Henry Morgentaler (1923-2013) – Poet

Henry Morgentaler’s death at age 90 on May 29, 2013, prompted the expected dual response. The complexity of his public reception while alive was mirrored following his death. For my part, as for millions of Canadians, Dr. Morgentaler unequivocally left this country a better place than he found it and all Canadians should be grateful for that. This, however, is of course a book blog. In that spirit, I’d like to briefly discuss one of the strangest books that we have on our shelves at home.

In 2007, Dr. Morgentaler published a book of poems: Freedom Is My Passion. The book was published by George A. Vanderburgh under the imprint The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.

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A note on the truly bizarre cover reads: “The art work on the cover is by Maurice Trepanier, and the original collage was a gift to Henry Morgentaler, from his staff in Montreal.”

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While the poems are not individually remarkable as aesthetic objects, they are remarkable for tracing an individual turning to poetry again and again during his life in order to explore and express complex issues. In a brief biographical note at the end of the book, Dr. Morgentaler writes: “I have decided to publish a selection of poems I wrote over the last 45 years. They reflect my struggles to attain maturity and to dare challenge the status quo and the oppression of women in our society” (69). The catalogue of his struggles has been well rehearsed in the last few days. Dr. Morgentaler regularly faced violent opposition to his beliefs but stood firm in his convictions. Freedom Is My Passion shows the value of poetry when practiced privately rather than publicly–it was both a refuge and a contested site for Dr. Morgentaler.

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Regrettably, not all of the poems include dates of composition. It would have been enlightening to see years included with each poem given that they were composed over four decades. There is a series of poems from 1964, pre-dating his brief to the House of Commons on behalf of the Humanist Association of Canada in 1967. These poems deal with his Holocaust experiences and memories of his family. One poem addresses his time in jail in 1975:

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Jenn and I found Freedom Is My Passion in Toronto a few years ago for $4.99, signed, at BMV on Edward off Yonge. It is a book I’m proud to have on our shelves.

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Update, 3 June 2013: James at Poetry’z Own of Cobourg located this video of Dr. Morgentaler reading a poem from the book:

 

*I do not hold the rights to reproduce any of this material. I have done so with the greatest respect for Dr. Morgentaler in order to illuminate a different dimension of the man. I will gladly remove all of it by request from the estate of Dr. Morgentaler.*

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One thought on “Henry Morgentaler (1923-2013) – Poet

  1. Thank you, Cameron. You’ve shown me a different side of the man, one that gives me even more respect for him, which I hadn’t though was possible. And yes, you’ve shown me the use of, as you say, private poetry.

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