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Dr. Ruth Panofsky: The story behind The Collected Poems of Miriam Waddington

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University

Dr. Ruth Panofsky is Professor of English and also teaches in the Joint Graduate Program in Communication and Culture at Ryerson University. Her Collected Poems of Miriam Waddington, supported by the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP), has recently earned the prestigious PROSE Award in literature. We would like to thank Dr. Panofsky for sharing her experience working on this project of great and enduring value for Canadian literature.

How did you embark on this project?

This project had its beginnings many years ago, when I was a master’s student at York University.  I wrote my master’s research paper on the early poetry of Miriam Waddington.  At the time, Miriam Waddington was an English professor at York, so I made a point of introducing myself.  Miriam was very generous to me.  She gave me ready access to her papers held at Library and Archives Canada, which I consulted for my research.  She became a mentor by encouraging my interest in Canadian literature and boosting my development as a scholar.  She also invited me (and my husband-to-be) to her home for dinner with friends and colleagues.  Miriam was a wonderful poet and a kind person.  We connected at York and remained in touch after she retired.

When my colleague Dean Irvine invited me to edit Miriam Waddington’s poetry under the aegis of the Editing Modernism in Canada project, I agreed.  I felt called to pay tribute to the woman who had done so much for me at the start of my scholarly career and to the poet whose work I admired deeply.

What I did not anticipate, however, was the size and nature of the project I had agreed to undertake.  Editorial work is always time-consuming and detail-oriented, but especially so in the case of a comprehensive project, such as a poet’s collected works.  In the end, the project took much more time and student assistance than I anticipated.  But I am pleased to have had the chance to return to Miriam’s work, renew my connection with her voice and person and work with so many dedicated student assistants.

What value does this add to Canadian literature?

Waddington was the first Jewish Canadian woman to write poetry in English.  She also contributed to the rise of modernist poetry in Canada.  Her poetry reflects an abiding preoccupation with her Jewish roots, Canadian home, and female experience—matters of enduring cultural, national, and personal identity.

This is the first scholarly edition of Miriam Waddington’s poetry.  It brings together all of her previously published verse, as well as selections of previously unpublished poems that exist in her archives at Library and Archives Canada.  In addition, it includes a selection of her translations from Yiddish, German, and Russian into English.  Throughout her life, Waddington translated the work of other writers and this edition shows that translation was central to her own poetic practice.

For readers familiar with Waddington’s poetry, this edition confirms the stylistic and thematic breadth of her achievement.  I hope this edition also wins her new readers who will experience the freshness of her vision and vibrancy of her voice for the first time.

Do you have any favourite poems?

Now that I am middle-aged, I am especially drawn to what I call Waddington’s “old lady” poems: “Noises,” “Songs of Old Age,” “Spring Onions,” and “Undone Things.” These poems are both hopeful and true to the experience of aging.  I also love “My Orphan Poems,” which is the poet’s love letter to writing. 

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Image (book cover): University of Ottawa Press

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