George McWhirter



·        Poetry,

·        Fiction,

·        Literary Translation


·        Poetry,

·        Short Stories,

·        Novels,

·        Translation

Radio Plays

Awards & Honours


Contact Information



Photo:McWhirter the Man by Mark Van Mannen  


George McWhirter was born in Belfast on September 26, 1939, and growing up, he spent his winters in a brick kitchen house on the Shankill Road and his summers at an asbestos bungalow in Carnalea on the shores of the Belfast Lough.  He attended the Belfast Boy’s Model School (1947-1950), Grosvenor High School (1950-1957) and received his BA & DipEd from Queen's University Belfast  (1957-62), where he was a classmate of the poets, Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, and the Irish literary critic, Robert Dunbar.

The Mourne Mountains in South Down— where he lived with his wife, Angela, in Annalong and taught school at Kilkeel Secondary (1962-1964)— was his source for the mythical kingdom of Sarne in Bodyworks.  In 1964 he moved to North Down and Bangor Grammar for a year.  His inspiration for Catalan Poems came when he was an EFL instructor at the University of Barcelona's Escuela de Idiomas (1965-1966). He came to Canada in 1966 and lived in a cabin at Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island, teaching at Alberni District Secondary School. Since 1968, he has been in Vancouver, where he received an M.A. from UBC in 1970. 

In 1975, he went to Mexico when he began his long association with the Mexican poets, José Emilio Pacheco, Homero Aridjis and Gabriel Zaid. For thirty-five years, he stayed on at UBC, becoming a Full Professor in 1982 and Head of the UBC Creative Writing Department from 1983 until 1993.  He was Advisory Editor for PRISM international magazine from 1977 until 2005, and prior to that Managing Editor (1968-1969), Poetry Editor (1970-1976), then Co-Editor (1976-77).  At UBC he was awarded a Killam Prize for Teaching in 1998, and the first Killam Prize for Mentoring at UBC in 2004, then in 2005 the Sam Black Prize for service to the Creative & Performing Arts.




·         Contemporary Poetry of British Columbia (Ed. J. Michael Yates, Sono Nis Press, 1970),

·         Soundings 72 (Ed. Seamus HeaneyBlackstaff Press, 1972),

·         The Wearing of the Black, Ed. Padraic Fiacc, Blackstaff Press, 1974

·         The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse (Ed. Ralph Gustafson, 1975, 1984 revised editions)

·         Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader (Ed. David Pierce, Cork University Press, 2002)   


and most recently


·         In Fine Form: The Canadian Book of  Form Poetry (Eds. Kate Braid & Sandy Shreve, Raincoast Books, 2005)

·         A Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets (Ed. David Biespiel, Oregon State University Press & Ooligan Press, 2006)

·         The Blackbird’s Nest (Ed. Frank Ormsby, Blackstaff Press, 2006)

·         Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets. (Ed. Zachariah Wells, Biblioasis, 2008)

·         Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry (Ed. Mona Fertig, Mother Tongue Press, 2008)

·         How the Light Gets in: Anthology of Poetry from Canada (Ed. John Ennis, Centre for Newfoundland & Labrador Studies and School of Humanities Publications, Waterford Institute of Technology, 2009)

·         A Verse Map of Vancouver (Ed. George McWhirter, Anvil Press, 2009).




At the launch of A Long Journey: contemporary northwest poets,  

Vancouver Public Library

left to right: David Biespiel, George McWhirter, Kevin Craft, Miranda Pearson and Micheal Kenyon:



·         Stories of Pacific & Arctic Canada (ed. Rudy Wiebe & Andreas Schroeder, Macmillan)                                                                                     

·         The Second Blackstaff Book of Short Stories ( Blackstaff Press, 1991)                                                                                                               

·         The Oberon Press Best Canadian Short Stories  (Ed. David Helwig, 1971; Maggie & David Helwig,1991)                                        

·         When We Were Young (ed. Madeline Sonik & Eric Henderson, Oberon Press, 2005) among others

Literary Translation

·         Volvox : POETRY FROM THE UNOFFICIAL LANGUAGES OF CANADA (Ed. J. Michael Yates, Sono Nis Press)

·         Twentieth Century Latin American Verse (Ed. Stephen Tapscott, University of Texas Press, 1996);

·         Poetry Comes Up Where it Can: Poems from The Amicus Journal, ed. Brian Swann, University of Utah Press, 2000);

·         CV2, Fall 2005 Special Translation issue, interview with Madeline Sonik plus commentary on background and process for rendering Homero Aridjis and Gabriel Zaid into English

·         international WORLD BEAT poetry now (ed. Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 2006).

·         Birds, Beasts and Seas: Nature Poems from New Directions (Ed. Jeffrey Yang, 2011).



