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Earle Birney (Alfred Earle Birney) Biography

(1904–95), (Alfred Earle Birney), Down the Long Table, David, Strait of Anian

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Canadian poet and novelist, born in Calgary and brought up on farms in Alberta and British Columbia; he was educated at the universities of British Columbia, Toronto, and California (Berkeley). Birney was a prominent Trotskyite in the 1930s, an experience about which he wrote in his novel Down the Long Table (1955). From 1946 until his retirement in 1965 he was Professor of Medieval Literature at the University of British Columbia. One of Canada's most important poets, Birney has written in a wide variety of styles and about a vast range of subjects, Canadian and international. His early verse was influenced by Auden and demonstrates a belief in the power of art as an agent for social change. This phase of his writing made extensive use of myth and was strongly influenced by his scholarly interests in early English culture. Subsequently he moved on to write free verse, concrete poetry, and work in which North American oral idioms are more prominent. His volumes of poetry include David (1942), Strait of Anian (1948), Ice Cod Bell and Stone (1962), and Near False Creek Mouth (1964). Birney continued to write poetry after his retirement, and his Collected Poems appeared in 1975. His most important work in other genres includes the comic picaresque novel Turvey (1949) and the verse-drama The Damnation of Vancouver (original title: Trial of a City, 1952), which considers whether modern civilization should be destroyed.

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