John Thompson


  1. Biography
  2. Why Should We Read and Study Thompson?
  3. Literature & Analysis
    • “Horse Chestnuts”
    • “Partridge”
    • “The Change”
    • Analysis of “Horse Chestnuts,” “Partridge,” and “The Change”
    • “January February March Et Cetera”
    • “The Great Bear”
    • Analysis of “January February March Et Cetera” and “The Great Bear”
    • The Ghazals
    • “Ghazal II”
    • “Ghazal VII”
    • “Ghazal XXXVII”
    • Analysis of The Ghazals
  4. Questions and Considerations for Reflection
  5. Strategies for Teachers
  6. Further Reading
  7. Copyright


Born in 1938 in the English industrial county of Cheshire, Thompson was orphaned at a young age by the death of his father and by his mother’s decision to hand her child over to relatives in Manchester to safeguard him from German bombing raids. A gifted but restless student, he attended the University of Sheffield and then, in 1960, Michigan State University, where he did graduate work in Comparative Literature. It was at Michigan State that he began to write, influenced by the growing youth movement, anti-war protests, and civil rights demonstrations. In Michigan, he also came under the direction of expatriate Canadian poet A.J.M. Smith, one of the pioneering literary modernists in Canada, whose seminar on the French Symbolists turned Thompson on to the rigours of poetic technique. Upon completing his PhD, Thompson and his wife drove to New Brunswick where he joined the Department of English at Mount Allison University in 1966. His time in Sackville was uneven at best. He was revered and loathed by students and faculty alike, the result being that he was not offered tenure at the end of his probationary term. Eventually overturned, this judgement of Thompson divided campus and created the tensions out of which At the Edge of the Chopping There Are No Secrets (1973) and the posthumously published Stilt Jack (1978) emerged. Both masterful collections, Thompson was hailed as a poetic innovator. Despite these successes, he endured a series of broken relationships (including his marriage), destructive alcoholism, and mental anguish. He died in Sackville in 1976.

For a much more detailed biography of John Thompson, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.

Why Should We Read and Study John Thompson?

  • In the view of esteemed Canadian poet and critic George Elliott Clarke, John Thompson is both “the most influential East Coast Canadian poet” and one of the most influential Canadian poets of the twentieth century (5). He was influential because of his unblinking focus on the formal aspects of his art. He believed that all writers should strive to find a form, however exotic, that suits and serves their voice. He was also influential, as Alden Nowlan was, for modelling the life of the writer. For Thompson, a poet must live for poetry, which oftentimes (and certainly in his case) causes domestic and professional strife. Thompson insisted, however, that the work came first, and he accepted this directive as a private undertaking, not publicly as a dandy or bohemian. Thompson’s surrender to his art instructed other writers in the wages of such a vocation.
  • We should also read Thompson for the results of that commitment to art – for his very fine work, in other words. His language is exact, daring, innovative, and always grasping at essences that are slightly out of his reach. As such, he often brings us to the precipice of language, to the point where language exhausts its potential. We know (and he knows) that there is something more there, but neither he nor we have the tools to grasp it. Thompson is the first of the New Brunswick poets to bring readers to that exciting edge.
  • As Nova Scotia poet and critic Peter Sanger suggests, much of the delight of Thompson’s work is found in its simpatico with the New Brunswick and Maritime literary ethos. In seeking “to find alternatives to the principles and ambitions of contemporary urbanism and industrialism,” that work, says Sanger, is thus familiar to Eastern readers (“John Thompson” New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia). His work is in line with our environmental conditions and with the intention of many modernist New Brunswick authors (A.G. Bailey, Elizabeth Brewster, Robert Gibbs, etc.) who sought to explore landscape as a vehicle for understanding the human psyche. The eco-poets of the next generation will be indebted to Thompson and the modernists for these attentions to ecosystem.

