Remembering Joe Blades

By Joanne Light

Joe Blades (1961-2020) died suddenly of natural causes recently. (His obituary here.)

His epitaph could be “I publish, therefore I am.” He was the Randolph Hearst of the invisible poets (without the money). He just kept growing his obsessive poetry publishing, journal keeping, and visual pieces undaunted by what others might have thought of him or his work.

In the 1980s, Joe was a beacon for “disembodied poets” in Halifax and beyond. He hung around NSCAD and published BSPS: Bourbon Street Poetry Society zine. Later he grew it into a reputable literary journal, which published both local and international poets, and named it Poetry Halifax Dartmouth for the pols, after the fact that he single-handedly procured $5,000 annually from city council to publish it, but he referred to it as PHD cuz he liked acronyms. In that feathered nest, he was also able to bring in a few poets from hither and yon to read now and then. It’s amazing how generous the local government was in the 1980s (or how stingy they are now) but, then again, people like Joe are rare—he went after things that would support his endeavours in a style like no one else.

I remember the first time I met him at the Banff Centre (then the Banff School of Fine Arts) in 1982. Everyone on campus was in a juried program—except Joe. He was just there, having drifted in from the east coast I guess to make inroads in the literary landscape—mingling, schmoozing, etc. I thought that was incredible, very determined and ballsy. He looked the part, for sure—tall, lanky, mysteriously shy and brooding, long blond hair and he had that poetic name “Joe Blades.” I thought it must be a creation to make him even more enigmatic than he was. He would have only been 21 then.

Back in Halifax, we were kind of a writing group that would meet at the Seahorse Tavern, or La Cave Restaurant, supporting each other’s poems, identifying as a minuscule sub-culture—Kathy Mac, Eleanor Schonmeier and her Navy guy husband, Deirdre Dwyer, Shirley, Amy Whitmore, Joe, a yoga poet named James, an older math professor with a much younger wife, a couple others.

Then there were the Poetry Sweatshops at the Lower Deck that Joe and Kathy introduced. I loved those. One time the word we had 20 minutes to write on was “novelty.” Perfect because that was the age of “the cult of novelty.” Joe, being a recent grad of NSCAD, incorporated novelty into his pieces, having been educated by true, blue conceptualists for which that shining light for the Artspeak cognoscenti was famous.

I last saw him at the Maritime Writers’ Workshop in Fredericton. We were in the tiny poetry corner space with Yvonne Trainor as the mentor. 

He moved to Fredericton around 1990 and gave me the PHD archives and administrative and editorial tasks of keeping it going. Soon, I had to leave the Maritimes to find work and gave it to Mark Hamilton to run. Then it died and the city hasn’t funded a poetry magazine since. That’s how rare Joe Blades, the poetry instigator, was.

It helps to reminisce that once upon a time there was an impresario and poetry aficionado named Joe Blades who kept putting himself and the work out there for anyone to see and hear.

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