Ken Babstock is one of the most prominent young Canadian poets to begin publishing in the 1990s. He was born in Newfoundland and raised in the Ottawa Valley. He began publishing his poems in journals and anthologies, winning gold at the 1997 National Magazine Awards.
His first collection, Mean (1999), won him the Milton Acorn Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize. He has since published a second collection, Days into Flatspin, which has also come in for high critical praise.
Ken Babstock worked as Poetry Faculty at the Banff Centre for the Arts and currently lives in Toronto.
If some poets could be said to be painters with language, Babstock would best be termed a carpenter. Even literally so, because several of Mean’s best poems are about building decks, applying Spackle or framing houses. Babstock hammers in similes and metaphors: a flapping tent is ‘a lung on a ledge’, the sun is ‘a loonie in a busker’s fez’, prairie dogs are ‘nervous clerics at prayer’.
As for Babstock’s style, he says his main principle is compression. ‘I have a hard time allowing a line to drift towards prose. Or to speak in a toned-down, conversational voice. There have been fantastic poems written in that voice, but I’m more drawn toward compression and the kind of clanging of consonants and vowels that I fell in love with from reading poets that I like.’ Among the poets he likes are his Canadian contemporaries and some classics, especially Dante and Shakespeare.
Babstock mostly writes free verse, though he occasionally employs more traditional forms: sonnet, terza rime, quatrains (rhymed and unrhymed), tercets and couplets.
[Ken Babstock took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2002. This text was written on that occasion.]
Ken Babstock on Lyrikline