Harry Thurston

Harry Thurstons most recent poetry collections include The Deer Yard (with Allan Cooper) and Animals Of My Own Kind. His environmental writing has been published in many of North Americas leading magazines, including Audubon, Canadian Geographic and National Geographic. He has been awarded numerous writing prizes in both Canada and the United States, including the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, the Lane Anderson Award and the Evelyn Richardson Literary Award. Thurston lives in Tidnish, Nova Scotia.


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A Ship Portrait
Harry Thurston

2005 / Poetry / $18.95
9781554470068 / Trade paper / 96 pp


A Ship Portrait is a tribute to the life and art of John OBrien, nineteenth-century painter of ships, written as what Harry Thurston calls a novella in verse. Built upon two voices, OBriens and the poets, the poem traces the painters life in Halifax during the apex and decline of the Golden Age of Sail. Thurston characterizes this era in Nova Scotias history as a time of shifting mythologies, of strife between Old World and New, and of a surprisingly cosmopolitan lifestyle sustained by the shipping industry.

For some time, says Thurston, I had wanted to write a long poem about our historical relationship to the sea. Then, in 1984, I attended an exhibition of John OBriens work at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia ship portraits of a kind I had grown up seeing in the libraries, museums and parlours of Yarmouth. This artists vision, rather than the more romantically conventional viewpoint of the iron men of wooden ship fame, seemed a promising lens. It took another two decades for me to begin writing what at first I imagined as a kind of nineteenth-century-style narrative poem. I needed a form that could reach beyond the traditional bounds of lyrical poetry, to address such matters as the economy and the place of the artist in society the more proper concerns of a novel. I had always liked dramatic monologue, so began in OBriens voice. Oddly, I found the lines unrolling in perfectly good blank verse. However, not long into the writing process, I began a dialogue with OBrien, an exchange of our histories as Maritimers and of the working lives of artists, which bridge time and place.

We meet OBrien on his deathbed from where he recounts his life as it began in 1831 aboard a ship bound for Canada. Alternating with OBriens, Thurstons own voice offers commentary, support and retrospection, reaching a long arm over the years to his own childhood stomping grounds in Yarmouth and the more subdued climate in Nova Scotias ports a century after the Golden Age. Thurston considers OBriens contemporaries Melville, Ruskin and Turner as counterpoints to the painters career and as part of a wider examination of the role of artists and art in the composition of history.

Perhaps the most fascinating passages in the poem are those in which OBriens artistic techniques and preferences are revealed. Thurston draws out this tension at the centre of OBriens portraits, commenting on the extent to which the painters career hung in the balance alongside the Age of Sail. The poems two halves embody the crossovers between art and history, and how each shapes our perception of the other. Thurstons vivid scenes hinge on associative details, creating a narrative that is exotic, grounded and subtly informative. In employing both contemporary and historic voices, he successfully condenses this real-life artists story into art, genuinely engaging in a thrilling period of Nova Scotias history.

This book is a smyth-sewn paperback bound in card stock with an offset-printed jacket. The text was printed offset on laid paper.

Review:
This book recalls John Masefields salt-spray ballads of OBriens era (and the 20th century), but there are nods to E. Annie Proulxs The Shipping News. And parts of it sound like Ezra Pounds Canto II, and make use of non-poetic materials in the same way Pound does in his Cantos. George Elliott Clarke, The NovaScotian

Has Special Edition: 9781554470075

Other Books by this Author

Keeping Watch at the End of the World
Harry Thurston

2015 / Poetry / $20.95 CAN / $20.95 US
9781554471447 / Trade paper
The Deer Yard
Harry Thurston, Allan Cooper

2013 / Poetry / $17.95 CAN / $17.95 US
9781554471201 / Trade paper
Broken Vessel: Thirty-five Days in the Desert
Harry Thurston

2007 / Poetry / $15.95 CAN / $15.95 US
9781554470341 / Trade paper
A Ship Portrait
Harry Thurston

2005 / Poetry / $49.95 CAN / $49.95 US
9781554470075 / Fine
If Men Lived on Earth
Harry Thurston

2000 / Poetry / $39.95 CAN / $39.95 US
9781894031233 / Fine
If Men Lived on Earth
Harry Thurston

2000 / Poetry / $14.95 CAN / $14.95 US
9781894031226 / Trade paper

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