#711 In memoriam E.D. Blodgett
In memoriam E.D. Blodgett
by James Felton (editor)
Born in Philadelphia in 1935, E.D. Blodgett (Ted) (Edward Dickinson) Blodgett came to Canada in 1966 to teach at the University of Alberta. He wrote 22 books of poetry, one of which, Apostrophes: Woman at a Piano (Ottawa: Buschek Books, 1996), won the Governor General’s Award for poetry.
Blodgett moved to Surrey in 2009 after serving as Edmonton’s poet laureate. Revered in both Edmonton and the Lower Mainland, Ted Blodgett died in November 2018.
We are delighted to present “In memoriam E.D. Blodgett,” a collection of memories and reflections by many who knew Ted, and edited by James Felton – Ed.
It has been over a year since E.D. Blodgett left us. As Percy Bysshe Shelley lamented in Adonais, his requiem after the death of Keats, “his grief returns with the revolving year.” Death anniversaries can be as painful as the searing grief of a recent loss. Disbelief can still linger, emptiness can still crown the pain.
In life, Ted Blodgett commanded a presence seldom echoed — or forgotten. Large in stature yet gentle in demeanour, he filled a room with much more than his physique. Engagement was his forte, fuelled by a knowledge well that was limitless. There was never a notion of superiority, only a full-on, genuine interest in what you had to say. And this is my lingering memory of the big man: someone who made me, not him, feel important.
Many interesting stories are shared in this tribute by some who had a mark left on them by Ted. What follows is a compilation of memories and reminiscences, with contributions from academic colleagues, fellow poets, publishers, family members, as well as friends. We hope you enjoy them all.
~ James Felton is a poetry crusader who runs the Poets Corner reading series in Vancouver where Ted gave what turned out to be his last public reading. An avid collector and seller of CanLit, James came to know Ted and Irena late in Ted’s life, but it left an impression impossible to eradicate.
One Sunday in Halifax some years ago, Ted and I were walking a bending street, along which the stores etc. were closed. We were in the city for some literary purpose and headed for the site of same. We peered into some closed pizzeria or other food emporium and saw a big oven upon which was to be seen the word BLODGETT. A few steps later, we looked through the plate glass next door and saw a single word on a large card: POETRY. I looked accusingly at the person with me. He looked back and said, “I have never been here before.”
~ George Bowering lives in West Point Grey, Vancouver, where he once lived as an undergraduate student. That shows how much progress he has made from 1959 to 2019. He is currently writing a book.
If Angelus Silesius were a walrus, he would be Ted. It has been one of the great writing pleasures of my life to have composed with Ted, at his invitation, a bilingual renga entitled Ex Nihilo, to be published late 2020. He lives forever.
~ J. Roger Léveillé is a francophone writer and author of over 30 publications in all genres. He has garnered various awards, amongst them the Manitoba Arts Award of Distinction. He was a long-time literary editor at Éditions du Blé, and secretary of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival.
It was not long after our family immigrated to Canada in 1977 that we met the Blodgett family. My Dad and Ted became squash partners, and Ted’s daughter Astrid became our babysitter. We saw them often, and as the years morphed into decades, we shared many special occasions, including Ted and Irena’s wedding as well as Astrid’s and new husband, Herb’s.
Ted played a special role as the celebrant for my wedding, a role that he generously agreed to at my request, and one which was truly an honour for us. At the reception and unaware until he handed it to me, he had written something on the back of our wedding program. It was a simple little poem, yet so revealing of Ted’s humility and generosity.
Ted was an enormously accomplished person, but I remember him most for his warmth, his interest in everything and everyone, and his wonderfully magnetic presence.
Thank you, Ted, for sharing yourself with us. Love always, Claire.
~ Claire Kay lives in Edmonton with her husband Andrew and their daughters Eva and Audrey. She is an alumna of the University of Alberta (B.Sc. 1995 and MBA 2000) and regrets she missed the opportunity to attend one of Ted’s Comparative Literature courses.
Ted Blodgett’s final book, Apostrophies VIII (University of Alberta Press, 2019) consists of love poems to Irena, his wife of 27 years. These were no ordinary love poems, as I noted in The Ormsby Review in June 2019: they are all suffused with, and celebrate, the tenderness, solicitude, and shared memories of a long relationship that is brought to life not just by mutual love but also by the cumulative emphasis on uncertainty, of not knowing.
Apostrophies VIII even creates its own microclimate, which allows the poems to conjure up and focus on unseen or unheard presences. Read the full review in Ormsby here.
