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The Alma Elegies, Allan Cooper

Allan Cooper

Allan John Cooper (poet, publisher, and musician) was born 15 March 1954 in Moncton, New Brunswick. He is the son of John Percy (d. 1981) and Muriel, both of the Moncton area. Cooper’s father, an employee of the Government of Canada, encouraged Cooper’s writing from the time he started to express an interest. Muriel Cooper worked for the Province of New Brunswick as an educational consultant.

After attending elementary and junior high school in Riverview, Cooper went to Moncton High School so he could enroll in the school’s music program. At Moncton High, it was English teacher Joan McNutt’s belief that he could be a good poet that started Cooper in the pursuit of being a serious writer. His musical skills helped finance his education at Mount Allison University in Sackville, where his bands played jazz, rock, and country at various venues. Cooper went on to form the blues trio Isaac, Blewett, and Cooper who had a successful live and recording career in the 1990s and 2000s, including two East Coast Music Award nominations. In 2002, Cooper released an album of solo music. At Mount Allison, he earned a B.A. in English and Sociology, with concentrations in Music and Religious Studies. He studied under poets John Thompson and Herbert Burke, whose engaged, positive teaching style shaped Cooper’s outlook on poetry and mentoring. 

Cooper turned from formal academics to a creative career in 1978 when he decided to forego acceptance into the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Alaska to move to Alma and write his first book of poems, Blood Lines (1979). A 1978 provincial grant helped finance his interviews about the history of the area with older, long-time residents of Alma. This research developed into his first collection, which revives departed voices and is pervaded with reflections on spiritual and familial inheritance, barely perceptible activities of the natural world, and the interconnectedness of living things. In Blood Lines, the influence of Cooper’s teacher, John Thompson, is evident in his early adoption of the Ghazal to concisely present intimate images inspired by the elderly residents’ “stories/ shedding sparks across the years” (Blood Lines 8).

In the twelve collections of poetry that followed, Cooper develops and elaborates themes and images forged in his first collection. The magical generative power of seeds, juxtapositions of human and natural processes and signs, the reality and symbolism of light, memory, dreams, and the remnants—material and incorporeal—of human activity, all recur. Like other New Brunswick poets emerging from south-eastern New Brunswick and Sackville’s Mount Allison University, Cooper’s poetry entices the reader to devote attention to minute natural or human-made manifestations that provide revelatory truth. A mouse, ants, pine needles, spiders, a clothespin, lichen, a honeybee, an abandoned insect shell, and wild blueberries each attract creative attention, revealing significance transcending their physical dimensions. 

Although all of Cooper’s collections contain strong work, three notable volumes are Heaven of Small Moments (1998), which was a finalist for the Tilden/CBC Canadian Literary Award; To An Unborn Child (1988), which was awarded the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s Honorary President’s Prize; and Gabriel’s Wing (2004). Cooper’s poem “To An Unborn Child” was collected, along with works by well-known poets Adrienne Rich, Gregory Corso, Denise Levertov, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg in a substantial 1995 collection of poems sensitive to the implications of the atomic age, Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond to the Nuclear Age.

One of Cooper’s predominant themes—the power of the past to resonate in the present through memory, objects, and natural history—manifests itself in the arrangement of his collection Alma Elegies (2007). The book is a revival and reprinting of the ten poems of his first collection, Blood Lines, which had been out of print for twenty-five years. But the poems of the first collection are answered in Alma Elegies by new poems, many addressing similar concerns and issues, from a new vantage point. (The book was composed at Alma House, built in 1887 by the poet’s great-great-uncle, where Cooper and his family have lived since 1991.)

Like John Thompson, Cooper also translates foreign-language poetry into English, and many of his recent collections include his translations of important international poets. Cooper started translating poetry early as a way to stimulate his own writing in slow periods, and to render into English the poems he admires. To date, he has translated Lin Chu, Tao Yuan Ming, and Federico Garcia Lorca, among others. His method is to use another translator’s literal, word-for-word translation into English as a jumping off point to develop his own poetic evocation. 

Cooper has also been active in publishing Canadian poetry. In 1982 he took over the poetry magazine Germination from fellow poet Harry Thurston. The goal behind the magazine, as Cooper describes it, was to “publish as many new Canadian poets as possible” (qtd. in Butler “A request”). One of the first poets he selected for publication was the now-prominent and award-winning George Elliott Clarke. Between 1982 and 1990, Cooper published 15 issues of Germination, which included notable works by Canadian poets Jan Conn, Douglas Burnet Smith, and Leigh Faulkner. 

