Frank Davey. Courtesy Talonbooks.

Frankland Wilmot Davey (born April 19, 1940) is a Canadian poet and academic.



Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Davey grew up in the Fraser Valley city of Abbotsford. In 1957 he enrolled at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where, in 1961, shortly after beginning M.A. studies, he became one of the founding editors of the influential and contentious poetry newsletter TISH. In the spring of 1962 he won the university's Macmillan Prize for poetry, and published the poetry collection D-Day and After, the first of the Tish group's numerous publications. In 1963 he began teaching at Canadian Services College Royal Roads Military College in Victoria. He began doctoral studies at the University of Southern California in the summer of 1965, completing in 1968. After serving as Writer-in-Residence at Montreal's Sir George Williams University, he joined the English Department of York University in Toronto in 1970, becoming department chair in 1986. He was appointed in 1990 to the Carl F. Klinck Chair of Canadian Literature at the University of Western Ontario in London. From 1975 to1992 he was one of the most active editors of the Coach House Press. He lives in Strathroy, Ontario.[1]

Youth and EducationEdit

Davey was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, but raised in nearby Abbotsford, close to the Canada-U.S. border. He was the son of Wilmot Elmer Davey, a hydro company laborer and truck driver, and Doris (Brown), who had emigrated with her family from Britain at age 4.[2] Much of his childhood in Abbotsford is pseudonymously recounted in his 2005 poetry volume Back to the War[3] and in the first person in his 2011 memoir When TISH Happens. Together the 2 books also provide the only mid-century literary portrait of the surprisingly diverse Abbotsford community and the surrounding Fraser Valley farmland.

In 1957 Davey enrolled at UBC, where he met the influential poetry theorist Warren Tallman and student writers George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, Carol Bolt, and Fred Wah, and in 1960 the charismatic San Francisco poet Robert Duncan.[4] With Wah and Bowering, and the advice of Tallman and Duncan, he founded the poetry newsletter TISH in 1961.[5]

The success of TISH, which the editors mailed free of charge for 19 successive months to poets, editors, and critics across Canada and much of the US, brought Davey to the attention of senior Canadian writers George Woodcock and Louis Dudek. Woodcock, editor of the journal Canadian Literature, commissioned in 1962 the first of several essays from him, and Dudek invited him to guest-edit a Vancouver issue of his influential poetry magazine Delta. Woodcock's intervention may have been the more significant, encouraging the young poet to take up literary criticism as well, and from the 1970's to the '90's write a body of work that would be called 'the most individual and influential ever written in Canada.'[6]

Davey published his first poetry collection, D-Day and After, in 1962, with an introduction by Tallman that emphasized how this was poetry as the act of the moment rather than poetry as the commonplace attempt 'to express ... feelings.' [7] It was the first of more than 100 volumes to be published by the TISH editors.

Receiving an M.A from UBC in 1963, Davey taught for the Canadian armed forces at Royal Roads Military College in Victoria, B.C. until 1969, while also working on a doctorate in poetics at the University of Southern California in the summers of 1965 and 1966. He witnessed the 1965 Watts Riots from an apartment within the curfew zone, feeling more endangered (he indicates in Writing a Life (99-100) and When TISH Happens (224)), by the National Guard than by the mostly black protesters.

In the fall of 1965 his 3rd and 4th volumes of poetry were published. He also launched his poetry and criticism journal Open Letter that fall of 1965, designing it initially as an open editorial dialogue with former Tish editors Bowering and Dawson. In the spring of 1968 he received his Ph.D., having presented a thesis on the poetics of the Black Mountain poets.

York University Edit

In the spring of 1969 he was appointed writer in residence for 1969-70 at Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University in Montreal. The following year he joined the faculty of York University in Toronto to teach Canadian Literature and, amid teaching and research collaborations with Clara Thomas and Barbara Godard,[8] quickly assumed a nationally influential role.