~ Christopher Levenson is the founding editor of Arc magazine and author of twelve books of poetry, most recently A Tattered Coat Upon a Stick (Quattro Books, 2017). He moved from Ottawa to Vancouver in 2007. He first met Ted Blodgett in 1972.
What a pleasure it was to work with Ted as a publisher of livres d’artiste! We collaborated on three of my 13 books. I first contacted him in 2003 to invite him to translate Jacques Brault’s French poems from In the Heart of the Wood. He called and talked to me for about an hour. I was stunned. I had never had such a direct connection with a poet. Ted was different. He was unique. The warmth of his voice told me something of his soul. When he suggested that rather than translating Brault’s poems, he would be willing to write his own poems in English to respond not only to my images, but also to Brault’s poems, it was music to my ears.
When I approached him again in 2010 to write for my single painted book, Alphabets, Ted and his wife Irena had just moved from Alberta to British Columbia. He replied with these words:
As you know, major moves provoke great physical and spiritual disturbances and when we get older the recovery is often slow. The book you propose is really a gift from the Holy Spirit in that regard, and I am deeply thankful.
In other words, he was ready to take up the formidable challenge of honouring each letter of the alphabet with words and he did it in four months, admittedly, in a trance. His breadth of interest was vast, though his internal creative process was, for me, something of a mystery. In an email he wrote:
You will see that I conceived the letters as divine instruments to open possible meanings of the world … A is hesitant, B is stammering, C is seeing the calligraphic beauty of the cosmos, D is Dante before his Comedy, asking essential questions.
For Illuminations, published in 2013, Ted worked from hundreds of art postcards I had collected throughout my travels in prior decades. Unlike with the first two books, here he wrote prose poems where he reflected on many subjects, including death. For example:
Where are the dead? In the ground, in the air, in our minds? The dead are the living who live somewhere else. What do they do? In death they make life a deathless ritual, a ritual that gives them the life that makes of death no more than passing, passing from the formlessness of life.
Through these snippets, I hope you have seen something of Ted’s spirit, his intellectual vigour, and his affectionate warmth — mostly for Irena. He was a giant not only in physical stature, but in his creativity and culture. Though his voice was soft, his spirit was powerful. Perhaps most memorable for me is that he used to say he could be visited by his muse at any time of the day or night, such was her demanding nature.
~ Lucie Lambert has published 13 limited edition livres d’artiste in collaboration with noted Canadian poets (including three with Ted) who were inspired by her prints, ink calligraphy, and gouache paintings. A member of the Royal Canadian Academy, her artistry extends to other media as well.
In my father’s house were many doors. These were doors of poetic power, charged with such richness and ambiguity which I could see as a child and respect but not understand. One of them still opens on the banks of an ancient river and follows a path between light posts encircled in lyric-engraved bands of metal evoking an oral history of lives past.
Another reaches into the life of a Sufi mystic to bring his words into another world. Yet another celebrates the musings of a Roman eroticist. As I child, I walked in darkness with my feline companion from door to door, trying the latches but not entering the wondrous gardens beyond.
Somehow, their essence invaded my spirit, unannounced and uninvited, so that I cannot read his works today without somehow invoking the spirit with which, decades ago, he shaped my perception of voice. His last days read like passages from Ecclesiastes as seen from the twenty-first century and I find myself once again considering those doors which called to me in the darkness … and regretting the passing of a man who, despite his best efforts, I barely understood; a man whose life was in so many ways a musical offering.
~ Gunnar Blodgett, Ted’s son, is an inveterate reader, walker and student of dance who has spent most of his career in the technical side of publishing, both conventional and digital. He lives in Edmonton.
Before first meeting Ted, who up until then I’d only known as E.D. Blodgett (an individual with intimidating credentials), I’ll admit to being somewhat apprehensive. For one, he was so much bigger in stature than I’d imagined, nearly a foot taller than I am. But he immediately put me at ease. Those twinkly eyes beneath a pair of wildly bushy eyebrows erased any concerns about meeting a stuffy academic. I quickly came to see and understand someone who could immediately make you feel comfortable, someone engaged in the moment, and who knew how to enjoy life.
His laugh shot across a room, booming, often over self-effacing follies. Luckily, he lived not all that far from me, and we would frequently meet for coffee or lunch. Conversations with him were always what I think of as “free range” chatter. Books, music (he was always so much more erudite than I will ever be, yet kind where I was lacking), family, friends, politics (whether local, national, or that which made him grumble the most, south of the border).
He allowed me to twist his arm into taking public transit, becoming what he allowed me to call him: ‘my bus buddy’. I even managed to convince him to serve on the committee that selected Surrey, BC’s first-ever Poet Laureate. He was what my mother might have called him, a “good egg” (though some may prefer a “good egghead”).
