Research Projects

My current SSHRC-funded work is on the genre of the Western in Canadian literature, especially on the literary (as opposed to popular) Westerns that seem to define the Canadian variation on the genre since 1970. Earlier Westerns in Canada and the United States, and the closely related examples of the Northern, were usually popular and pulp fictional. They set the stage for a postmodern, literary response to the Western—books such as Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970) and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water (1993). The purpose of my research now is to discover and explain the relationship between the Western as literary art and the gradual swing to conservatism in twentieth and twenty-first century politics in North America.

The Westerns project develops from my previous research on celebrity. My book, The Metaphor of Celebrity: Canadian Poetry and the Public, 1955-1980 (U of Toronto, 2013), examines popular and literary cultures at a moment in history when they converged. Offering a theory of celebrity based on the cognitive poetics of metaphor, the book contributes to our understanding of how we, but especially the poets among us, relate to this defining element of modern pop culture. This contribution depends partly on poems about stardom and fame by Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Michael Ondaatje, whose careers delimit the era of celebrity in Canadian poetry.

Please see the Graduate Supervision page for some ideas about future research, including work on industrial technologies in Canadian Westerns and distant reading and stylometrics as a new approach to Canadian poetry.