Literature & Analysis

“Horse Chestnuts”

I drive through
             with a clean nail:
             it goes

easy and true through the heart,
               but only with force
                             through the tough

undershell, breaking out
               in a jagged, stiff,
                             brown flower, crumbs

of yellow flesh spilling:

in the heel of my palm
             the sharp bite
                           of the nail-head,

as I thread these fruits on a string
             to hang up in the sun.


Stopping dead still
              on the road,
a trace of it
              sleeps in the air

(far back in the fir
              a faint rustle)


coiled in spruce bark
an odour:
              buck heat or
the juice of fear;

loving a woman, I know
              death’s thicket,

the must of rotting
              crab apples
in an abandoned orchard,

this partridge
through the dying fruit.

“The Change”

It’s in the dark we approach
            our energies, that instant
the tide is all fury, still,
              at the full:

as that time I lost an axe-blade
              in the chopping,
and listened, for days, to the rust
             gathering; and that night

I didn’t find it, but came upon
             a cow moose blind, stinking
with heat, moaning, and

hooving the black peat with
         such blood, such fury,
the woods broke open, the earth

         recovered her children,
her silences, her poems.

Analysis of  “Horse Chestnuts,” “Partridge,” and “The Change”

To encounter Thompson’s work for the first or hundredth time is to be startled into recognition. He writes so carefully and evocatively that we enter his perspective. We are therefore the man stringing horse chestnuts (“Horse Chestnuts”), the figure caught in the autumn stillness on the road (“Partridge”), or the man searching for his axe-blade in the chopping (“The Change”). His poems invite a consideration of how far New Brunswick literature has come from the days of Adam Allan’s strained descriptions and Jonathan Odell’s partisan patriotism.

“Horse Chestnuts” collapses time to moment and image, both tightly framed and precisely fused. Not a word is wasted in the poem, the language pared down to essentials. The effect is to bring us into the concentrations of the subject, which turns his seemingly insignificant action to the personal and ritualistic. The drive of the nail through the flesh of the chestnut is swift and “true” (he’s hit the sweet spot!), then resisted, the force to overcome that resistance creating “brown flower” and “crumbs / of yellow flesh spilling.” Without saying so, the poem suggests an array of opposite tensions (another language) that all bodies feel: force and resistance, exterior and interior, shell and flesh. Then, suddenly, as if to ground the suggestive in sensation, the speaker’s palm is “bitten” by the nail-head. Nail punctures flesh in an act, we learn, of preservation: the fruit is beaded on a string to dry in the sun. A simple action is transformed into ritual, and so opens a door to meditations on food, husbandry, and even crucifixion, a nail penetrating flesh having more than casual significance in western culture. The crucifixion, too, if we think about it, was an act of preservation, at least in the view of French historian René Girard.

The poem illustrates, then, the extensions of language and the futility of marshalling that language. In foregrounding movement – pressures, punctures, entrances, etc. – the poem offers a language of the body that is quite different from the language of the tongue. But even when fixated on that language of the body, the poem slips out of Thompson’s control, illustrating the fact that writers can never control that which is mediated by language (in this case, a poem’s meaning). Readers will make of it what they will – either a man stringing chestnuts on a rope or an arching toward a much more significant historical moment. The more experienced and able the poet, the more he/she will surrender to and play with this unboundedness of language.

“Partridge” is equally complex, suggestive, and precise. It replicates exactly the moment of the bird hunter’s hushed anticipation: the moment when thought gives way to sense; when the ears, eyes, and nose are maximally attuned; when humans cross the threshold to enter the wilderness inside themselves. As all partridge hunters know, the moment is one of heightened sense (“buck heat”) and expectant fright (“the juice of fear”), for the bird, “coiled in spruce bark,” will either exit loudly (the thrum of its wings felt as a primordial beating of the heart) or, confused, strut worriedly across the hunter’s line of sight. To pick up that trace, the hunter will freeze, “[s]topping dead still / on the road.” Next comes the shot – and with it, the compact of hunter and prey that is so little understood and so much scorned in polite society.