·        Catalan Poems (Oberon, 1971)

·        Queen of the Sea (Oberon Press, 1976)

·        Twenty-Five (Fiddlehead, 1978)

·        The Island Man (Oberon, 1981)

·        Fire Before Dark, Oberon, 1983)

·        A Staircase For All Souls (Oolichan Books, 1996)

·        Incubus: The Dark Side of the Light (Oberon, 1997)

·        The Book of Contradictions (Oolichan Books, 2002)

·        The Incorrection, Oolichan Books, September 2007

·        The Anachronicles, Ronsdale Press, Spring 2008

Short Story

·        Bodyworks (Oberon Press, 1974)

·        God’s Eye (Oberon Press, 1981)

·        Coming to Grips with Lucy (Oberon Press, 1982)

·        A Bad Day To Be Winning (Oberon Press, 1984)

·        Musical Dogs (Oberon Press, 1996)


McWhirter's novel, Cage (Oberon Press), about an Irish Canadian priest in Tetelcingo, Morelos, Mexico, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the B.C. Book Awards in 1988.  He has published two others: one that borrows its setting from the Alberni Valley entitled Paula Lake (Oberon Press, 1985) about the kidnapping of Japanese boy from a summer English program in Vancouver by a young B.C. jock who wishes to teach the boy and his ex, an older woman from Ontario and director of the program, a real Canadian lesson; in the other, The Listeners (Oberon Press 1991), which is set on the 12th day of July, he recalls his Belfast roots through the story of a flute player who quits the classical orchestra in Europe to return home, marry and take up the tuba in a brass band led by his father-in-law—to the chagrin of his father, a staunch flautist.

Literary Translation

He has maintained ongoing literary associations in Mexico with writers such as José Emilio Pacheco, Homero Aridjis and Gabriel Zaid.  He was editor and principal translator for the award-winning Selected Poems of José Emilio Pacheco (New Directions, 1987) and was editor as well as major translator for an anthology of Mexican poets, Where Words Like Monarchs Fly (Anvil Press, 1999).  Its title refers to the annual migration of monarch butterflies between Mexico and Canada and is a tribute to the poet-environmentalist, Homero Aridjis, who hails from Contepec in Michuacan, one of the destinations for the migrating monarchs.  With Betty Ferber, Aridjis’s wife, McWhirter co-edited and was principal translator for Eyes to See Otherwise: The Selected Poems of Homero Aridjis (Carcanet/New Directions, 2002.)  His version of Euripides’ Hecuba was produced at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre by Blackbird Theatre in the post-Christmas New Year period of 2007 or 2008. City Lights published his  translation of Homero Aridjis' Poemas solares/Solar Poems in 2010 and released under their imprint in the U.S. his translation of Tiempo de Angeles/A Time of Angels, which was published in Mexico by Fondo de Cultura Económica in May 2012 with illustrations by the artist, Francisco Toledo.

 Radio Plays

·         Suspension (CBC);

·         Don’t Go Walking on the Water (CBC);

·         The Listeners (CBC)

Awards & Honours

As well as the Ethel Wilson Prize for fiction, he has won the Macmillan Prize for Poetry (1969), shared the Commonwealth Poetry Prize with Chinua Achebe, (1972), and received the League of Canadian Poets Canadian Chapbook Prize for Ovid in Saskatchewan, 1998). For his translation and editing The Selected Poems of José Emilio Pacheco (New Directions, 1987), he was awarded the F.R. Scott Prize for Translation by the League of Canadian Poets (1988). The League also honoured him with its 2005 Life Member Award for his contribution to poetry. He was Poet-in-Residence at Poet’s Corner for the zine, Educational Insights, from 2004-2005, where his essays, poems, interviews are to be accessed, some with audio visual accompaniment:




At Vancouver City Hall on March 13th, 2007, George McWhirter was presented to Mayor Sam Sullivan and Vancouver City Council and inaugurated as Vancouver’s first Poet Laureate.  The selection committee represented a broad spectrum of literary culture in the city, chaired by the Chief Librarian, Paul Whitney, and comprised of Marnie Rice from Vancouver City Cultural Affairs, Hal Wake from Vancouver International Writers Festival, Marjorie Reynolds from the BC Publishers Association, Carla Funk, the Poet Laureate of Victoria, and the writer-poet, Gary Geddes.  The laureateship is made possible by the generous gift from Yosef Wosk to the City of Vancouver.  Mr. Wosk also sat in on the selection process.


League of Canadian Poets

The Writers’ Union of Canada


BC Book Prize Committee

League of Canadian Poets Adjudication Committee

The Poetry Dogs, a group of Vancouver poets who share a rabid love of poetry.

Skagit River Poetry Festival, La Conner, Washington

Left to right: poets, Chris Dombrowski, David Mason & George McWhirter.



The Flat Lake Festival, Clones, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.

Seamus Heaney, George McWhirter & Paul Muldoon in the X-Tractor Tent, The Flat Lake Festival 2008




Contact Information:

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