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Posted: Friday July 3, 2015
Jamie Reid: In Memoriam

April 10, 1941–June 25, 2015

Within our generation, one person deserves to be immortalized as a tireless, articulate, and unwavering champion of liberty, equality, and fraternity; a beacon anchored against the always seductively raging deep of the politically correct: Jamie Reid.

Photo by Carol Reid

His social activism was featured in a number of films of that revolutionary time, including the 1967 CBC feature documentary, What Happened Last Summer, and a short film about the inaugural Be-In in Stanley Park, both directed by Stan Fox.

Jamie’s death represents a significant loss, particularly to the community of West Coast writers who participated in the legendary Vancouver Poetry Conference of 1963.

A founding contributor to the TISH movement, along with future Parliamentary Poets Laureate George Bowering and Fred Wah, Reid’s astonishing and highly acclaimed The Man Whose Path Was on Fire was published by Talonbooks in 1969. Those brilliant early poems quite literally took our breath away: they seemed to perfectly articulate the spirit of the world that moved within us, but for which we ourselves could find no words.

So soon Jamie began to tell rather than to show us what bpNichol called “the one path, the true path,” by writing what he himself would later call “cant” (a great pun), as if the human imagination could be encompassed within the margins of ideology.

But over years of hard labour, he came to know that it is the dialectic within us that is the root of civilization – that there is no such thing as “the people.” So he returned, showing us once more through the beauty of his words and deeds, the glory of the human condition.

When he returned from the land of cant, he did so with the gorgeous, 1994 book-length poem Prez: Homage to Lester Young, an articulate paean to the great saxophonist and a testament to his lifelong love of jazz. A decade later, a volume of his selected poems, I. Another. The Space Between. was published by Talonbooks. It was also in 2004 that Jamie and his wife established a household in North Vancouver for themselves and two First Nations women with Down syndrome, Leslie Leo and Colleen Sound.

Survived by Carol Reid, his partner of fifty-one years, friends recall Jamie Reid as a man dedicated to literary excellence whose humanism both created and galvanized communities wherever he went. He embodied the ideal of living one’s dream, forging one’s own mythology, leaving a better world wherever he traversed it. His life was inspired by the lyrical, innovative, and questing interplay of poetry and jazz. Though his passing has left many bereft, those who met, knew, and befriended this lion of a man will keep his words and works alive for the rest of their days.

No words are more true of him than his own – in this case those he ascribed to both Nellie McClungs: “a fearless openness, a deep inner innocence, a fabulous courage in following the course of [his] own vision and destiny.”