Earle Birney’s poem about UWaterloo


Some may know that in the 1960s Canadian poet Earle Birney was a writer-in-residence at UWaterloo. We no longer have a writer-in-residence, but we do have Birney’s 1967 poem, “1984 Minus 17 & Counting at U of Waterloo Ontario”(see below). For those whose coffee has not yet taken hold, minus 17 refers not to the temperature, but to 1984-17=1967. Read on, and interpret how you will.

1984 Minus 17 & Counting at U of Waterloo Ontario

after the calorestimated meal
in the male hall
they walk back to the compulibratories
keeping to the asphalt paths
conceived by the landtects

sometimes a thousand are in forward motion
engimechs the plureality         at 0826 hrs
in pairs         with crewcuts         hands by flanks
& slightly crooked below rainbreakers (yellow)
with U of W on the back
ENGINEERS on upper sleeve L
& black number upper R

since none of this is actually required by deans
nor the gloves (black)         hushpuppies (grey)
nor absence of headcover & expression
what is felt is communiternity         a capusalt

the mathamen         cruts not quite so short
are sometimes grouped in 3s
but otherwise all waterloobed:
hands by flanks & slightly…(yellow)…
MATHS on…black…grey…absence
almost striking—communalove at least

a few artsies yet (terminal class of ’71)
midearburns / 1 in 10
dress as above of course
but some have briefcases in R hand
wear their ARTS upon their sleeves
& walk alone


Source: Earle Birney, ONE MUDDY HAND: Selected Poems, Harbour Publishing, 2006.


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