Mick Burrs (Steven Michael Berzensky) 1940 -2021
For more than three decades we would run into each other at poetry events, readings and celebrations. Mick was always a passionate contributor and presence, with his enigmatic smile, his generosity of spirit and his very fine poetry. He will be missed by those who loved and respected him as a man, a poet, a friend. I am sure he and Linda Stitt are sharing a lovely pot of tea and offering poetry to the angels. Rest Well.
I was really sad to learn of Mick’s passing. I saw him just before the lockdown. Xeroxing my work, Mick came into the shop and recognized me. He was interested in what I was doing.
We went for a beverage at the Miles Nadal Centre.
We were able to reminisce and share philosophies, opinions, remembrances, conversations about being Jewish, American, humour and things that inspire the spirit..
I read Mick’s work later in his career realizing that his work is a bridge from one place to another. By place I mean place in time, places between two countries, place in history, place settings.
Mick seemed to hold time in his hands and then elucidate all that that moment contained. It was fascinating and charming.
Often we would meet at Julie MacNeil’s and I would have the privilege of driving him somewhere. That adventurous spirit was so clearly expressed in his poetry.
May his memory be a blessing
Mick Burrs was a great poet. More than that, he was a loving person, who brought out the best in everyone who encountered him.
He edited my poetry from 2013-2017, and on an informal basis after that. But he was more of a friend than a mentor. We ate lunches, went to baseball games, attended poetry readings, and bigger meals at the home of his longtime friend, Kent Bowman.
I became a better poet from working with Mick Burrs.
I am a better man for knowing him.”
Mick Burrs was an interesting and committed poet, with a mind open to all kinds of possibilities. I enjoyed his work a great deal. He was also a lovely person and always positive and supportive, especially of any experimental or cross-media collaboration — and also, and especially, of novice or shy poets. A man with grace. I will miss him.
NOTICE: PARENTS TO BE
In Memory Of Mick Burrs (1940-2021)
The fierce eye of a female robin
fixed on her famous eggs
the nest I believed was abandoned.
Sometimes I long for fur
but lately it is feathers I wish
covered the body I live within.
What it must feel like
to have under you the young
the heat of your body will
bring to that crucial moment,
beak through the egg’s shell.
Out where the air also contains
my hope, which is
made up of a wish,
no crow or bluejay is hungry
enough to steal what she
and her mate, keeping guard
in the woken budding oak,
deserve to feed
and soon fly south together.”
I remember Mick so well from League AGMs and conferences. He was the most engaged person — he listened really attentively to what people were saying to him, and to their poems. He offered his own ideas as a contribution to dialogue, not as position statements. What came across was always warmth and kindness. I miss his presence.
Mick edited my poetry collection “Children of Ararat” expertly, and I remember his patient gentleness, thoroughness, and empathy. Financially poor, he was rich in spirit, and I only came to know about his dementia too late to leave anything but voice messages for him that I doubt he heard with any firm remembrance of me. I have a brief tribute to him in the memoir I am currently writing. His name will never leave the stones around his grave.
Mick had such a quiet passion for poetics and a life on the fringe. He embraced the struggle always knowing that he’d never quite have the full acceptance of his family members, but he carved his own path into the wild wood where with such gentl ease, he aimiably swung any of its darkness to light. Always willing to take risks with his work, he supported everyone and read everything. Open-hearted and without judgement, what I most admired about Mick was his breadth of knowledge, his honesty as he came across with such child-like innocence that in the growth and exploration of poetry; he understood profoundly and spiritually that the intellectual critical eye could be a debilitating pause taking our breath and words away from inner emotional truths.
-Sonia Di Placido
He was the first person I met at the League meeting in Regina. He was sewing his chapbooks when he asked me if I loved poetry. I was so shy back then that I could hardly speak. It was life changing to join a tribe of poets which has lasted for years and years. He stayed at the public library in the winter. I reviewed his first full length collection The Blue Pools of Paradise. When I was an undergraduate it was during the Vietnam war. So faculty in the English Department had fled the U.S. However, Mick and I did not discuss it until very late in our friendship. He told me about the name “Steven” but I could go on calling him “Mick”. We published so many of his poems in The Prairie Journal. He was wise beyond his years. He was a kind, sensitive, gentle man. When he edited Grain Magazine I sent him many submissions, including a play. He had astute comments on all of them. He was loyal, always soft spoken, renewed his subscription; he said what you do is important because it is about the region. With Joe Blades, Brenda Niskala, and Dennis Reid, we met up with Mick in Saskatoon, during our cross country readings tour for the Open Twenty-Four Hours Anthology. rob mclennan was on tour with us and the CBC came along to document the trip. Those were the best of times and I am very grateful for them.
Mick was so welcoming when I joined the League of Canadian Poets in 1990. One time when Mick’s train crossed through Parry Sound, we met at the station and exchanged poetry books! Another time, Mick and Sharon came to Parry Sound to do a reading for our Poetry Bash. Mick’s poetry was exquisitely lyrical and so was his friendship.