He once shared a story about how a university department secretary had complained about having to type up his rather extensive CV. She said, “If all of this is really true, you need to get a life.” But I know better. Well beyond that CV was a man who lived a very full life, with gusto, and with dignity, even when on his final bed of pain.
And gosh, I sure miss him.
~ Heidi Greco lives in the south end of Surrey, which often feels a little too close to the American border. When she’s not cooking or washing dishes, she likes to write poems or blog posts. Her latest volume is Practical Anxiety (Inanna, 2018).
Some of you may know about my father, Philip Stratford, who was a good friend of Ted’s. Dad passed away in 1999, the same year my journey with Ted began. He had invited me to visit him and Irena at their Edmonton home. I always felt cloaked in kindness at the Blodgett’s. And there was always Ted’s disarming wit, coupled with a kind, generous sensitivity. Initially, it was his connection with my father that first brought us together, but then our own friendship began to grow. As time passed, Ted became a beacon for me and a rudder to steer me through some difficult times. But there was also plenty of laughter amid some of the intellectual and spiritual parlays. These were times when we’d forget our surroundings and time stood still. So it was with Ted, no matter what age we would eventually be.
Ted would take the essential, often simple, things in life and embrace them in our conversations. He would humour me with this or that insight he had about whatever chat we’d be having, whether politics, world affairs, or life in general. But he was a good listener, too. I think that’s what kept the torch of eternal youth burning inside him. So it was with Ted, no matter what age we would eventually be.
After Ted and Irena moved to South Surrey, they often walked along Crescent beach. They loved that beach. I visited often, first with my eventual wife Fatima, then later with our daughter, Salma. We would join them in the walk along this long expanse of sand, sea, and sky. The cadence of our conversations would match those of the waves, the wind, the tumble of the pebbles, or maybe the call of a distant gull or tern. Those walks with Ted and Irena will always be treasured. So it was with Ted, no matter what age we would eventually be.
~ Peter Stratford first got to know Ted through his father, Philip, also an academic, in the eighties and nineties. Peter remained friends with Ted throughout the years and, as fate would have it, also moved to Canada’s West coast. He lives in Vancouver where he is a set designer in the film industry.
Ted’s wife Irena and I were childhood friends in Prague. With the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, we lost contact when our family fled to France. Over 30 years elapsed before we reconnected, which was followed by many visits to France by her and Ted. I always appreciated Ted’s ability to listen so attentively, his sensitivity, and his kindness.
He and I had many conversations on the unique challenges we had both encountered when translating poems, especially his own into Czech. I came very late in life to writing but I was so grateful for Ted’s ongoing encouragement and advice that helped immensely before the publication of my two volumes of children’s books.
~ Renée Artru was born and raised in Prague before her family fled to France during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. After raising five children, Renée took up writing and painting in retirement. She lives near Grenoble in the French Alps.
A recurrent question Ted Blodgett asked me and others during his last year was: “Where do the poems come from?” Ted’s eyes filled with wonder as his question hung in the air. When in hospice, he would often send two to three new poems a day by email to a group of interested friends he called playfully, “the cosmic kids.” I felt proud to be one of the “kids.” Receiving poems from Ted was an honour and a privilege.
Ted’s question was big, perhaps one of the biggest — what philosophers call an ontological question. It implied a larger query: Where does all that is come from? For a word-receiver and shaper, the issue becomes more specific. For Ted, words, images, metaphors, musicality and silence seemed to be flowing into and through him as if from some vast unnameable reservoir.
The ancient Greeks honoured the Muses, nine goddesses: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy) Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy and tragedy), and Urania (astronomy). Ted was both humble and erudite, a polyglot, polymath grounded in both contemporary and ancient poetic traditions. I’d hedge my bets that his most intimate Muses at the end of his life were Euterpe and Polyhymnia, the Muses of music and sacred poetry.
Ted not only adored classical and early music and played the lute but was drawn to poems that brought together mystical/contemplative traditions, both east and west. He shared with me several times that his favourite poet was the seventeenth-century German monk Angelus Silesius whose compressed meditations in The Cherubinic Wanderer had fully captivated his imagination.
Like the poems of his predecessors in the lineage of apophatic, mystical poetry, Ted uses language to suggest the inexpressible. Ted’s poems approach mystery through metaphor (from meta “over, across” + pherein “to carry”) and musicality. The poems that poured out of him at the end of his life became increasingly minimalist and paradoxical, providing a way for readers and poet alike to “cross over” or be “ferried over” to the numinous. Here the boundaries between time and eternity become permeable. This world and other worlds are experienced as a unity.