He published 2 poetry collections in each of 1970, 1971, and 1972, and a selected poems in 1972. He published a monograph on Earle Birney in 1971, and the widely praised From There to Here: A guide to English-Canadian literature since 1960 in 1974. But his most important contribution in these years was his withering critique, 'Surviving the Paraphrase,' of the thematic criticism of Northrop Frye, D.G. Jones and Margaret Atwood which he delivered at the founding conference of the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures in the spring of 1974. That paper, in Stephen Scobie's words "a vastly influential essay,"[9] almost immediately discredited thematic criticism in Canada and, 40 years later, reverberates as well within Canadian postcolonial studies.[10]

In 1976 he was appointed Coordinator of the York University creative writing program, and also joined, along with bpNichol and Michael Ondaatje, the new editorial board of Coach House Press. With the assistance of Nichol and Barbara Godard, he was also expanding the pages and range of Open Letter to give attention to Québécois poets, women writers, and poststructuralist poetics, developing it into what Gregory Betts in The Canadian Encyclopedia would call "Canada's most important forum for discussion and examination of innovative and experimental ideas and texts."[11]

In 1982 he helped conduct a month-long workshop in Dharwar, India, for young academics many of whom became major contributors to Canadian Studies in that country. Here he wrote one of his most important long poems, the "brilliant poetic commentary on postcolonialism" [12] The Abbotsford Guide to India, published in 1986 — one of six poetry books he published in the 1980s.[13] That year he was also elected chair of the York University Department of English.[14] Two years earlier he had published the first study of Margaret Atwood's feminism: Margaret Atwood: A Feminist Poetics.

Universty of Western Ontario Edit

In 1990 he was named the first Carl F. Klinck Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, and began a new writing phase in which he adapted discourse analysis to Canadian cultural studies, and examined various Canadian cultural scenes —from those of literary criticism to those of politics, celebrity, and popular crime writing. His new books included Post-National Arguments: The politics of the Anglo-Canadian novel since 1967 (1993), Reading 'KIM' Right (1993), an analysis of the public persona of Canada's first woman prime minister, Canadian Literary Power (1994), a study of how Canadian literary reputations are constructed and defended, Karla's Web: A cultural examination of the Mahaffy-French murders (1994), an examination of how newspaper crime writing distorts both victims and criminal justice issues, Cultural Mischief: A practical guide to multiculturalism (1996), a poetry collection that mocked both the sentimentalities of multiculturalism's proponents and the narcissism of its critics, and Mr & Mrs G-G (2002) an examination of Canadian Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, writer John Ralston Saul, that accused both of a pretentiousness that misrepresented and stifled actual Canadian realities. As Betts observes with some understatement, this was 'a critical stance that has occasionally put him into conflict with the Canadian literary establishment.' Its consequences are likely reflected in Davey's description in When TISH Happens of Canadian literary and academic prizes as institutional rewards for "banality and careerism" (304).

In May 1994 he was been elected president of the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE). That November he led the Association in issuing a controversial and widely publicized "caution" against the postsecondary education policies of the British Columbia government and the resulting working conditions and quality of education at its recently established University Colleges.[15]

Davey continued his creativity at the expense of currently established critical pieties in the poetry collections Dog (2002) and Risky Propositions (2005), both partly directed at identity politics, the 'flarf' books Lack On! (2009), a mock-Lacanian tribute to Fred Wah, and Bardy Google (2010), part of which was a Dunciad-like send-up of recent Canadian criticism, and the limited edition visual poetry book, Canonical Canadian Literature (2011). Meanwhile, the final years of provincial mandatory retirement legislation ended his Western Ontario teaching years in 2005

Family LifeEdit

Davey married education student Helen Simmons, also from Abbotsford, in 1962, during the final year of his MA studies. She later taught school in Victoria and accompanied him to the University of Southern California where she earned a master's degree in special education. They divorced in 1969.[16] Shortly after, he married Linda Jane McCartney, with whom he had two children, Michael Gareth, b. 1970, and Sara Geneve, b. 1971.[17] Linda Davey graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1978 and practiced law in Toronto until 1994.[18] She also served with Davey on the editorial board of the Coach House Press from 1976-88. She died of a brain tumor in 2000. His memoir, How Linda Died, which contains many details of their life together and their relations with their children, is, according to BC Bookworld editor Alan Twigg, "Davey's most accessible and memorable book ... his most atypically direct and personal." [19]



