For its editor and most of its contributors the title of this book does not refer to the anthologizing of ‘some’ Canadian literature – although this what Canadian literature anthologies do – or to the anthologizing of parts of Canadian literature, but to the anthologizing of Canadian literature as a national literature. Thus many of the essays quickly make a link between anthologies and canonicity. The editors of Canadian literature anthologies believe they are determining both which Canadian writers can be perceived as writers of ‘official’ Canadian Literature and hence how the Canadian nation is portrayed.
The book is thus a logical project for editor Robert Lecker, whose 2013 book was the remarkably comprehensive study of national Canadian poetry anthologies, Keepers of the Code, and who has also both written and edited essay collections on questions of Canadian canonicity. The links between canonicity and “quality” are slyly raised here by D.M.R. Bentley in his mischievously titled contribution “The Poetry of the Canoe,” an examination of how William Douw Lighthall’s 1889 collection Songs of the Great Dominion was produced. With detailed research and very little commentary Bentley reveals how interweavings of nationalism, nepotism, romantic understandings of quality, and the not unlimited resources of a publisher produced a roster of poets quickly out of date and only selectively remembered in later decades. In the collection’s opening essay, “Anthems and Anthologies,” Richard Cavell had traced the origins of the word “canonical” in Christian doctrine and later links between canonicity and ideology to arrive at the conclusions that any “Canadian national narrative” is “an essentialist discourse that is belied by the multiplicity of nations in Canada,” and that “the anthology must always fail to represent the nation because there is no nation to represent.” Together, the two essays suggest that “anthologizing Canadian literature” – or anthologizing any national literature – may always already be a fragile and dubious accomplishment.