Author Tags: Poetry

Russell Thornton is a North Vancouver poet. His collection House Built of Rain (Harbour, 2003) was a Dorothy Livesay Prize finalist and a ReLit Award finalist. He won first prize in the League of Canadian Poets National Contest in 2000 and he won The Fiddlehead magazine's Ralph Gustafson Prize in 2009.

Russell Thornton's collection Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain (Harbour 2013) was nominated for a Governor General's Award, the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Raymond Souster Award, administered by the League of Canadian Poets and given to any member-poet who has published a book in the previous year.

Russell Thornton has lived for periods of several years in Montreal, in Aberystwyth, Wales, and in Larissa and Thessaloniki, Greece. Poems set in the eastern Mediterranean are featured in his collection, The Hundred Lives, along with a series of sonnet responses to the Gospel story of Lazarus. Some of his poems also appear in Greek translation in the anthologies Foreign Language Poems on Thessaloniki (Kedros Publishers, Athens, 1997), Into a Foreign Tongue Goes Our Grief: Poems On or After Cavafy (Bilieto Publishers, Peania, 2000), and Thessalonki: A City in Literature (Metaixmio Publishers, Athens, 2002).

Thornton's poems have appeared widely in Canadian literary magazines, and in a number anthologies including In Fine Form: The Anthology of Canadian Form Poetry (Polestar, 2005), Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry (Mother Tongue, 2008), Open Wide A Wilderness: Canadian Nature Poems (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009), A Verse Map of Vancouver (Anvil, 2009), the Montreal International Poetry Prize 2011 Global Anthology (Vehicule, 2012), Poet to Poet (Guernica, 2012), Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012 (Tightrope, 2012), Poems from Planet Earth (Leaf, 2013), and Alive at the Center (Ooligan, 2013). His poems have twice been featured on Vancouver buses as part of B.C.’s Poetry in Transit.

Articles on Thornton’s work include “Facing the Environmental Crisis with Contemplative Attention: The Ecopoetics of Don McKay, Tim Lilburn, and Russell Thornton”, which appears in Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature (Anvil Press, 2010), and “Four Canadian Poets: McKay, Solie, Thornton, and Barwin”, which appeared in Dream Catcher Magazine, UK, 2010).

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
House Built of Rain


First Prize, League of Canadian Poets National Contest, 2000 ("The Beginnings of Stars")
Shortlisted, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, BC Book Prizes, 2004 (House Built of Rain)
Shortlisted, ReLit Poetry Award, 2004 (House Built of Rain)
Ralph Gustafson Prize, 2009 (“The Rain Bush”)


The Fifth Window (Thistledown Press, 2000)
A Tunisian Notebook (Seraphim Editions, 2002)
House Built of Rain (Harbour Publishing, 2003)
The Human Shore (Harbour, 2006)
Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain (Harbour Publishing, 2013)
The Hundred Lives (Quattro 2014)

[BCBW 2014]

Portia Priegert on Russell Thornton

By Portia Priegert

Even in an interview – that most utilitarian of conversations – Russell Thornton has a poet’s voice: soft, with a lyrical inflection, offering both fluid metaphor and a probing rumination.

His poetry is like that too. Four well-received books, including his most recent, The Human Shore, explore with impeccable eloquence his preoccupations with nature, travel, solitude and family history.

These are typically Canadian themes, says Thornton, who notes that Canadian writers are obsessed with their roots and family lineages, concerns that often operate in opposition to the wilderness setting and the chill of the Arctic wind.

“For me, it has to do with that strange loneliness that is part of Canada. You hear it in pop songs – Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, these kind of people – you hear that vastness of the landscape and that coldness.”

Thornton places himself in “the real deep mainstream” of Canadian letters – a lyric poet who distills the natural world, current social realities and the processes of history through the idiosyncrasies of his own personality. He cites the influence of some of Canada’s poetic giants – men such as Irving Layton, Al Purdy, Earle Birney and Don McKay.
Thornton describes his creative process as circular, drawing comparisons to the oral traditions of indigenous people.

“I’ll start with an image. I’ll try to open myself up so that I receive impressions that gather around that image and that help that image to circle around some sort of idea.”
While he eschews formal structures like sonnets or villanelles he spends hours honing what he calls “systems of sonic glue” – the basic rhythms and flows of language.
“I try to write musically. I pay a lot of attention to the music and the kinetic energy that can be struck between syllables.”

He also allows stories to enrich his work. “I really think it’s inevitable that when you try to write about people, narrative is going to creep in. And it’s a marvelous creeping in. Creeping in sounds negative but, of course, it’s not. It’s a wonderful invasion. Story is magical.”

Thornton is an inveterate traveler and lived in Europe for years as a young adult, drifting from country to country, always writing about his impressions, or, as he puts it “blackening pages” of his notebooks. “I had wanderlust really bad, curiosity, all the standard stuff,” he says.

Thornton is also interested in ancient cultures and lived for a time in Wales and Greece.
He returned to his native Vancouver 10 years ago and earns a living with two part-time jobs – doing home repairs and teaching English – while stealing moments in between for his craft.

He offers simple advice to aspiring poets. “Read, read, read. Write, write, write. A lot of people who want to write don’t actually want to read and the two things are two sides of the same coin.”

But don’t expect words to come easily, he warns. “The writing itself, it’s a hard slog. It’s not just something you spill out and it’s done. Spilling out may be the first phase, but after that it’s just labour – it’s blood, sweat and tears. Language is intractable.”

The Hundred Lives (Quattro $18)
Article (2015)

from BCBW (Autumn)
Having lived for several years in Larissa and Thessaloniki, Greece, Russell Thornton has included poems set in the eastern Mediterranean for his sixth collection, The Hundred Lives (Quattro $18).Some of his previous work has appeared in Greek translation in the anthologies Foreign Language Poems on Thessaloniki (Kedros, Athens, 1997), Into a Foreign Tongue Goes Our Grief: Poems On or After Cavafy (Bilieto, Peania, 2000) and Thessalonki: A City in Literature (Metaixmio, Athens, 2002).