compendious and baroque, George Elliott Clarke’s beautiful writing is nevertheless unafraid to grapple with its own demons. The Canticles are an astonishing excavation of myth, history and identity: and they are unlike anything else being written today.
— Fiona Sampson, Poet

Book I of “The Canticles” puts into dialogue -- as dramatic monologues -- those who fostered the transatlantic slave trade, or who demonized the image of the Negro in the Occident; as well as those who struggled for liberation and/or anti-racism. In this work, Dante can critique Christopher Columbus and Frederick Douglass can upbraid Abraham Lincoln; Elizabeth Barrett Browning can muse on her African racial heritage and its implications for child-bearing, while Karl Marx can excoriate Queen Victoria.

Reviews

Daniel Bezel Richardsen (Arc Poetry, October 12, 2017).

 
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Red

Clarke’s poems are as thick as blood with metaphor and imagery ... Try to read Clarke’s words silently - and your blood may boil, forcing you to recite them aloud flushed with vigour.
— Mike Landry, Telegraph-Journal

The poems of Red mix the candid sexuality of pre-Christian Rome with the pop sentimentally of Italian screen scores of the 1960s and 70s, drenching us in the brute violence of Titus Andronicus, the reflections of Malcolm X and the music of Charles Mingus (whose "bass sounds like a typewriter/Punctuating Ulysses"). Whether he situates his reader in his father’s Halifax cab, on a beach in Rhodes, or in front of Alma Duncan’s painting Young Black Girl, Clarke is ever sensitive to "the hard work of words,/The even harder work of love."

Reviews

Paul Watkins (The Bull Calf).

Roy Wang (The Globe and Mail, December, 2011).

The art of the poet's father, William Lloyd Clarke, appears on the cover of Red. 

 
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Blue

George Elliott Clarke's poetry subscribes to Irving Layton's adage that "good poems should rage like a fire, burning all things." Blue is black, profane, surly, damning and unrelenting in its brilliance.

The five parts of Blue skilfully expand and dissect Clarke's rage until it becomes a violet bruise of love and mourning. From the opening "Black" section, which blisters Clarke's roots as "Her Majesty's Nasty, Nofaskoshan (Nova Scotian) Negro," to the sensually explicit satirics of the "Red" section; from the fiery and fierce tenderness of the "Gold Sapphics" to the uncompromising lament of the "Blue Elegies," Clarke has written urgent and necessary poems-poems that burn the reader, illuminating us with their rage, truth and beauty.

Reviews

Michael Bryson (Blog).

 
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Traverse

A tour de force in confessional verse, this autobiographical sequence in 980 lines contains 70 stanzas of “skeletal sonnets” composed, astonishingly, in one day and one evening. Traverse is a web of intersecting, crisscrossing impulses, a great burst of imaginative energy and aesthetic reflection that celebrates a 30-year period of Clarke’s writing poetry.

Reviews

Roy Wang (Arc Poetry Magazine, July 9, 2015).

 

 
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Illicit Sonnets

Clarke carries his words from our heads to our hearts to that gut feeling we all get when we have heard a devastating truth.
— Nikki Giovanni, poet

OBSERVER BOOK OF THE YEAR 2013

Illicit Sonnets – a bawdy modern reboot of Sonnets from the Portuguese – tells of the love between Salim and Laila, an “elderessa”. Their highly-sexed romance, bridging cultures, generations and seas, is unfolded in poetry as sparkling and as shameless as champagne.

 
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Blues and Bliss (Selected Poetry)

In a selection of Clarke’s best work from his early poetry to his most recent, Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke offers readers an impressive cross-section of those voices. Jon Paul Fiorentino’s introduction focuses on this polyphony, his influences—Derek Walcott, Amiri Baraka, and the canon of literary English from Shakespeare to Yeats—and his “voice throwing,” and shows how the intersections here produce a “troubling” of language. He sketches Clarke’s primary interest in the negotiation of cultural space through adherence to and revision of tradition and on the finding of a vernacular that begins in exile, especially exile in relation to African-Canadian communities.

In the afterword, Clarke, in an interesting re-spin of Fiorentino’s introduction, writes with patented gusto about how his experiences have contributed to multiple sounds and forms in his work. Decrying any grandiose notions of theory, he presents himself as primarily a songwriter.