I produced the CBC morning radio show in Regina from 1985-88. Every now and then, when I needed a commentary on a tricky or sensitive issue, I’d ask Mick if he had views; he always had views, and they were always sharp and considerate and delivered on deadline.
He was kind to me; kinder when he learned that I wrote poetry in addition to working as a journalist.
I loved him.
For Mick Burrs and/or Steven Michael Berzensky
His morals? Clear, resolute algebra!
And so, sick of packaged liquefaction–
Airborne napalm, fire-flooding Vietnam–
He vacated the States; found Regina;
Then, penned numbers (the complete subtraction
Of flaming huts and White House flimflam).
He coined the delicate fittings of rhyme;
Summed the surging joy of common words
Suddenly meaty–juicy–as oranges—
Their subversive totaling of sublime
Stanzas (whose chimes arrive in driving thirds,
So, thriving clang all the insurgent changes).
Never were his numbers “”dumb metaphor””!
He counted “”Harvard’s martyrs””–peasants, poor–
Victims of McNamara’s Art of War.”
My closest connection with Mick was in 2007-08, when we co-edited the anthology Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War Era. Having become friends after he moved to Toronto from Saskatchewan, we eventually discovered that both of us had the idea of gathering poems by the many poets we knew who emigrated to this country from the U.S. between 1965 and 1975. We were surprised to find more than 80 such people, whose writings had been, and were continuing to be, woven into the fabric of our national literature. 76 ultimately had poems in the book. As an editor, Mick was both meticulous and passionately engaged. Determined to help fellow poets perfect their poems, he was exceptionally insightful, patient, and conscientious. He could dig his heels in, even to the extent of overcoming one distinguished contributor’s resistance to further enhancing what was already a signature poem. He encouraged two hesitant late-blooming poets to submit poems to the anthology which turned out to be very fine and proved pivotal in their going on to publish multiple books of high quality. I also knew Mick to be one of the gentlest and kindest people I have encountered. He was extremely generous in mentoring others and revealing the secrets of poetic craft. Not being a self-promoter may have limited the profile of the beautifully-wrought poems he continued to write, but, besides having great admiration for what Mick did for other poets, I am confident as to the enduring worth of the body of work he has left us.
Mick Burrs was a lovely person and always positive and supportive, especially of any experimental or cross media collaboration — and also, and especially, of young or shy poets. A man with grace. I will miss him.
I met Mick Burrs at the League of Canadian Poets AGM in Toronto in 2001 and we became very close from then to the end of his life. In 2002, during a trip to Toronto from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Mick encouraged me to do my first chapbook, “The Last Years of the Natural World.” When he moved to Toronto in 2005, we started collaborating constantly, performing our work together, and supporting each other in our projects.
In 2008 the Royal Ontario Museum sponsored the concert, named after Mick’s poem, Through the Roof of My Heart It Rains, in honour of Holocaust Education Week. Set to classical music by the late composer Philip McConnell, the work was performed twice at this event, once by Ottawa soprano Doreen Taylor-Claxton and secondly by Mick, both with the Toronto Sinfonietta Orchestra. Philip McConnell also set two of my works to music, which I performed as spoken word at this event, accompanied by the orchestra.
Doreen Taylor-Claxton created the project “”In Need of Song”” in 2006. She gathered work from Canadian poets and presented it to Canadian composers who selected the poems they felt inspired to set to music. James Wright chose Mick’s “Quilled Sonnet,” while Colin Mack selected my poems, “Mist,” “Becalmed,” and “Destiny” to create the song cycle The Names of Water. These works were recorded for the much-lauded CD “Hail, Canadian Art Song” (CanSona Arts Media, 2006).
In addition to being an award-winning poet, Mick was also a playwright whose plays had been produced on CBC Radio, Saskatchewan. In Toronto, he teamed up with Guy Doucette who produced a number of Mick’s new one-act plays. With his playwriting expertise, Mick was my mentor and strongest supporter through the many years of development of my opera “Isis and Osiris, Gods of Egypt.” He made many exciting suggestions as he read each draft of the libretto, and attended the first workshop of the opera in Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 2016 “Isis and Osiris, Gods of Egypt,” had its World Premiere at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto.
As a confirmed pacificist, Mick did not eat “”four-legged creatures,”” and was even loath to kill an insect. His gentle kindness permeated his being. Mick lived in the worlds of imagination and inspiration, yet when he worked on his poems, he was incredibly diligent, often doing more than 20 drafts to get it to the perfection he sought.
An amazing and unique person with great generosity, Mick found something of worth in every person he met, and every poem he read or listened to. He was a mentor to innumerable poets, encouraging and editing their work. Many went on to publish their first books because of Mick’s encouragement, diligence, and brilliant guidance. For me, it was a great privilege and honour to know him.
I’m writing a piece about Mick for Freelance magazine