JUDITH FITZGERALD, ABD / Ph.D., a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer as well as a Contributing Reviewer for The Globe and Mail's BOOKS pages (where she embarked on her journalism voyage and landed one big fissured punctuary, the Fiona Mee Award for her "outstanding contribution to English-language literary journalism"), blogs on all things poetic for The Globe and Mail's "In Other Words." She writes (or has written) columns, criticism, and features for the arts, culture, media, and sports pages of publications such as The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Ottawa Citizen, The Windsor Star, The Kingston Whig-Standard, The Toronto Star, The National Post, Poetry, Innings, and Books in Canada (among others). A respected utility-infielder commentarian, songwriter, translator, hockeyist, baseballographer, and self-taught geek goddess, Fitzgerald served as writer-in-residence at the Hamilton Public Library, Laurentian University, Algoma University College, Le Salon Sensu, and the University of Windsor.
The author of twenty-plus collections of poetry (Victory, Given Names, Diary of Desire, Rapturous Chronicles, and River among them), a pair of acclaimed best-selling biographies (Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy and Building a Mystery: The Story of Sarah McLachlan and Lilith Fair) as well as countless contributions to first-class anthologies and periodicals around the globe (edited by the lovely likes of John B. Lee, Paul Quarrington, George Bowering, Ringo mclennan — J//kidding, rob, M'Dear — Ayanna Black, Dennis Lee, et.al.), she is also the editor of a trio of ground-breaking anthologies (most notably, Sp/Elles and Un Dozen), not to mention a hundred-plus prose and poetry volumes inked by others, many of which continue to earn accolades in their own right. Novelist and recipient of the highly prestigious 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, University of Windsor Professor Emeritus Alistair MacLeod considers her editorial acumen outstanding (and revels in telling a story concerning a dozen manuscripts under consideration for publication in The Windsor Review).
Fitzgerald's Rapturous Chronicles was nominated for the Governor-General's Poetry Award; her epyllion, River, was both shortlisted for the Trillium Award and honoured with the James McMaster Poetry Prize while her collection of ghazals and sonnets, Twenty-Six Ways Out of This World, was named one of the six best poetry collections published in English (The Globe and Mail's TOP 100) the year Oberon released it. Given Names: New and Selected Poems, shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award, earned the ex-Torontonian a Writers' Choice Award.
The 2003 Poetry Fellow of the Chalmers Arts Foundation and recipient of the George Woodcock and Canadian Writers' Foundations' Trust-Fund Awards now calls Northern Ontario's Almaguin Highlands home. She completed BOOK IV of her ADAGIOS QUARTET, a project ten years in the making, last year. Oberon Press, Canada's finest literary house, published BOOKS I and II, Iphigenia's Song and Orestes' Lament, during the first half of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Electra's Benison, the penultimate work, published 11 November 2006 by Oberon and named one of The Globe and Mail's TOP 100 BOOKS (2007), was followed by the publication of BOOK IV, the QUARTET's closing volume, O, Clytaemnestra!, 11 November 2007 (which, fittingly, marked the poet's milestone Freedom-55 birthday).
During the years she penned a music column for The Toronto Star, she concurrently worked in radio (and created Today's Country, a world-wide syndicated programme dedicated to cutting-edge artists and their works. Today's Country was the recipient of a Canadian Country Music Association Award as well as the winner of several gold and silver medals and citations from organisations the calibre of The New York Festival's International Radio Competition).
For the first two decades of her time attempting to stay afloat in the sea of literary journalism and cultural criticism, she taught several workshops across the continent, read (or recited) her work at myriad top-flight international festivals and venues, and appeared on several noteworthy radio and television programmes devoted to literature of value (from TVO's Imprint to Toronto's Music Gallery to Le Salon Sensu dans Villefranche-sur-mer to CBC's UnderCurrents to the annual Key West Literary Extravaganza as well as Toronto's International Festival of Authors).
A member of SOCAN, Fitzgerald's music and co-write collaborative efforts have been recorded by, among others, David Sereda, Holly Cole, Louise Pitre, Cris Cuddy, Sandra Pim-Carson, Ed Charron, Steve McKinnon, et.al.
At present, she works on a long poem (with a Preface by Dr. Thomas Dilworth) nearing completion and tentatively scheduled for publication Spring 2012.