The poem is therefore as much about crossing thresholds as it is about freezing a moment in language. The hunter crosses the threshold of society to enter a wilderness that is inside him (a wilderness inside all of us that we don’t talk about in polite company) and the bird crosses the threshold of wilderness to make itself visible to the hunter. Such is their compact. Each enters a strange, wordless space of longing, fraternity, and empathy. Hunters understand, as do those who cross margins and borders of different kinds. The space the poem implicates is “ecotone”: the transitional space between species. It is a space empty of language but flush with meaning.

Such is the space of “The Change,” a poem in which the speaker again crosses a threshold to the unnameable. But what is “the dark” that Thompson is writing about here? Is it the dark of night? The “energies” of the first stanza, and their equivalency with fury and fullness, suggest not night but a state of hyper-awareness or sensitivity. “We” enter that state – his use of the plural pronoun implies shared possibility – when we exit order to enter ungovernable wilderness. His entrance, this time, is by happenstance: on searching for a lost axe-blade he comes upon a cow moose in heat and is entranced by the fury of her need. What he witnesses is unbridled, fierce, muscular, elemental, and raw. It is beyond language because it is not his energy but an animal’s, an animal not in possession of language, or at least a language we understand. Mute but furiously real, that force shakes and disturbs the earth, tearing open an entrance that swallows children, silences, and poems. In that animal’s fury the poet approaches his own energies, the furnace where poems are incubated and born. It is a place without government or law. Rather, as the Irish modernist W.B. Yeats described it in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” more “a foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

What makes Thompson so original in New Brunswick literature is this yearning to reach beyond what language can easily express – to, in a sense, exhaust language. As A.J.M. Smith wrote on the dust jacket to Stilt Jack, Thompson reaches for “a world of essences, primitive and chaotic, made of earth, air, fire, and waters … spilt blood, split woods; cries; horses; fish; Anabasis half begun, half finished in the New Brunswick woods.”

“January February March Et Cetera”

Your waist is growing lean, your skirt
     slops around your belly:
           you are proud;

you pick over crazy salads and feed me
     salt fish pie
          day after day;

god damn this winter when the air
     and women get thin
           and cold!

Building a fierce fire
      in the furnace, I imagine
           August —

bottles of thick Italian wine,
      huge milky potatoes bursting
            from the moist earth.

“The Great Bear”

You are standing here though you are gone
a thousand miles:

the green world shines, an apple deep
under ice;
I reach out
to stroke the muzzle of the Great Bear, glittering,
dipped, rooting for berries

under the snow in the next meadow.                                       

Analysis of  “January February March Et Cetera” and “The Great Bear”

When nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson was asked what qualifies as poetry, she responded, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Many of Thompson’s poems qualify.

“January February March Et Cetera” certainly does for its unusual handling of the privations of winter. Thompson is not the first New Brunswick poet to treat winter. Charles G.D. Roberts did in a number of sonnets, as did Robert Gibbs, Elizabeth Brewster, and Alden Nowlan in poems of varied length and complexity. Each wrote about winter as a time of submission and deferral: to live through winter is to submit to it, suspending hope and deferring comfort to another season. We forbear, at first with defiance (like the woman in the poem, retaining our pride in the face of leanness and loss), but soon a “day after day” sameness tests that forbearance. Not only is the season brutal but it also mocks. It is a line of telephone posts on a flat prairie that never seems to end. It is, indeed, “January February March Et Cetera,” a white figure on a white ground. Like Roberts’ cows, that unending sameness compels us to “dream of summer” (“In an Old Barn”).

In this speaker’s imagination, though, something extraordinary happens: there is a transport to August, where “thick Italian wine” and “huge milky potatoes” burst from “the moist earth.” Thompson is deliberate in amplifying the contrasts: the thinness of winter versus the fecundity of summer. Against the rationing of winter is the riotousness of harvest: ripeness, warmth, and plenitude. Everything teems with life, if only by proxy. The bounty sustains him and us. Notwithstanding the rather obvious sexual innuendo at the centre of the poem, what Northerner can read this poem and not want to plunge his hands in that “moist earth” of August?