Here is Silesius, whose “God” both speaks and is silent depending on our perspective:
No one speaks less than God outside of time and place;
He makes eternally a single utterance (129).
And here is Ted:
what is this God
that I am always
speaking about so boldly
and more where
does the voice come from
that I claim to hear
it is the silence
all around me
coming out of my flesh
yes my flesh
where all my secrets
remain nearest to me
flesh waiting in silence – untitled poem, October 12, 2018
Toward the end of his life, Ted translated poems by the Persian Sufi poet, Rumi. Like Rumi, Ted was working towards a poetry emanating from the realm of the non-dual. By this I mean that his poetry presents time and eternity, self and other, inner and outer as essentially one, interwoven in a whole whose centre we can access because it exists both at the core of our being and that of all things. The poet who is wrapped (rapt) in such states, even temporarily, co-creates by participating in something larger than his or her everyday self. Such poems suggest that when the poet engages in this living process, he or she is temporarily freed from time.
Throughout his life Ted cultivated his “paradise ear” and his craft to such an extent that at the end the poems seemed to arise spontaneously as if from nowhere. Irena, Ted’s beloved wife, spoke of how, even at the end, when his body was a shipwreck, Ted, rather than fearful or distressed, seemed to be unaware of the pain when composing poems. It was as if he were transported elsewhere. Several times Ted mentioned how some of the short lyrics from the sequence he titled Walking Into God emerged almost fully formed. He would craft them in his head while resting, sleeping, or playing with the dance of words on his iPad, but always co-creating with his Muse.
This is not to say Ted didn’t suffer or have moments of doubt like everyone else, but the gift of poetry to which he committed himself remained with him to the very end. The paradox is that the Muse is both other and yet our innermost selves. She appears when we move beyond our fragile quotidian selves, our small selves or egos and release ourselves to something wiser and more loving. What kept Ted lucid and engaged with the life forces to the very end and beyond was his sense of the beauty that permeates this and all worlds. From Ted I learned that death and life are a musical harmony, held in a larger whole. He lives on in his poems falling, rising, breathing in the ever new.
…. The only life is like a sleep,
and in the sleep a dream that is not yours but is a gift, the gift
a tree that is inside the dream, and in the tree is God and in
God the air and in the air the green. The last inside is you
and here is where the trees stand up and breathe….
~ Susan McCaslin has published fifteen volumes of poetry as well as a multi-genre book of creative non-fiction in collaboration with J.S Porter, Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine (Wood Lake, 2018). She first befriended Ted in 2011 when they were both launching new volumes of poetry and the friendship deepened to the end of Ted’s life. She lives in Fort Langley.
I met E.D. Blodgett just once, a few months before he passed away. Yet we’d known each other for nearly 35 years.
Ted was my first (and most important) writing mentor. Not surprising among writers, we originally met through handwritten letters, with me writing and him responding. I had sought his advice on how to get started in the writing field. I had found his name in the Canadian Encylopedia where he had authored an entry on my great-grandfather, George Bugnet, a contemporary of Ted’s who was also a writer, friend, and colleague. He had also established an annual fiction award through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta in my great-grandfather’s name.
I was a teenager when I first wrote to Ted. At the time, I was desperately trying to deal with a tragic family situation, and his initial response was one of the few bright lights of encouragement that had come my way. In addition to his thoughtful comments, he had also enclosed a contest form for the Alberta Poetry Yearbook. He further suggested I could send him some of my poems for his review and further guidance. I entered the contest and, incredibly, two of my poems were published in the 1986 Alberta Poetry Yearbook.
Having something published boosted my confidence and enthusiasm. These two poems helped in my acceptance into Carleton University’s journalism program and a subsequent writing career with five published books so far.
But it all started with Ted, who, despite a very busy private and professional life, gave of his precious time to respond to a teenager’s letter. He didn’t know my family circumstances at the time: hunger, poverty, dysfunction, and violence. He didn’t know my first letter was a desperate attempt at finding a way out of my situation. Yet he responded genuinely and sincerely; he simply gave from his heart.
At my husband Tarek’s urging, we had reconnected with Ted on an impromptu trip to Surrey in August of 2018. After nearly 35 years, I wanted to thank him in person. It was an unbelievable event for me, to finally meet my mentor. I will always, always remember what E. D. Blodgett did for me.
~ Pamela Paterson is a Canadian author of five non-fiction books, including an international best-seller, Get the Job. She splits her time between Ottawa and Kingston.
Among my childhood impressions of my father are his size (he’s always been larger than life), his face (that big beard!), and his head so often thrown back in laughter.
Three words to describe him? Reader. Writer. Thinker. And he loved to tell a good story. He loved the pacing and the punch line. But really, he was in love with words. A beautifully constructed sentence, a sublime line, or words that would take him by surprise.
