The work of poet, union activist and publisher Joe Blades was commemorated recently.
The gathering, on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, was titled “The Slow Word Uncurls: A Tribute to Poet Joe Blades.” It was held at the new Learning Commons at the University of New Brunswick’s Harriet Irving Library in Fredericton.
Joe Blades passed away unexpectedly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 22, 2020, which made it difficult to hold a public memorial until now.
Previous tributes had been personal. In Fall 2020, Professor Tony Tremblay published a memorial article explaining the importance of the poet’s work in the literary world and in his community: “Joe showed up.” Author and publisher Rob McLennan also published a tribute piece following Blades’ passing calling him “a one-man literary powerhouse.”
The in-person event on Oct. 21st was coordinated by Kim Vose Jones of the UNB Archives, the institution that received and is processing all of Blades’ papers, thanks to the generosity of the Blades family. Many of Blades’ friends, colleagues and other community members were in attendance and spoke fondly of their memories of him.
Writer and artist Biff Mitchell noted affectionately his nostalgia for the moments spent with Blades in the Blacktop Motorcycle Gang during their “random acts of poetry” in Fredericton. Mitchell shared a poem by Andrew Muppett-Spencer (“Mr. Poem for a Penny,” well known to Frederictonians) whom Blades had published and who, sadly, also passed away during the pandemic.
Professor, musician and poet Matte Robinson commented on the mentorship that Blades had provided to young writers in the Fredericton area, as soon as he arrived in the early 1990s.
Artist Jennifer Pazienza worked with Blades during his studies at UNB and, although she was not able to attend the event in person, provided a candid video interview with Marie Maltais, the Director of the Arts Centre at UNB. Pazienza discussed Blades’ artistic impact and research.
NB Film Coop Executive Director Tony Merzetti shared memories of Blades’ work in the film community, both as an actor and as a prop master who contributed to many productions by the NB Film Coop members.
Translator Jo-Anne Elder contributed about Blades’ link to the translation and editing community in Fredericton. Blades worked with Elder on Ellipse, doing graphic design and layout for the translation journal.
Community and union activists Alex Bailey and Asaf Rashid spoke of Blades’ involvement in the local drives to organize unions at the University of New Brunswick. Blades was also a long-time member of the Fredericton Labour Council. Bailey commented on Blades’ ability to combine art with labour work, like in his support for the Mayworks Festival.
Blades’ sisters and brother-in-law had come to Fredericton for the event. They closed the event by saying how pleased they were to come to know more about their brother’s life in Fredericton from his friends and colleagues.
The event also featured a free book fair of Broken Jaw Press books and miscellanea. The expo of Blades’ work is available for public viewing at the University of New Brunswick’s Harriet Irving Library until Nov. 14th at the Learning Commons on the Third Floor. A Burns Night Poetry Slam event will also be held in Blades’ honour at the UNB Grad House on January 25, 2023 from 7 to 9pm.
Sophie M. Lavoie is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.