Davey has usually been viewed as a major influence on both Canadian poetry and Canadian literary criticism. Twigg has quoted George Fetherling as having called TISH Canada’s 'most influential literary magazine.' Norris, in his study of Canadian little magazines, calls Davey's Open Letter 'the most important avant-garde periodical in Canada.' [20] Betts writes that '[T]hrough his books of poetry, his literary and cultural criticism and his rich range of essays on diverse topics, Davey has been a major figure involved in introducing the idea and practice of postmodernism to writers in Canada.' Scobie adds that he has 'often been seen as a 'poet’s poet' ' (276).


Betts writes that "the TISH community has been described as the first post-colonial literary movement in English Canada because they wrote after and neither about nor because of colonialism." Alexander Varty, reviewing When TISH Happens for The Georgia Straight, writes that it is possible 'that TISH’s emphasis 'on the self as a consciousness in process rather than a stable persona' has become the norm in Canadian poetry and indeed in much Canadian fiction – a significant contribution, and one that’s worth celebrating.'[21]

'Surviving the Paraphrase'Edit

Diana Brydon begins her introduction to the Frank Davey 'festschrift issue' of Studies in Canadian Literature: 'In 1974, Frank Davey's conference paper 'Surviving the Paraphrase' took the small world of Canadian literary criticism by storm. The tenor of discussion changed as writers and critics became more self-conscious about their place in the world and how they engaged it in their work.'[22] In her essay in this issue, Smaro Kamboureli writes ' 'Surviving the Paraphrase,' originally presented in 1974 at the founding meeting of the association of Canadian and Quebec Literatures, and subsequently published in Canadian Literature in 1976, inaugurates a pivotal moment ... in the development of Canadian criticism, for it presents one of the earliest, albeit brief, critiques of thematic criticism in Canada.' She adds 'If I were to identify a single major contribution Davey has made to Canadian critical discourse, this would be the instrumental role he has played in showing the importance of methodology, that methodology is inextricably related to how we understand the canon, textuality, the critical act, and nation-formation. The fact that he drew attention to method at a time when Canadian literary discourse was by and large oblivious to it makes his contribution all the more important. Method – directly thematized or appearing in different guises – figures in his work with remarkable consistency and with interesting results.'[23]



  • D-day and After: Poems. Oliver, BC: Rattlesnake Press for Tishbooks, 1962.
  • City of the Gulls and Sea. Victoria, BC: Talonbooks, 1964.
  • Bridge Force. Toronto: Contact Press, 1965.
  • "The Scarred Hull: A long poem" in Imago 6. Calgary, AB: Imago, 1966.
  • Weeds. Toronto: Coach House, 1970.
  • Four Myths for Sam Perry. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1970.
  • Griffon. Toronto: Massasauga Editions, 1972.
  • King of Swords. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1972.
  • L'An Trentiesme: Selected poems, 1961-70. Vancouver: Community Press, 1972.
  • Arcana. Toronto: Coach House, 1973.
  • The Clallam; or, Old Glory in Juan de Fuca. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1973.
  • The Arches: Selected poems (edited by bpNichol). Vancouver & Los Angeles, CA: Talonbooks, 1980. ISBN 0-88922-174-X
  • Capitalistic Affection!. Toronto: Coach House, 1982. ISBN 0-88910-244-9
  • Edward and Patricia. Toronto: Coach House, 1984. ISBN 0-88910-274-0
  • The Louis Riel Organ and Piano Company. Winnipeg, MB: Turnstone, 1985. ISBN 0-88801-096-6
  • The Abbotsford Guide to India. Vancouver: Press Porcepic, 1986. ISBN 0-88878-262-4
  • Popular Narratives. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1991. ISBN 0-88922-285-1
  • Dog. Calgary, AB: Housepress, 2002. ISBN 1-894174-78-X
  • Back to the War. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005. ISBN 0-88922-514-1
  • Risky Propositions. Maxville, On: above/ground, 2005. ISBN 1-894214-97-8
  • Lack On!. Strathroy, ON: Massasauga Editions, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9813548-0-4
  • How We Won the War in Iraq. Strathroy, ON: Massasauga Editions, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9813548-1-1
  • Bardy Google. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2010. ISBN 978-0-88922-636-4
  • Canonical Canadian Literature. Strathroy, ON: Massasauga Editions, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9813548-3-5