One of my early memories was sitting next to him in our green VW van as he drove along Highway 16 west of Edmonton. He asked me to hand him a pencil and paper so he could write down a poem – which he then did, with the paper pinned to the dashboard with one hand and the other on the steering wheel. He wouldn’t consider dictating it – or stopping. He simply drove on at 70 or 80 miles an hour until he finished the entire poem while I sat, terrified, as the tires would catch the shoulder before veering back towards the other lane. My father lived, breathed, and probably dreamed poems.
Dad also loved a good verbal spar. Years ago, after he had played his lute at a medieval feast in Red Deer, Alberta, he got up to spar with then Conservative MLA, Stockwell Day. He was quick-witted and loved to engage in verbal fisticuffs with anyone on just about anything.
My father wasn’t just larger than life and, well, somewhat hairy, in his younger years. He even appeared godlike to some. There was a time when family members had come over for dinner and I heard later that on the drive home, the younger girl had asked her older sister, “Did you see God? That was God back there.” The older sibling then shrugged and said, “That was Ted. He’s just big for his age.”
From my father I have come to appreciate the value of reading for its own sake. Of education for its own sake. Of writing, even, for its own sake. Of sitting back and listening; of waiting, but not getting into the fray. And to simply allow for mystery; to not know everything right away but to wait and discern. To attend.
~ Astrid Blodgett, Ted’s daughter, is a short story writer and editor. Like her father, she loves birds and trees. She and her husband live on the edge of a ravine in Edmonton with their two daughters.
I discovered Ted’s work when I read with him at an event themed A Balancing Act in celebration of National Poetry Month with Semiahmoo Arts. The year was 2012 and my debut collection the weight of dew had just come out. The location was a beautiful room at the Ocean Park Library in Surrey. The reading was also part of the series, Readings by the Salish Sea.
I was immediately taken by the spaces Ted grows in his poems, the deep well from which he drinks. These are the spaces between us. The following poem is mainly composed of the first lines from Ted’s Apostrophes VII: Sleep, You, A Tree (University of Alberta Press, 2011). This is a cento of beginnings, a tribute to the courage to enter. The first line of the fourth stanza is the only one composed of two half first lines. I left a few spaces in the poem for future beginnings. As a poet I always feel I am on the threshold, in the in-betweens, entering one room after another, never getting too comfortable in any one of them.
A Balancing Act
We were lying under trees beneath the skies, the stars, the leaves
Before they reached the ground, your footsteps paused in the late summer light
A rain was falling through the lilacs, falling almost soundlessly,
The sleep of birds [was] music made of dreams exhaled upon the wind
You walked across the winter fields. The trees stood on the margins, full
We were hanging pictures in the afternoon, pictures that were
Our shadows stretched across the freshly fallen snow so far it seemed
Eternities are without weight. Distance fills the smallest stone.
Sometimes you make your way through many words until you reach the last
Coming back across the snow, we turned and saw our tracks behind.
Leaves had drifted up against the fence. Over the house the moon
Something collapse[d] in the early afternoon, as if the sky
Walking through winter. I saw your soul sit down and weep.
So close we are to being dust again, no stronger than a leaf
In the end there may not be a god in sight, and you may turn
May they come slowly, the long shades of night, no bird surprised
I did not know when I was young, walking through the endless spring
The berries of the mountain ash were barely visible within.
Every sunset is the first and last: who can conceive the next?
All is gift: a solitary bird that sings invisible.
~ Daniela Elza’s poetry collections are the weight of dew, the book of It, and milk tooth bane bone. Her latest book, the broken boat is forthcoming in Spring, 2020. Last year her essay “Bringing the Roots Home” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize.
The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
The Ormsby Review is a journal service for serious coverage of B.C. books and authors, hosted by Simon Fraser University. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster
 E.D. Blodgett, from an unpublished manuscript titled “Walking Into God,” included with permission of Irena Blodgett
 E.D. Blodgett and Manijeh Mannani, trans., Speak Only of the Moon: a New Translation of Rumi (Santa Monica, Afshar Publishing, 2014). This book was republished in Canada in 2017 by Guernica Editions
 Merton, Thomas, “Louis Zukofsky—the Paradise Ear,” in The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton, ed. Patrick Hart (NY: New Directions, 1981), (The “paradise ear” is a term contemplative author Thomas Merton applied to the poetics of the American modernist poet Louis Zukofsky, 128-133)
 E.D. Blodgett, “Hearing Green,” in Apostraphes VII: Sleep, You, A Tree (Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 2011), p. 68