THE ADAGIOS QUARTET, already declared the first successful epic poem written by a woman in the history of English-language literature by, among others, respected Canadian, American, Indian, British, Greek, and French belle-lettrists, Fitzgerald's most recent work ten years in its creation, offers readers a comprehensive marshalling of the contents of the contemporary mind of the world in situ (which correlatively contains a history of music, art, and literary forms worthy of attention in the four-book enterprise). Like McLuhan, she firmly believes modernist poets mix up the five classical rhetorical elements in order to re-assemble them in a way that both reflects and reinforces their coherent whole. Dr. Dilworth (University of Windsor) describes the work as "poetry of personal and cultural pain and rich, surprising linguistic play, modernist in economy, epic in dimension, bristling with intelligence, illuminated by psychological and spiritual vision" while Dr. David Staines (University of Ottawa) notes:
In the fourth and final book of her ADAGIOS QUARTET, Judith Fitzgerald cautions her readers through the words of one of her characters: "Explore what's real and what isn't. / Then, you'll know what to do." What to do is simple: read and reread her poetry: in its amazing use of language and idiom, she captures an entire world and its visions.
The breadth, scope, range, and technical excellence of Fitzgerald's unique and original style continually astonish readers and critics alike, prompting such as Harman Grisewood, Michael Ondaatje, Daphne Marlatt, Lorraine York, Robert Buckeye, M. Travis Lane, Jeffery Donaldson, Joanna M. Weston, Irving Layton, and Robin Robertson to speak admiringly of its command of form, content, and craft. Not only has she translated the work of Nobel Laureates Jaroslav Seifert and Giorgos Seferis, she has also seen her own writing translated into Italian, Greek, Finnish, Gaelic, French, Dutch, Russian, Croatian, et so forthia.
"Poetry," Fitzgerald candidly acknowledged during a back-and-forthcoming email interview with Karen Campbell in which she recently participated, "is my vocation. Writing literary journalism and cultural criticism? Blogging, even? Under 'A' for Avocation. I engage in the latter to make a living, the former to make a life . . . I am blessed beyond measure because I can actually do that which I cannot but do (so far); or, to put it succinctly, I live to write and write to live. I'm neither naïve nor narcissistic, to my everlasting discredit. How I wish I were, though.
"In one of his last letters to me, Al Purdy paid me one of the highest compliments I've ever received. We were discussing notions of 'self' and 'ego,' the basic premise under scrutiny involving the idea that an emotionally and intellectually healthy human being required a balanced dose of both in equal measure to weather the emotional downhell hollercoaster encircling the wagons of contemporary n'existence.
"Some individuals possess no 'self,' none whatsoever. Their egos do such a good job protecting their selves, they bury that part of them selves alive. What causes such a brutal response? Invariably, the individual whose self disappears had an overbearing or overweening parent who irresponsibly with malice aforethought passed on their deprivations to their children. Look at that Austrian monster. That's what we consider psychopathic narcissism. Others don't own an 'ego' at all which, if you think about it in McLuhanatic-tactician terms, also reverses its 'self' and paradoxically suffers from another form of narcissistic disorder. That's your basic martyr, right? Negative culpability. Passive-aggressive to the max; suffering in thunderously eloquent silence; and, oh, such nice people, real bloody saints. (Hurl.)
"We need a healthy ego to protect the self; but, when the self goes AWOL for the duration, what's left is the selfishly disappeared egomaniacals, the rabids, the proto-pomo promo palaveroes; and, although most think of this phenomenon as a recent one built from the ground up or ground down among Baby Bummers, it's been among us since the word 'wheel' rolled off our tongues.
"Al said he noticed that about me from reading my reviews (and, I next-to-never write those in the first person; but, blogging is a first-personal environment or technological medium; so, there is a kind of tension / attention required of the blogger in that enterprise, IMO; and, when we did meet face-to-faceoff :), it confirmed his suspicions that I was neither a martyr nor a gimme-gimme grrl. In this post-postaholic age, Al wrote something along the lines he admired me immensely because I had guts and courage; but, more to the point, he said he'd met a lot of writers in his life and he could count on his fingers and toes those who had discovered a balance between the self and ego. That's why he said to me, and I often quote him, I wasn't difficult, I was simply decisive, a fact which frightens people because it threatens their egos and esteem. Clearly, I'm paraphrasing; but, that was the essence of his compliment; he felt for me because I lacked the narcissistic gene that enables so many to soar so far on a wing and a tear. (Send in the clones?)