Developing from his work on Germination, and his desire to publish “good books of poetry…that were not being picked up by the larger publishing houses” (“A request”), Cooper started Owl’s Head Press, a poetry-publishing imprint in Alma, NB. One of the press’s earliest releases was Ten Poems of Francis Ponge Translated by Robert Bly & Ten Poems of Robert Bly Inspired by the Poems of Francis Ponge, by established American poet Robert Bly. In 2000, Owl’s Head released The Music of Memory, a book of poetry by Cooper’s mother, Muriel. 

Cooper has been equally active in working on behalf of New Brunswick’s literary community. In April 1983, at the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s first annual meeting, he was elected president, serving with Honorary President Alfred Bailey. In the past three decades, Cooper has delivered hundreds of poetry workshops to adults and children in Canada and the United States, bringing the positive, encouraging teaching style he learned from Burke and Thompson to his interactions with emerging poets. Cooper was also a participating author at the annual Frye Literary Festival in Moncton in 2000, 2001, and 2004. Since February 2006, he has published an internet web log, “Allan Cooper’s Blog,” at allan-cooper.blogspot.com. In the blog, he posts poems, reflections about his life and work, and news about his publications. The blog extends his reach as a poet, mentor, and promoter of poetry in New Brunswick. It also permits readers to submit comments and feedback.

Cooper’s creative work has been recognized in a number of awards. Twice recipient of the Alfred G. Bailey Award for Poetry (1987 and 1992), he has also won the Peter Gzowski Award (1994) and been shortlisted three times for CBC Literary Awards. He continues to write, and is currently preparing a new volume of poems forthcoming in 2009. 

Joel Butler, Summer 2009

University of New Brunswick

For more information on Allan Cooper, please visit his entry at the New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English.

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Poetry

Cooper, Allan. Alma Elegies. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2007.


---. Bending The Branch: Twenty-six Poems. Sackville, NB: Percheron Press, 1983.

---. Blood Lines. Fredericton: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1979.

---. The Deer is Thirsty for the Mountain Stream: Version from the Chinese, Japanese, and the Book of Psalms. Alma, NB: Owl’s Head Press, 1992.

---. Gabriel’s Wing. Kentville: Gaspereau Press, 2004.

---. Heaven of Small Moments. Fredericton: Broken Jaw Press, 1998.

---. Hidden River Poems. Fredericton: Fiddlehead Press, 1982.

---. Jottings Toward the Country of the Light: 10 Ghazals. Brandon: Pierian Press, 1984.

---. Lin Chu: The Black Swan. Alma: Owl’s Head Press, 2006.

---. The Pearl Inside the Body (Selected and New). Brandon: Pierian Press, 1991.

---. Poems Released on a Nuclear Wind. East Lawrencetown. NS: Pottersfield Press, 1987.

---. Singing the Flowers Open. Kentville: Gaspereau Press, 2001.

---. To An Unborn Child. Fort Collins, Colorado: Leaping Mountain Press, 1988. 

Articles

Cooper, Allan. “’I Must Write the Poem’: A Review Article on John Thompson’s Stilt Jack”. The Antigonish Review 42 (1980): 91-98.

 

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Butler, Joel. “A request.” Email to Allan Cooper. 2 April 2009.

Cain, Michael Scott. Rev. of The Alma Elegies. Rambles.net 15 Dec 2007. 11 May 2009 <http://www.rambles.net/cooper_alma07.html>.

Cook, Geoffrey. Rev. of Singing the Flowers Open. The Danforth Review Online 11 May 2009. <http://www.danforthreview.com/reviews/poetry/cooper.htm>.

Cran, E.E. “Two Volumes Show Part of Range of 21st-Century Poetry.” New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal 4 Sept 2004: Life Section.

“Local Author Releases New Book of Poetry.” Times and Transcript [Moncton, N.B.] 24 Mar 2007: E5.

Lofranco, John. “A Review of Gabriel’s Wing.” Books in Canada Online 11 May 2009. <http://www.booksincanada.com/article_view.asp?id=4165>.

MacGibbon, Lynda. “Hummingbirds, Poets, Clay Boxes.” Times and Transcript 3 July 1999: Life Section.


Morrissey, Stephen. “Review of Three Poetry Books.” Rev. of Poems Released on a Nuclear Wind Fall 1989. 19 May 2009. <http://www.stephenmorrissey.ca/articles_reviews/SM_Three_2.html>.


Nowlan, Michael O. “Collection includes several local poets.” The Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, N.B.] 26 May 2007: C3.


Robinson, Heather. “N.B. Writer’s [sic] Federation Founders Honoured.” The Daily Gleaner 17 May 1999: News Section.


“Writers to Read at Moncton Library.” Times and Transcript 29 March 2007: B8.