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This article is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.

The Last Mythopoet Amanda Jernigan

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Want to know where I’ve been?
Under the frost-hard
Ground with Hell’s Queen,
Whom there I embraced
In the dark as she lay,
With worms defaced,
Her lips gnawed away
– What’s that? Well, maybe
Not everybody’s dame,
But a sharp baby
All the same.

This is ‘The Rymer’, by Jay Macpherson (1931–2012), perhaps Canada’s pre-eminent ‘mythopoet’. It is a poem that suggests that all poets are, to some extent, mythopoets: their haunts otherworldly; their companions, too.

Not everyone would agree. There are critics for whom mythopoetry is, if anything, a was: a short-lived literary movement that grew up here in Canada under the influence of the mythopoetic criticism of Northrop Frye, and died out when its chief practitioners – Macpherson and James Reaney (1926–2008) are the two most often cited – went on to other things. In the May/June 2013 issue of PN Review, Evan Jones called me, only half-jokingly, the last of the mythopoets: ‘the only heir to a tradition that was once central and has now died out’.

Romantic as it is to be considered a rarity – a last unicorn, a Lonesome George – I felt in my gut that Jones was wrong. For mythopoetry – the kind of poetry that not only uses myth but makes it – seems to me alive and well in the work of my contemporaries. I thought first of the enigmatic mermaid on the cover of Sea ...

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