In Conversation with Joe Rosenblatt

Joe Rosenblatt was one of my first poetry teachers, and the only one whose personal electrical force field was so powerful it once made the borrowed digital watch he was wearing go haywire. I recall him ripping the watch from his arm and placing it on the table; we all stared as the hours and minutes and seconds turned over at dizzying speed. I don't remember what happened next. Somehow we went on. Now Joe is about to celebrate his 80th birthday. He has generously shared some musings on poetry, painting and the spill between the two. Happy birthday, Joe!

Susan Gillis: What brought you to poetry -- or what brought poetry to you?

Joe Rosenblatt:  I was always the dreamer from Day One. In public school Mr. Scott my English teacher believed in Rudyard Kipling and I digested his poetry and of course the then British Empire and its virtues. If that's the right word. I guess the glory of the Empire. Canadian history wasn't in the curriculum back in the days when I was in public school. Suffice it to say I loved British poetry Tennyson, A.E. Housman and later in the Sixties, the iconic American poet Emily Dickinson was the centre of my poetic universe.

Joe Rosenblatt, Sexy Tree 2. "This is not a bad drawing," said Joe in his email. 

SG: When I think about the many things I enjoy in your work--sound, colour, surprise among them--the one I want to ask you about is the line. You work the line over time, as language in poems, and over space, as a visual element in your paintings and drawings.  How and where do you draw it between poetry and painting--or do you draw it at all?

JR:  I was so influenced by Emily, especially her bee poems, that I started an experimental series on bees, capturing their sounds and sights in Allan Gardens in Toronto back in 1962. Now I am a conservative technician in terms of metre in poetry, having studied Louise Bogan, the American poet and her handbook of poetic terms. I was also influenced by W.B. Yeats and need I mention William Blake. You see I am much of a magpie stealing cadences and poetic concepts from the Immortal bards of the English language. I must also mention that the Canadian poet and a close friend of mine Gwendolyn MacEwen influenced my style of writing poetry, her mystical explorations into the Unknown especially captured my muse. Which brings me to my visual art: for me the tones, hot and cold in colours of my paintings, state that painting is another way of expressing poetic concepts and my visual art and poetry meld together as all the characters in my bestiary in my poems spill over to the canvas of my paintings.

Joe Rosenblatt, Gatorpals
SG: What's inspiring you these days?

JR: I am working on a prose work, an experimental novel titled Snake City. The hero is a snake and the humans are a despicable lot. And of course I am painting away. This is my old age poem (read it here). I shall be eighty on Boxing Day.

Joe Rosenblatt, Happy
Toronto-born, BC-based poet-painter Joe Rosenblatt has written more than 20 books, and his poems have appeared in many anthologies of Canadian poetry and in translation in Italy. His awards include the Governor General's award for poetry and the BC Book Prize.  His art works are represented by the Qualicum Frameworks Gallery in Qualicum Beach, Artfitterz in Nanaimo and the Rouge Gallery in Saskatoon. His drawings and paintings are represented in many private and public collections in Canada. His most recent book , Dark Fish & Other Infernos (Black Moss, 2011), is a savagely satirical epistolary exchange with Vancouver poet Catherine Owen.