Boldness of imagination is key, implies Thompson. Though cows may be “content / In day-long contemplation of their dreams” (“In an Old Barn”), humans dream more robustly. They dream in technicolour. In fact, as “The Great Bear” demonstrates, the human mind is an agile author, able to see in an apple frozen under ice a whole green world as it might be seen from space – and as our planet is seen by Ursa Major, the constellation of the Great Bear. Once freed from the social strictures of “the normal,” the imagination can thus “reach out / to stroke the muzzle of the Great Bear” as it is “rooting for berries / under the snow in the next meadow.”

Is the poem about the bear or the imagination, one might reasonably ask? Given Thompson’s fondness for Emily Dickinson, it is probably the latter, for “The Great Bear” and the previous poem seem to be a response to Dickinson’s “The Brain is Wider than the Sky”:

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The human imagination, in other words, is at least equal to “January February March Et Cetera.”

The Ghazals

Published posthumously in 1978, Thompson’s Stilt Jack is a collection of ghazals (pronounced “guzzles”), a poetic form that originated in 7th-century Arabia and is the most popular of the classical forms of Urdu poetry. Usually about love, loss, or melancholy, the Persian ghazal is often set to music and has fixed repetition of reference and rhyme. The English form of the ghazal that Thompson wrote is less rigid.

It consists of a minimum of five discrete and autonomous couplets that have, says Thompson in an introductory note, “no logical, progressive, narrative, thematic (or whatever) connection” (5). Its difference from the highly structured sonnet form, he continues, accounts for its fascination for Western writers. That, and the fact that its internal order is “clandestine”: “the link between couplets … is a matter of tone, nuance: the poem has no palpable intention upon us. It breaks, has to be listened to as a song” (5).

The question is, how can a poem without unity, a poem that has “no palpable intention” (5), be more than random free association? Thompson answers this by saying that the ghazal “allows the imagination to move by its own nature: discovering an alien design, illogical and without sense – a chart of the disorderly, against false reason and the tacking together of poor narratives. It is a poem of contrasts, dreams, astonishing leaps” (5).

In other words, each couplet is complete in itself; in fact, a poem in itself. There is connection among the couplets but it is beyond narrative logic. The connection sometimes involves rhyme and at other times involves the extension of a tone or feeling. Sometimes there is parallelism in evidence – one couplet might respond to another couplet, both still autonomous and complete, but both a riff on the same emotion. The space between couplets of the same ghazal, then, is where the poetic imagination does its work – where, freed to roam, digress, and give expression to unmanageable desires, it thrives in intense focus. The result is an unpredictable cartography.

“Ghazal II”

In this place we might be happy; blue-
winged teal, blacks, bats, steam

from cows dreaming in frost.
Love, you ask too many questions. 

Let’s agree: we are whole: the house
rises: we fight; this is love

and old acquaintance.
Let’s gather the stars; our fire

will contain us; two,

“Ghazal VII”

Terror, disaster, come to me from America.
Middle of the night. Highs in the seventies. Penny Lane. Albany.

What letters of van Gogh I remember, I’ve forgotten.
He cut off his ear. Crows. Potato eaters.

Crazy squash, burnt tomatoes, char of poems, sour milk,
a candle gone down: is this my table?

I’m waiting for Janis Joplin: why,
why is it so dark?

I talk to a poet: he goes on, drunk:
I pray he’s writing, don’t dare ask.

Hang on, hang on: I’m listening,
I’m listening to myself.

“Ghazal XXXVII”

Now you have burned your books, you’ll go with nothing.
A heart.

The world is full of the grandeur,
and it is.

Perfection of tables: crooked grains;
and all this talk: this folly of tongues.

Too many stories: yes, and
high talk: the exact curve of the thing.