"Yes, I do understand — have always understood — I choose to honour this gift He bestowed upon yours truly; I consequently understand I may simply labour under a delusion; but, then again, that's fine since reality's simply a collective illusion; we only see the past (which comprises nothing more than the elements of it we keep alive in our minds); and, we always attack ourselves first. There's this fellow in Montréal, I believe, this pathetically and utterly self-absorbed buried-alive guy who's made a career from attacking others; just a bully, nothing more, with shabby lip- and tip-schticks that get him attention and that's nice for him, no?
"No matter. When it all comes down to dust-ups, I jig the jitters with McLuhan on that Horace McCoy dance-floor score (the high priest of popcult and metaphysician of media had finessed in arguably his best-known interview, the one for Playboy, March 1969):
"I don't want to sound uncharitable about my critics. Indeed, I appreciate their attention. After all, a man's detractors work for him tirelessly and for free. It's as good as being banned in Boston. But as I've said, I can understand their hostile attitude toward environmental change, having once shared it. Theirs is the customary human reaction when confronted with innovation: to flounder about attempting to adapt old responses to new situations or to simply condemn or ignore the harbingers of change — a practice refined by the Chinese emperors, who used to execute messengers bringing bad news. The new technological environments generate the most pain among those least prepared to alter their old value structures. The literati find the new electronic environment far more threatening than do those less committed to literacy as a way of life. When an individual or social group feels that its whole identity is jeopardised by social or psychic change, its natural reaction is to lash out in defensive fury. But for all their lamentations, the revolution has already taken place.
"Think about it: Your friends never promo you the way your non-friends do. Our enemies really are our finest and fittest cheerleaders; plus, we don't know we even are the enemy; but, besides that, I suppose it's the Swede quarter of me who recalls that axiom from the time I spent with my biological grandmother before the Catholic Children's Aid accompanied by the police 'rescued' me from my biological monster and her partner after my teacher, Frank Manella, had reported the latest in an endless stream of unspeakable cruelties (since my body was covered with boils and blisters after they'd poured scalding hot water on most of it): 'If you have a friend, you have an enemy,' a lesson I keep learning and learning and learning . . .
"See, I've never met this particular ultra-fan nor have I ever written one word about his work in any other medium until those you just ogled. Still, he ardently and assiduously takes it upon himself to attempt to demolish the competition — itself a repugnant notion since great art doesn't confine itself in terms of statutes of limitations upon it; nor, for that matter, does it know nationalistic borders / boundaries — in what I consider to be a transparent and utterly idiotic kind of fool's goad, the ol' id-jit snit-fit nit-twit id-shit. He sells himself short; but, most egregiously, he damages the one thing he ought to lay down his life to protect, if necessary — his poetry (and, by extension, pardoning the McLuhaniacal punisher, all poetry). How can that be? How can such a pseudo-po betray the integrity of the vocation? This, I know, I will never know. Malvina Reynolds, though? 'Do you think you've hit bottom? / Oh, no; there's a bottom below.'
"Me? I write because I cannot but do so. TINA. It would be immoral or obscenely negligent on my part if I denied my self the privilege of creating poetry enabling that same entity to escape from its self, I guess. And, for that, I thank both Him and the healthy ego I do possess I intuitively know a way, a truth, a route to express transport transcending both self and ego so palpable, so bone-deep replete, and inviolate, it holds me in its charms and allows my self the latitude to flourish, respect, cherish — not to mention count the horseshoes on my arse — the fact it exists at all (when so many would have me succumb to their vision and believe otherwise; comme Leo sarcaustically asserts in the negative, 'I'm [not] sorry for smudging the air with my song' nor shall I ever experience remorse. For one thing, the air's much more smudged by what he calls 'the lousy little poets'; and, secondly, I stopped apologising for my self when I discovered I still possessed one).
"Jouissance? Absolutemance! Gawd, I love language damned near to death, love everything it communicates and conceals, each phoneme that contributes to building / making / shaping a beautiful thing worthy of entry in The Book of Eternity. But, yes, to return to your earlier question? On 2 June 2002, I died for four minutes, a fact I learned when I regained consciousness in ICU two days later. Someone who worked with me on one of my shacks ambushed me with a pair of his buddies at 10:30 PM that life-changing Sunday night. For two weeks, I hovered between life and death; and, when I first regained consciousness I could not comprehend WTF I was doing with all these tubes and terrifying techno-gizmos blip 'n' zip-zapping? It was 10 June. WTF happened?
