Selection of poetry from Iced Water

John Unrau's poetry in a previous issue

Iced Water was published in 2000 by Salmon Publishing Ltd.,
Cliffs of Moher,
County Clare, Ireland

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Iced Water page

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Other books available from

Balancing of the Clouds

Ruskin and St. Mark's


Poems from John Unrau's Iced Water copyright © by John Unrau. All rights reserved.
Iced Water

Iced Water

John Unrau
By John Unrau

Publisher's Note:

Many of John Unrau's lyrics evoke fleeting moments of joy and grief in a harsh and barren landscape. Empathy with the lives of refugee ancestors on the Canadian prairies inspires many of these poems. Others dealing with historical figures and various contemporary annoyances are enlivened by a quirky offbeat sense of humor. Wordsworth is confronted by the cellphone; a television newsreaders emerges as the priestess of an ancient Greek oracle; Andy Warhol's soupcan becomes an object of lust; a murderous fish converts to New-Age spirituality. This first collection contains poems based on a wide variety of subjects, expressed in many tones and styles.

Review and Comment:

Unrau's book has substantial virtues that make it well worth reading. Chief among these is the distinctive atmosphere. Many of the poems refer to his childhood landscapes, the vast spaces of Saskatchewan, and memories of them passed on by his impoverished refugee forebears. Ambivalence is the keynote. If he often records his rejection of his family's fundamentalist religion, there is also admiration for the grit, conviction and social cohesion their lives exemplify. The same range of emotion occurs in his descriptions of the prairies, inhospitable but magnificent, desolate but beautiful, cold but the site of home . . . One of Unrau's best pieces concerns a monk from Bede's History who mortifies his flesh by standing all night “in the icy Tweed”. To the poet this grim ascetic is an “old sensualist", ecstatically immersed in splendours of his icy northern world. Here as elsewhere, Unrau blends a romantic streak with wry self-irony. His poems are often funny, though the humour has a nicely truculent edge. I particularly like his impatience with the knowingness of postmodernity and the way the advances of technology deny us solitude, remoteness and the range of Wordworthian pieties. In “To Wordsworth, from Ontario”, he confronts the great Romantic with cellphones, a bumper-to-bumper queue and joggers on Westminster Bridge.
—by Clive Wilmer for Times Literary Supplement (U.K.>

Iced Water is a wonderfully understated debut collection by a Canadian (indeed, a northern Saskatchewan boy) who is breathing new life into the tired tradition of the lyrical poem. . . . Anecdotal without being overly sentimental, sincere without being maudlin, John Unrau's poetry could perhaps have been collected years ago, but is better for not having been. Patience, in this case, has led to refinement. What's more, this book works as a book — a claim many messy and uneven first manuscripts cannot make. John Unrau's Iced Water is an accomplished, graceful and mature collection that sits comfortably among the distinguished lists of both Canadian and Irish poets.
—George Murray in the Literary Review of Canada

John Unrau was born in 1941 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, in a Mennonite family. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1962 and received his MA and D.Phil from Oxford in 1969 with a thesis on John Ruskin's architectural writings and drawings. He has published two books on Ruskin: Looking at Architecture with Ruskin (1978) and Ruskin and St. Mark's (1984), both with Thames and Hudson, London. The Balancings of the Clouds: Paintings of Mary Klassen, was published by Windflower Publications, Winnipeg, 1991. He is a Professor at Atkinson College, York University, Toronto, Ontario. This is his first poetry collection.