Sweetness and lies: the hook, grey deadly bait,
a wind and water to kill cedar, idle men, the innocent

not love, and hard eyes
over the cold,

not love (eyes, hands, hands, arm)
given, taken, to the marrow;

(the grand joke: le mot juste:
forget it; remember):

Waking is all: readiness:
you are watching;

I’ll learn by going:
Sleave-silk flies; the kindly ones.

Analysis of  The Ghazals

Since literary analysis – the “processing” of text by an expert reader in order to fix and produce “meaning” – is contrary to the intentions of the form of ghazal that Thompson wrote, we leave it to readers to make their own sense of the ghazals above.

What will help is to know that many of Thompson’s ghazals address an absent subject, either his wife, as in Ghazal II, his friend and fellow poet Wayne Tompkins, or other poets of note such as W.B. Yeats and Adrienne Rich. Ghazal II, writes Pater Sanger, “refers to the Thompson family’s move from the rented Wood Point farmhouse … to another old farmhouse with two ramshackle shed barns at the very small, scattered settlement of Jolicure. … The house was bought partly with money loaned by Thompson’s mother-in-law in the United States. In October, the Thompson’s completed their move, and during the ensuing two months, … Meredith [his wife] and John found it impossible to live together any longer” (Collected Poems & Translations 32).

Questions and Considerations for Reflection

► John Thompson was typical of many New Brunswick writers who looked beyond region to produce uniquely “regional” work. There is no irony or paradox in that observation. Thompson, for example, was a British-born, American-educated poet whose primary influences were from French and Persian literature. Yet much of his work is embedded in a New Brunswick landscape that is as recognizable to us as it is in the poetry of Charles G.D. Roberts, the first of our poets to mine the lyric potential of the Tantramar. While literary regionalism, then, is local in execution, it is also often international in origin. This “cosmopolitanism,” as pioneering Canadian critic A.J.M. Smith called it, enhances our understanding of “region” by providing the artists who represent our regions with a wide array of tools. To be a regional writer is thus not necessarily to be confined to region. In fact, regionalism is better understood as a migratory phenomenon, a phenomenon given to the free flow of artists and ideas. When regional artists open themselves to the larger world, both their art and their regions expand. Such was the case with Thompson.

This is an important consideration in the context of this curriculum because New Brunswick literature began with the writing of outsiders. Only with permanent settlement did it find its voice, and that voice only became authentic when writers achieved full intimacy with New Brunswick ground. The import of modernist poetic techniques via A.G. Bailey and John Thompson served to further the maturity of that authentic voice. What made Thomson unique was his understanding of the necessity of acquiring “provincial citizenship” – not a citizenship recognized by the courts, but a citizenship of soil, barns, grasses, horses, and snow. Technique without citizenship does not produce art any more than citizenship without technique. In Bailey and Thomson, both were present.

► The analysis of “Horse Chestnuts” above, particularly in light of the futility of marshalling language, will remind sophisticated readers of the generations-long discussions around William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Both modernist poets seem to be using the vivid image to invite a meditation on the unboundedness of language. Williams’ poem is both arrestingly simple and profoundly suggestive. Here it is in its entirety:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Are both poets, then, inviting us to complicate their simple pictures, or are they illustrating, without intention, that language is an untameable, wilful beast?

► Thompson’s work has been very influential in the region because it anticipated the eco-poetics of Maritime poets Don Domanski, M. Travis Lane, Harry Thurston, and Don McKay, to name a few practitioners. It has also been influential for modelling how poets call to other poets in their tradition, both local and beyond. In Thompson’s work, this awareness of who and what came before is more than intertextual; it is a form of call and response, thus a private dialogue with other poets. Astute readers must therefore read Thompson with antennae raised, for he wrote with an awareness of the major modernist poets in his tradition, including the modernist poets of the Fiddlehead School. For readers who would like to learn more about eco-poetry, the following two sites provide an introduction: Poetry Foundation and

