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Artful Flight by Susan Glickman  

In Artful Flight, Susan Glickman dives into poetry and prose, music and visual art, in an effort to find the joy in creative work not as a path to the truth but as an end in itself.

Susan Glickman muses that thoughtful literary criticism is not merely about ‘duelling with words, however full of flourishes and feints’. Rather it ‘means—or ought to mean—to evaluate something dispassionately, seeing not only its faults but its virtues.’ In Artful Flight, she does just that, writing respectfully but uncompromisingly about artistic topics both ostensibly familiar (such as considerations of writers like Northrop Frye, Don Coles, Erín Moure and Bronwen Wallace) and delightfully arcane (such as the etymological evolution of contranyms in Shakespeare and beyond).

With keen intelligence and droll wit, Glickman explores a variety of artistic concerns, from the expectations of literary genre, the formalist hurdles of poetry and the tyranny of modern opinion to the magical history of the violin and the pleasure of creating visual art later in life. Her approach is unabashedly her own: feminist, supportive and drawing on a wide range of cultural and literary references.

These well-reasoned essays prove that balanced criticism can be compelling, nuanced and sensitive to the motives and influences of artists.


2022—eLit Awards,


2023—ForeWord Indies Book Award,

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‘Arguably a book length anti-hot-take, Artful Flight is a nuanced, intelligent, and witty deep dive into the literary arts.’

—Open Book

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‘The title Artful Flight is itself a kind of enjambment, bringing together two books about the craft of writing that Glickman especially prizes: Ali Smith’s Artful and Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Lamott, Glickman writes, includes "superlatively useful advice" for beginning writers, such as, "start by describing what you can see through a one-inch picture frame, then let the Polaroid develop to discover what unexpected objects you focused on and work on those." In her collection of essays, Glickman puts this advice to good use, and the results are engaging and erudite.

—Steven W. Beattie, That Shakespearean Rag

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‘Reading Glickman’s work, especially now, when clear thinking is needed more than ever, is like drinking good clean water after weeks (years; epochs, it feels like) in the desert. I haven’t even put away the groceries yet, but while browsing these essays and reviews—on poetry, on parenthood, on politics, on gender, art, travel, writing—I feel so much as if rusty gates are pulled open to reveal lush but well-ordered gardens.’

—Amy Lavender Harris

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‘[Glickman’s] gaze is ambitious, exploratory and revealing, offering a thoroughness to the way in which she articulates her thoughts on craft and form, focusing on poetry but open to well beyond the borders of the poetic form.... There is such a density of thinking and ease in her writing that one could get lost in such a collection, and happily so; my only frustration with this collection is the thought that perhaps she is’t writing as many review essays now as she once had....’

—rob mclennan

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‘There’s a level of wisdom, grace and scholarship in Glickman’s writings that sets her apart from many other poets and critics.... What I find most satisfying and instructive about Glickman’s reviews and essays is that I learn as much about her and her literary values as I do about the poet she is studying. Without grandstanding or trying to steal the show, she quietly and civilly gives each author and work the attention they deserve.... It’s fitting and no surprise, also, that the book’s design is as elegant as its contents, with a gorgeous cover and what used to be called, if memory serves me well, Zephyr Antique-laid paper, a joy to handle and behold.’

—Gary Geddes, The British Columbia Review

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‘Whether writing on issues of grammar, investigating particular works, or describing the sabbatical experience of going to art school in her sixties, Toronto poet and novelist Susan Glickman is alert to the counterweight forces that keep any good work of art--or life--aloft. Her attempt, amply and richly fulfilled, is to see how the engine’s materials and designs can accurately serve; each ‘‘fugitive piece’’ here offers expansion of feeling, knowledge, and freedom.’

—Jane Hirshfield, Ploughshares

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‘It is a challenge of obdurate proportions, not to feel educated, cultured and intelligent when succumbing to the charms of Susan Glickman’s reviews and essays, such is the poise with which she positions her analytical powers and witty observations throughout the wondrous compendium which is Artful Flight.’