 
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Execution Poems

With all this language, you get, of course, a defiant, exuberant, provocative black-on-white (titles-in-blood-red) spirit dance of politics, racism, religion, psycho-sexual song and grumble, all whipping the reader on. Shocking, comic, controversial, a liberation of both fact and fiction for the sake of song, Execution Poems gives a nastily clear image of “how history darkens against its medium” (from “Childhood II”).
— Geoffrey Cook

Execution Poems is about Clarke’s cousins, George and Rufus Hamilton, hanged in 1949 for the murder of a Fredericton, New Brunswick, taxi driver. 

Originally released in 2000 in a limited edition of 66 books handset and printed letterpress in a folio format, Execution Poems has gone on to sell over 6000 copies. It was the winner of the 2001 Governor General’s award for poetry and took first place in the poetry category of the 2001 Alcuin Awards for Excellence in Canadian Book Design.

Reviews

Geoffrey Cook (The Danforth Review).

A. Brown (The Canadian Book Review, December, 2010).

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Whylah Falls

          Go down to the Sixhiboux, hear it moan                                                                  Like a childless mother far, far, from home,                                                             "There’s a change that’s gonna have to come,                                                          I said, a change that’s gonna have to come."

Whylah FallsGeorge Elliott Clarke’s second book, is a narrative poem (or novel in verse) in seven chapters, that has never been out of print since its 1990 publication. By turns joyous and sorrowful, rollicking and razor-sharp, the poem recounts the lives of poor Black Canadians in rural southwestern Nova Scotia in the 1930s. The story focuses on the Clemence family: the parents, abusive Saul and the bountiful but long-suffering Cora, Cora’s daughter Missy Jarvis from a relationship prior to Saul, their children Othello, Pushkin, Selah, Shelley and Amarantha, and the various lovers who intersect their lives, especially Xavier Zachary and Pablo Gabriel.

Whylah Falls is the winner of the 1991 Archibald Lampman Award.

Reviews

Matthew Rettino (February 12, 2014).

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Gold

A softer, modulated voice, shining at the edges, solid at the core, traversing history, politics, passion, and loss: a gold soul.
— Roy Wang

From the lush, unrestrained and unabashed tumble and thrust of his sensual lyrics (vivid expressions of love and lust which brook no admonishment) to the measured and stately resonance of his eulogies for community organizers, tributes to leaders and laureates, and contemplations on the principles for good governance, George Elliott Clarke strives to enact Robinson Jeffers’s assertion that “Beauty. . . Is the sole business of poetry.” Whether it be in the whiskey-hue of skin or the metal of the love in one’s heart, the poems in Gold riff on the colour’s cultural and poetic properties, joining BlueBlack, and Red as the fourth volume in Clarke’s series of ‘colouring’ books.

Reviews

Karin Cope (Atlantic Books Today, January 5, 2017). 

Roy Wang (Arc Poetry Magazine, April 29, 2017).

 
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Black

Blistering with defiance, tempered with tenderness and desire, Black is a startlingly passionate collection of poems from one of Canada’s most gifted writers. George Elliott Clarke combines fiery outrage with delicate confessions of love, creating a commentary on soul and culture that is both shocking and transformative.

 

 
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Extra Illicit Sonnets

Extra Illicit Sonnets chronicles a love affair between a man and a woman of different complexions, cultures, continents, and generations, Sonia Fuentes of Andorra and Luca Xifona of Canada. She is Spanish in heritage; and he is Maltese. She is a Boomer and he is of Generation Y-Not. The poetry consists mainly of unrhymed – or blank – sonnets. It is transcendent and dangerous verse because it addresses humanity’s most complex and volatile passion.

 

 
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Lasso the Wind: Aurélia’s Verses and Other Poems

Can you lasso the wind?
Can you whip it a-gale?
Can you make oceans bend
To cradle each lost whale?

Lasso the Wind is Clarke's first collection of children’s poetry. By turns absurd, witty, playful, and profound, Clarke’s poems speak to the vivid wonder, the bright joys, and the secret pains of growing up in this world.

With bold and contemporary illustrations by Susan Tooke, Lasso the Wind is a masterpiece.

