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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > APRIL 2017 > The house that Dennis built

The house that Dennis built

On the 50th anniversary of House of Anansi, the press he co-founded, the renowned poet returns with a career-spanning edition of his collected work


Dennis Lee shambles into the shiny new offices of House of Anansi Press, the publisher he directed in another life. After an interval of 14 years we greet each other warmly. At 77 he’s still totally, recognizably Dennis: he hasn’t so much aged as paled, the familiar beard turning as white as his rumpled, loose-fitting cotton shirt.

There’s always been something of the Baggins about Lee, something kindly and genial yet wary, watching. His words come hesitantly at first, thoughtfully seeking precision, revising themselves in midair, then accelerating into a quick and vivid stream as he taps into the vein of his thought. That’s when you glimpse the Gandalf in him, the “wizard of high degree,” as in his wonder-filled kids’ poem “The Cat and the Wizard.”

For most of his adult life, Lee has been both a wizard (that is, a poet) and an editor – two vocations using quite different areas of the brain, yet in his case perfectly complementary. Both vocations are abundantly on display in his new volume of collected poems, Heart Residence. Spanning half a century from 1967 to 2017, it’s a multilevel funhouse of a book complete with slanting floors and hidden trap doors, in which we see the poet, and ourselves, reflected and refracted from every conceivable angle, public and private, tragic and comic. You can get lost in it for days.

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Dennis Lee: The iconic poet returns with a career-spanning collection; The profound resilience of Barbara Gowdy.