Strategies for Teachers

Strategy 1: Ordinary to Extraordinary (“Horse Chestnuts”)

Teachers may want to guide students through a comparison of “Horse Chestnuts” with Robert Gibbs’ “Conservation Procedures,” concentrating on how both poets turn the ordinary to the extraordinary. Because preservation is so familiar to our society, we overlook how remarkable a process it is; poetry helps us to see the everyday in a new and astonishing light. After discussion, ask students to write a poem or reflection that elevates something seemingly inconsequential, such as tying a shoelace, sharpening a tool, or skipping a flat stone on water. Students should strive to emulate Thompson’s and Gibbs’ careful and perceptive eye, attentive to the colours, textures, sensations, intentions, associations, and consequences of their activity.

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Writing and Representing: Make effective choices of language and techniques to enhance the impact of imaginative writing and other ways of representing

Strategy 2: Student Hunting Expertise (“Partridge”)

Given the culture of hunting that is so prevalent in New Brunswick, it is likely that at least a few students in each class will have knowledge of hunting partridge. Before reading this poem, ask students to share that experience. Where and how does one find partridge? How is hunting partridge different from hunting deer? What is the most difficult part of the hunt, and when is it most likely to go wrong? Is there something that motivates people to hunt besides the promise of meat? After reading the poem, invite the student hunters to help you and their classmates better understand what Thompson means by the “rustle” or the “juice of fear.” This strategy would be particularly useful if the student hunter(s) in class rarely participate in discussions.

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Speaking and Listening: Listen critically to analyse and evaluate concepts, ideas, and information

Strategy 3: Reading Innuendo (“January February March Et Cetera”)

In this poem, Thompson’s description of summer is exceptionally sexualized. Fantasizing about moist earth and huge milky “potatoes” is a welcome reprieve from the monotonous reality of his wife’s “salt fish pie.” The reader isn’t quite sure whether the speaker is projecting frustration with the season onto his wife, or frustration with his wife onto the season – they have become intertwined in his mind. Students will likely differ in whether and to what degree they find this poem humorous or laden with sexual innuendo. Ask them to debate whether the poem is funny, angry, or sexually frustrated, explaining their rationale. If more prodding is needed, try asking them whether they believe the speaker has affection for his partner.

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Speaking and Listening: Articulate, advocate, and justify positions on an issue or text in a convincing manner, showing an understanding of a range of viewpoints

Strategy 4: Grappling with the Ghazals (Ghazals)

Readers may find Thompson’s Ghazals frustrating. Attempts to force a meaning out of them through intensely focused analysis is likely to fail, and may prove tedious. A number of teaching strategies are presented below; they can be combined, or each can stand on its own.

  1. When a piece of written or visual art is difficult to comprehend, and the technical skills required to create it are not easily understood, it can be tempting to dismiss the art as pretence or conceit. Struggling and perhaps failing to understand can, after all, be a blow to the ego. If Thompson’s Ghazals provoke an angry, defensive, or dismissive reaction in your class, that reaction provides an excellent learning opportunity. With challenging material, it is important to model a willingness to admit confusion and persevere through it. First, discuss the reaction while being open about your own frustrations. Admit if you don’t know what to make of the poems, and ask for collaboration: say, for example, “I can’t see a connection between Van Gogh and Janis Joplin (“Ghazal VII”) – does anybody have any suggestions?” Even though the meaning may still be unclear at the end of this collaborative process, the development of even partial insights will likely make the student experience rewarding. If some students insist that there is nothing to get – that “I could do that” – then take them up on the offer: challenge them to write a Ghazal and read it aloud.
  2. Ask students to read and discuss Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry.” In that poem, Collins suggests two approaches to poetry. Which approach have students been more accustomed to in school: playful experimentation or detached, analytical dissection? Ask students to apply the first approach to Thompson’s Ghazals, immersing themselves and having fun without trying to pin down the one true meaning that the poet has maddeningly obscured.
  3. In A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley distinguishes between two modes of thought that cannot occur simultaneously: focused and diffuse. Focused thinking involves concentration, whereas diffuse thinking is the relaxed, fluid kind of thought one can experience when lost in a walk or drifting off to sleep. The diffuse mode allows for unexpected connections and creative leaps. Have students share examples of when they had sudden insights: what were they doing? Were they focused intently on something, or was it when their attention was wandering? Have they ever woken up from sleep and seen things in a new light, or realized how something they were studying in math was related to a sport they were playing or a book they were reading? Ask students to try focusing intently on a Ghazal immediately before bed, and then letting themselves drift off. When they look at the Ghazal again the next day, do they see any different connections between the couplets?
  4. Thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi, who often wrote in the ghazal form, is the best-selling poet in the U.S. Ask students to seek out some of this popular poet’s work, and guide them through a comparison with Thompson’s 20th-century adaptation of the ancient form. In what new directions did Thompson take the form?

Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:

  • Speaking and Listening: Examine others’ ideas and synthesize what is helpful to clarify and expand on their own understanding
  • Reading and Viewing: Articulate their own processes and strategies in exploring, interpreting, and reflecting on sophisticated texts and tasks

These suggested strategies all involve grappling with difficulty, a skill and an attitude that is applicable to all subject areas. Beyond the subject-specific key-stage outcomes listed above, please note that the strategies also address Essential Graduation Learnings in problem-solving and personal development that are usually only indirectly addressed in the English classroom. Specifically, the EGLs addressed in this Teaching Strategy are

  • Personal development: Demonstrate intellectual curiosity, an entrepreneurial spirit and initiative
  • Problem-solving: Use a variety of strategies and perspectives with flexibility and creativity for solving problems; Formulate tentative ideas and question their own assumptions and those of others

Further Reading

Clarke, George Elliott, “Sounding John Thompson’s White Noise.” Studies in Canadian Literature / Études en littérature canadienne 36.2 (2011): 5-31.

Collins, Billy. “Introduction to Poetry.” The Apple that Astonished Paris. Fayetteville, AR: U of Arkansas P, 1996. Poetry Foundation. 16 July 2020

Dickinson, Emily. “The Brain is Wider than the Sky.” The Complete Poems. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1924. Bartleby. 16 July 2020 <>.

Oakley, Barbara. A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). New York: Penguin, 2014.

Sanger, Peter. “John Thompson.” The New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia. Ed. Tony Tremblay. Fredericton: New Brunswick Studies Centre, 2013. 16 July 2020

---, ed. John Thompson: Collected Poems & Translations. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1995.

---. Of Things Unknown: Critical Essays, 1978–2015. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2015.

Thompson, John. “Ghazals.” Stilt Jack. Toronto: Anansi, 1978. 5.

Williams, William Carlos. “The Red Wheelbarrow.” The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume 1, 1909-1939. Ed. Christopher MacGowan. New York: New Directions Publishing Co., 1938. Poetry Foundation. 16 July 2020

Yeats, W.B. “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.” The Poems of W.B. Yeats: A New Edition. Ed. Richard J. Finneran. London, Eng: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1933. Poetry Foundation. 16 July 2020

For much more detailed primary and secondary source bibliographies of John Thompson, see his New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia entry.


We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of House of Anansi Press, Inc., John Thompson’s literary publisher/executor, for allowing us to use the poems above for this curriculum. Further use or distribution of these poems, however, is a violation of Canadian copyright law and is strictly prohibited. Under no circumstance may literary material used in the curriculum be reproduced, distributed, or stored without the permission of the copyright holder.

All poems above (with the exception of the ghazals) appear in Thompson’s At the Edge of the Chopping There Are No Secrets. Toronto: Anansi, 1973. The three ghazals above appear in Thompson’s Stilt Jack. Toronto: Anansi, 1978.

All contents except for poetry and fiction copyright © Tony Tremblay, James W. Johnson, and Alexandra Cogswell.