 
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I & I

In the "Boogie Nights" era of the 1970s, Betty Browning and her lover, boxer Malcolm Miles, travel from the fog-anchored grime of Halifax, Nova Scotia, to sunburnt Corpus Christi, Texas, and back — meeting tragedy and bloodshed along the way. I & I smoulders with love, lust, violence, and the excruciating repercussions of racism, sexism, and disgust. Rastafarian for "you and me," "I & I" expresses the oneness of God and man, the oneness of two people or the distinction between body and spirit.

In George Elliott Clarke's hands, this existential aesthetic crystallizes in a love story of Gothic grit. The narrative gives this verse novel shape; the poetry makes it sing, straddling folk ballad, soul, and pop music, all the while moaning the blues.

Reviews

H. Nigel Thomas, Author.

Alison Lang (The Coast, April 16, 2009).

Ando Yeva (African Writing Online).

 
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Illuminated Verses

With fire, verve, and intensity, George Elliott Clarke gives readers a new work in which to immerse themselves - to feel illuminated by the cascading words and sensual experience of poetry.

 
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Lush Dreams, Blue Exile: Fugitive Poems

These poems range from a personal evocation of Black Nova Scotian history to an intense, intimate response to world events in the last thirty years. All are "fugitive poems" evolving from 1979 to 1991.

 
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Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues

George Elliott Clarke’s debut collection of poetry illustrates the spiritual past of the Nova Scotia Black Community, going back to the early days of their settlement in the province. A lyrical and harsh consideration of an often romanticized province, these poems depict both the beauty of Nova Scotia’s settlement and its literal, rocky development and problems, while also finding space to spirit the reader to Paris and Virginia. 

Reviews

M. Travis Lane (Poet).

Wayde Compton (in The Georgia Straight, December, 2014).

 

 

DRAMA & LIBRETTI

 

Québécité

Its stanzas were sculpted of the aggravated gravitas of Miles Davis’s trumpet, the scalacious solace of James Brown’s howls, the fearless laissez-faire of Oscar Peterson’s piano, and the oceanic négritude of Portia White’s contralto.
— Clarke

Québécité tells the story of two interracial couples whose blossoming relationships expose the perils and possibilities of loving across racial and cultural lines. Libretto by George Elliott Clarke; music by D.D. Jackson.

 Excerpts from Québécité

 ICASP interviews Clarke on Québécité

Reviews

Kelly Murphy (Montreal Review of Books, Fall 2003)

 

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Beatrice Chancy

Beatrice Chancy is set in 1801 in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. Beatrice is the daughter of a black slave who was raped by her white master. Raised in the master's house, Beatrice is beautiful, clever, kind, and cultured-her father's prize possession. Her declaration of love for a slave sparks tension that culminates in a monstrous act: the rape of Beatrice by her own father. From here, violence begets violence until her father is killed and Beatrice is hanged for his death. The passion and sorrow of Beatrice Chancy's story are matched only by the brilliance of the language used to express it.

Reviews

Kevin Burns (Quill & Quire, May 1995)

Originally an opera libretto in four acts.

 
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Trudeau: Long March and Shining Path

My dramatic poem imagines the politician as player: Plato meets Chaplin.

In Trudeau, George Elliott Clarke creates an irreverent, jubilant portrait of the life and politics of one of Canada's most controversial political heroes, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Originally composed as the libretto for D.D. Jackson's 2007 opera of the same name, the dramatic poem imagines Trudeau in conversation with Mao at Nanjing; with John F. Kennedy in Fredericton, New Brunswick; and with Fidel Castro in Havana on the eve of the Bay of Pigs; and infuses the leader, at once loved and loathed at home, with Clarke's characteristic frankness and exuberance.

Reviews

J.A. Wainwright (The Antigonish Review, November 2008).

Tristin Hopper (The Link, Concordia's Independent Newspaper).

Originally the libretto for an opera of the same name.

 
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The Merchant of Venice (Retried)

In this work, Clarke borrows brazenly from and rewrites (The Bard’s very own working method) one of Shakespeare’s most contentious comedies, The Merchant of Venice, reinvigorating a play that on many points seems “retrograde politically and retarding dramatically”. The result is a spectacle of swinging lyricism that casts Jewish Shylock not as the villain, but as the victim of the ingrained bigotry of the Venetian State.