  • Five Readings of Olson's Maximus. Montreal: Beaver Kosmos Folio (#2), 1970.
  • Earle Birney. Toronto: Copp Clark, 1971.
  • From There to Here: A guide to English-Canadian literature since 1960. Erin, On: Press Porcepic, 1974. ISBN 0-88878-036-2
  • Louis Dudek and Raymond Souster. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1980. ISBN 0-88894-264-8
  • Notes on the Language of the Contemporary Canadian Long Poem. Lantzville, BC: Island Writing Series, 1983.
  • Surviving the Paraphrase: Eleven essays on Canadian literature. Winnipeg, MD: Turnstone, 1983. ISBN 0-88801-075-3
  • Margaret Atwood: A feminist poetics. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1984. ISBN 0-88922-217-7
  • Reading Canadian Reading (essays). Winnipeg, MB: Turnstone, 1988. ISBN 0-88801-130-X
  • Post-National Arguments: The politics of the anglophone-Canadian novel since 1967. Toronto & Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8020-2785-7
  • Reading 'Kim' Right. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1993. ISBN 0-88922-342-4
  • Canadian Literary Power. Edmonton, AB: NeWest, 1994. ISBN 0-920897-57-6
  • Karla's Web: A cultural investigation of the Mahaffy-French murders. Toronto: Viking, 1994. ISBN 0-670-86153-7
  • Cultural Mischief: A practical guide to Canadian multiculturalism. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1996. ISBN 0-88922-364-5
    • also published as Cultural Mischeif: A pocket guide to Canadian multiculturalism; sketches, texts, and stories. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1996.
  • How Linda Died. Toronto: ECW Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55022-497-2
  • Mr & Mrs G.G: The media princess and the court philosopher. Toronto: ECW Press, 2003. ISBN 1-55022-565-0
  • When TISH Happens: The unlikely story of "Canada's most influential literary magazine". Toronto: ECW Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-55022-958-5
  • Aka bpNichol: A preliminary biography. Toronto: ECW Press, 2012.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[24]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  2. Davey, When TISH Happens, 5-8.
  3. Ventura, Heliane. 'An Interview with Frank Davey,' Sources 17 (automne 2004), 72-77.
  4. Dictionary of Literary Biography on Frank(land) (Wilmot) Davey.
  5. Davey, Writing a Life, Contemporary Authors Autobiographical Series, Vol. 27, Detroit: Gale, pp. 83-114.
  6. Scobie, Stephen. 'Frank Davey,' The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, 1997. 277.
  7. 'Frank Davey, Intro to D-Day and After'
  8. When TISH Happens 285-6, 288.
  9. 'Frank Davey' 276.
  10. See Laura Moss, 'Between Fractals and Rainbows: Critiquing Canadian Criticism,' Tropes and Territories, ed. Marta Dvorak and W.H. New. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2007. 22.
  12. Scobie, 'Frank Davey,' 276.
  13. 'Writing a Life' 110-11
  14. 'Writing a Life' 97-8.
  15. ACCUTE Newsletter, December 1994: 20.
  16. When TISH Happens 171, 216, 218, 257.
  17. The Canadian Who's Who.
  18. 'Writing a Life' 109.
  20. The Little Magazine in Canada 1925-1980, McGill-Queen’s UP, 1984.
  21. Aug 9, 2011
  22. 'Introduction Surviving the Paraphrase: Poetics and Public Culture in Canada,' Studies in Canadian Literature, 32:2 (2007)
  23. ' 'Frank Davey' and the Method of Cool,' Studies in Canadian Literature 32:2 (2007)
  24. Search results = au:Frank Davey, WorldCat, OCLC, Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, June 27, 2014.

External linksEdit

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