Dubbed “Canada’s most neglected poet” by Earle Birney, John V. Hicks nonetheless left a legacy that included ten books and numerous accolades. Born on February 24, 1907, in London, England, he immigrated to Canada with his parents while still an infant. After living in New Brunswick, Quebec, and Alberta, he settled in Prince Albert, where he resided until his death.
Hicks began writing poetry while working as an accountant, but did not publish his first book until in his seventies. Now is a Far Country (Thistledown, 1978) was the culmination of years of publishing poems in journals across Canada and the United States. Other collections from Thistledown Press soon followed, including: Winter Your Sleep (1980), Silence Like the Sun (1983), and Rootless Tree (1985). These collections reflect the influence of writers like T.S. Eliot, W.B.Yeats, and Walter de la Mare, although the combination of playfulness and tradition is one aspect that distinguishes Hicks’s work from predecessors.
Music and religion were inseparable from the man and his work. He served as the organist at St. Alban’s Cathedral in Prince Albert for more than sixty years, and was married to composer and music teacher Marjorie (Kisbey) Hicks. His poems demonstrate a love of music in subject matter, structure, and tone. Carefully chosen language, rhythms, and silences reinforce the underlying themes of his work. Much of Hicks’s work explores the devotional aspects of love and faith in both secular and religious contexts. Series such as “Love’s Hours” and “The ‘Orphic Thread’ Poems” (Sticks and Strings, Thistledown, 1988) show the complex intersection of spirituality and music. Several Canadian composers, including Elizabeth Raum, have produced music based on his poetry.
A regular guest on Peter Gzowski’s CBC program Morningside, Hicks was well respected in the literary community. He was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate in Literature (University of Saskatchewan, 1987), a Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts (Saskatchewan Arts Board, 1990), and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit (1992). His collection of short essays, Side Glances: Notes on the Writer’s Craft (Thistledown, 1987), is still considered to be one of the best books of its kind. His later work betrays a more contemplative mind reflecting on life and loss. Hicks unofficially served as Prince Albert’s Poet Laureate until his death on June 16, 1999.
Paula Jane Remlinger