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Vimy Ridge 90 Years Ago Today

Before Cobain's suicide in 1994, April 9th was most noteworthy for the Canadian push on Vimy Ridge in 1917. It is telling that for Canadians - so often considered a peaceful people - one of their defining moments as a nation is this concerted assault, doing what the Brits couldn't, and losing a number (a relatively small, and therefore impressive in terms of strategy) of men. Vimy Ridge is the Canadian symbol of breaking away from being an overmastered colony - of breaking with the British.

If Canada's post-colonial moment begins anywhere, it is here (arguably culminating with Expo '67 - whose 40-year anniversary 2007 is - when its international status was confirmed). One of the cultural implications of this date, then, is also the break with the English Tradition (in literature, especially, poetry) - at exactly the moment when T.S. Eliot's greatest (and strangest poem) "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was published - not in America but London - therefore making it suspect to Canadian Modernism (which is belated, and really begins with any force, in Montreal, in the late 30s, early 40s). Otherwise, writers and artists became increasingly nativist (or inward-looking) - consider The Group of Seven painters.

Even now, a sympathy with English poetry (such as I have) in Canada is mainly misread as being conservative, neo-fascist and retrograde (by the older generations), as most Canadian poetry has, since the 1960s (except in the Anglo-Quebec tradition, which remained open to the British option) swung broadly to the American Grain, then the Black Mountain and now the Language poets.

The men of Vimy Ridge didn't know it, but as they fought among the bursting shells and mud, they were also throwing bulwarks of Canuck diction and syntax against Hardy, Auden, Larkin and Motion.
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