—Gordon Phinn, WordCity Literary Journal

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Artful Flight provides a deep dive into Canadian poetry and the poetry makers who shaped where we are as poets and readers today. Glickman gets inside how they did it. Through her combination of critical intelligence and poetic instinct, we are invited into process, a sharing of how (selectively) modern Canadian poetry means, articulated by someone who understands and appreciates it as well as practising it. Glickman’s poets are not just remembered but dynamically acknowledged, their fine lines of influence traced and refreshed with critical integrity, with immediacy and excitement.’

—Patricia Keeney, League of Canadian Poets Book Reviews

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‘Creative and analytic, serious and witty, generous and judicious, her thoughtful prose takes wing in many different forms and directions. A feminist Daedalus, she re-invents dance, flight, and cadence in her craft of criticism that ranges from Shakespeare to modern Canadian poetry, and from the scholarly to personal intimacy. Whether her pen flourishes across paper or her hands tap dance on the keyboard, she choreographs with subtlety and clarity.’

—Michael Greenstein, The Miramichi Reader

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‘[A] deeply pleasurable book assembled from many years of excited engagement with poetry.’

—Brian Bartlett, The Malahat Review

Excerpt from book

From the Introduction

In June of 2017, I began putting together a selection of my essays and reviews. Because I had blithely binned some of these pieces just three years prior—when I gave my musician son my office to turn into his music studio and moved myself into a smaller space, recycling 25 bags of paper in the process—I spent that summer sleuthing out lost work on the internet and at the library, retyping some essays and photocopying others. Eventually I had over 500 pages of prose, including teaching notes, online interviews, and letters written in answer to high school and university students’ questions about my books.

Even I was surprised to discover how much fugitive prose I had written since the early 1980s, when I finished a doctorate on Shakespeare’s dramaturgy and started teaching at the University of Toronto. I’d never published anything on my thesis topic, having recognized belatedly—when my first book of poetry came out in 1983 and the English Department insisted that ‘it didn’t count as a publication’—that I would have to establish expertise in a different area to find a job that rewarded creative work. So instead of seeking further employment as a Renaissance scholar I got a post-doctoral fellowship, which became The Picturesque and the Sublime: A Poetics of the Canadian Landscape (1998). During those years of study, I read and wrote about as much Canadian poetry as I could. Many of the critical pieces included here were written then.

After I dropped out of academia for a few years to have children, those doors swung shut behind me and I never got my ‘career’ back. But I had already got in the habit of writing essays and kept on doing so through six more volumes of poetry, four novels, and three children’s books. Sometimes people invited me to write stuff; other times I needed to figure something out for myself by working it through on paper. The word ‘essay’, as first used by Michel de Montaigne, means ‘an attempt’, and that’s what these are.


I am writing this introduction in July 2020, the summer of Covid-19. The only such summer, I hope, but we never know what the future holds. In the midst of a pandemic, this gathering of belle-lettres seems superfluous, but I keep reminding myself that the plague was raging in Paris in 1580, the year Montaigne’s Essays were first published, and that Shakespeare just kept on writing whenever rampant infection closed the theatres in London, confident that they would eventually reopen. The example of these masters persuades me that there will again be a time when writing about poetry will not seem frivolous to everyone except poets.

Or maybe that time is actually now, when we are in suspended animation and the future and past swirl around us in a quantum rather than linear moment. An eerie quiet has fallen over my normally bustling neighbourhood. The weather is beautiful because the dwindling of the city’s traffic has left the air fresh and the sky blue, day after day. Although essential workers never left their jobs, many other people have become unemployed or are struggling to work remotely. Children who lost their last three months of school are enduring a summer of limited activity, unable to play with each other. My life, however, is unchanged. Since I left the university in 1996, I have not had an office to go to; I have worked contract to contract, teaching creative writing, editing books, and taking art classes. What I once saw as insecurity I now recognize as freedom.

A contranym, perhaps? Read ‘Let’ and you will see what I mean.

[Continued in Artful Flight...]

—Susan Glickman, Toronto, July 2020


Credit: Toan Klein

Susan Glickman’s itinerant lifestyle has included the study of classical civilization in Athens, yoga in India and English literature at Oxford. She has enjoyed a varied career as an educator, editor and academic, and has written over a dozen books in a variety of genres. She lives in Toronto.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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ISBN-13: 9780889848795

Publication Date: 2022-02-15

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 256

Price: $24.95