"'Do you know who you are?' And, natch, I said, 'Yes, me.' So, they asked, 'Where are you?' Of course, I responded, 'Here; but, where is here and why am I . . . What are all these machines . . . and . . .' but I began convulsing, drowning in pain, blacking out . . ..
"What had happened? The guy had lured me across the street to the closed Shell Station in Sundridge; and, while his buddies each held one my arms, he beat me up with his fists and some kind of club. My lungs collapsed and filled with blood from the blows to my chest. When they'd battered and bashed me to unconsciousness — I do remember I was praying / screaming / Hail Marying because I knew I would die — they left me on Highway 11 to be run over by a vehicle; thus, natch, it would look like I'd committed suicide. Poets often off themselves, right? Part of the job descrip, especially if you're a woman. I developed ARDS, a condition normally contracted by soldiers which kills six out of ten of its carriers within three days of onset. There was a contract on my life. The guy I'd hired under the table owed the guy who'd put the price on my head; this was the way my guy would repay his debt. I learned all this later from the police here in The Almaguin Highlands. The officers assigned to my case told me not to take it to court because he'd kill me if he lost and he'd kill me if he won. No conscience. Nada. In dollars and cents? My life's value? Just under 10K CAN.
"Actually, brilliant plan. My house fronted Highway 11, less than a hockey rink's length from my porch; it would look like I'd walked into a truck because crazy poets despair and end their lives, right? I had experienced a terrible setback (as a direct result of the killer-by-proxy who'd put the contract on me's error); and, the setback he'd pitched in my direction would explain my motivation. The plan would've worked, too. On Sunday evenings in small-town Northern Ontario, nobody drives the highway but truckers, usually. Truckers and preachers, specifically.
"The local minister and his wife, the couple that didn't have enough time to pick me up because the on-coming 18-wheeler, already past the green light at the IGA, perhaps an eighth of a kilometre from me, could not see me since I was wearing dark clothes. The pair dragged me off the highway far enough that the truck just missed me. My clothes and skin shredded further when they dragged me; but, that was preferable to death. There were still traces of blood on the shoulder of the road when I did get to leave the hospital with an oxygen compressor. Had to use it for six months after I returned home; but, that wasn't home, not to me, not for me, not after the attack. No, that little bungalow, the little bungalow I'd worked my entire life to allow the bank to own in exchange for it allowing me to live in it, that house never became a home; rather, it was a prison.
"The guy, a professional who had apparently graduated top of his class at university, a bright fellow, I suppose, did try again; but, his second attempt backfired; and, although the police agreed that my justified legal action against him which generated his bottomless wrath paled in comparison with the damage he had done to my life and future, they also pointed out he was obsessed and probably wouldn't stop until I was dead. Their advice was to sell and get the hell out of the area, which I took and did; but, the constant terror, despair, and fear I felt? Time will toll.
"Nothing will ever feel safe again in the same way, nothing. Then again, despite everything, I continue to fight daily against precisely that mean-spirited and ego-motivated cynicism; and, at the end of each day, I sleep well, albeit with one ear open, knowing I've remained true to what it is I must needs do; for me, that would be the true sin, turning away from that obligation this gift implicitly carries.
"Yes, I have written the first draft of a novel about it, finally; I couldn't do so when I was still grieving the death of who I was and what I did so effortlessly in the world prior to the attack; that activity provided a modicum of relief, certainly; in that respect, Eliot's right about escape from emotion. I had to remain dispassionate and approach the entire catastrophe as if it had happened to someone else. I'm sorry it's finished; OTOH, I'm relieved I wrote it; but, that said, I will never publish it. Why would I? It's history. It's what my friend calls 'some kind of record.' My faith keeps me alive. Life is a gift. I am not particularly religious in terms of its external manifestations; but, I do believe in a force outside myself, as ineffable and necessary as oxygen. That and the fact I do possess a clear conscience I've remained true to language, the thing I love more than life itself; and, of course, the truth in the proof I haven't violated the gift He trusts me to realise wholly and fully. (Not an important failure? Precisely.) Is enough. Is everything. Is all."
For more information on the life and work of the woman Leonard Cohen considers "one of the world's greatest poets" (or to read a representative sampling of poetry as well as commentary concerning the writing's value), please feel free to browse her look-worthy links, objects formerly known as books, sportswriting, and prosework featuring on her award-winning WriteSite.