Suknaski, Andrew (1942-)

Poet and visual artist Andrew Suknaski was born on July 30, 1942, on a homestead near Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan. To develop his interest in visual arts, he studied at the Kootenay School of Art in Nelson, BC. and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' School of Art and Design, receiving a diploma of Fine Arts from the Kootenay School in 1967. He also attended the University of Victoria, Notre Dame University in Nelson, the University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University. For a time he was a migrant worker across Canada, and wrote as he travelled. He was, among others, editor for Anak Press and Deodar Shadow Press. In 1969, he founded the underground magazine Elfin Plot in Vancouver and created concrete poems, exhibiting at the Expo in Buenos Aires in 1971. From 1977 to 1978, Suknaski was writer-in-residence at St. John's College, University of Manitoba. Among his early works published in chapbooks, pamphlets, and Al Purdy's anthology Storm Warning (1971), was the notable On First Looking Down From Lions Gate Bridge (1976). His first collection was Wood Mountain Poems (1976), edited by Al Purdy, followed by The Ghosts Call You Poor (1978) and In The Name of Narid (1981). Ghosts won Suknaski the Canadian Authors' Association Poetry Award in 1979. Octomi (1976) and East of Myloona (1979) were published as small chapbooks. Montage for an Interstellar Cry (1982) and Silk Trail (1985) were the first and third parts respectively of a larger work that was to be called “Celestial Mechanics.”

Suknaski's poems have appeared in such anthologies as Number One Northern (1977) and Studio One: Stories Made for Radio (1990). For a time, Suknaski worked as a researcher for the National Film Board, contributing to such films as Grain Elevator (1981), by Charles Konowal, and The Disinherited (1985), by Harvey Spak. In 1978, Spak had made a documentary of Suknaski entitled Wood Mountain Poems, considered by Steven Scobie in The Land They Gave Away to be “the best critical statement we have on the poet's life and work.” Suknaski's Polish and Ukrainian heritage, as well as his concern for First Nations and the people and place of Wood Mountain, feature strongly in his realist poetry. Although poor health in more recent years has prevented him from writing, his work continues to be studied across Canada.

Shelley Sweeney