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Vernacular strain

Poet Mary Dalton to give the 2020 Pratt Lecture

Campus and Community

By Terri Coles


All that mad race for a dollar.
Some fellows killed theirselves with work
When the Yanks came
With the rush to get the Base in
All night, ploughs on the grind
Out on the runways, in blizzards,
To keep them open; nights my eyes
Were swelled and red and burning
No sleep for days and driving
Those big rig-outs in the blinding snow.

This poem from Merrybegot is fitting for what has been, so far, an undeniably rough winter in St. John’s.

The poem’s author, and the author of the collection of poems titled Merrybegot, Mary Dalton, will give the 2020 Pratt Lecture, the oldest public lecture at Memorial University. The lecture is titled The Vernacular Strain of Newfoundland Poetry.

Throughout her writing career, Prof. Dalton has released five volumes of poetry, one collection of prose and three chapbooks. She has multiple award nominations and wins, and in 2009 she founded the SPARKS Literary Festival at Memorial University.

With this year’s Pratt Lecture added to her accomplishments, Prof. Dalton joins distinguished company that includes Ursula LeGuin, George Elliot Clarke and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney.

“It’s an honour to be in the company of these people,” she said.

Prof. Dalton’s history with Memorial is a long one. Now a professor emerita of English, she retired from teaching in that department in 2018.

As the 2019 poet laureate of the City of St. John’s, she says she takes the honour seriously.

“I consider one aspect of my role is to foster awareness of the vitality of the poetry being written here,” she said.

Part of that work includes the creation of Cornucopia, a celebration of St. John’s poetry she launched last year and describes as “a mini-SPARKS.”

‘A deluxe form of radio’

Prof. Dalton remains an integral part of the Memorial community thanks in part to Flahoolic: A Poetry Podcast, produced at campus radio station CHMR.

Podcasts are a great way to raise awareness and appreciation of the art form, she says.

“The podcast, which is in my view a deluxe form of radio, is an ideal space for poetry,” she said. “Sound patterning is crucial to poetry, and radio and the podcast are entirely about sound.”

The medium is also widely accessible, and Flahoolic listeners can be found far beyond its home province.

“I’ve had responses to the podcast from various places, including Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and the U.S., as well as, of course, from Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.

The series features mainly poets from St. John’s, but also includes those from elsewhere in the province. A second series of Flahoolic will be released soon, and a third and fourth will be made with support from Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement.


In addition to the Pratt Lecture on March 4, there will be a dramatic reading of Prof. Dalton’s Merrybegot the prior evening.

“Having these poems sounded on stage by a variety of voices, some of them experienced actors, including the brilliant Andy Jones, ought to highlight the dramatic nature of these pieces, as well as their interconnectedness,” she said.

The book is a collection of tiny monologues, and several local actors will voice its various characters for the event.

“The monologues combine to give a sense of the vitality of idiom and cadence of Newfoundland speech, as well as of the tangly relations in a small community,” she said.

The 2020 Pratt Lecture is on Wednesday, March 4, beginning at 8 p.m. at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, with a reception to follow.

On the previous evening, Tuesday, March 3, at 8 p.m. in the LSPU Hall’s Cox & Palmer Second Space, a dramatic reading of Prof. Dalton’s Merrybegot will be staged. Both events are free and open to the public.

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