Milton James Rhode Acorn (March 30, 1923 – August 20, 1986), nicknamed The People's Poet by his peers, was a Canadian poet, writer, and playwright. He was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Acorn was a World War II veteran. On a trans-Atlantic crossing, he suffered a wound from depth charges. The wound was severe enough for him to receive a disability pension from Veterans Affairs for most of his life. He returned to Prince Edward Island and moved to Montreal in 1956. He spent several years living at the Hotel Waverly in Toronto.
In Montreal, he published some of his early poems in the political magazine, New Frontiers. He also self-published a mimeographed chapbook, In Love and Anger, his first collection of poems.
He was for a short time married to poet Gwendolyn MacEwen
In 1967, Acorn helped found the then-"underground" newspaper The Georgia Straight in Vancouver, BC.
Acorn was awarded the Canadian Poets Award in 1970 and the Governor General's Award in 1976 for his collection of poems, The Island Means Minago.
In July 1986, he suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. Acorn died in his home town of Charlottetown on August 20, 1986, due to complications associated with his heart condition and diabetes. According to a fellow poet named James Deahl, he had "lost his will to live after the death of a younger sister."
Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award
In 1987, the Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award was established in his memory by Ted Plantos. It is presented annually to an outstanding "people's poet." The award is $250 (since raised to $500) and a medallion, modelled after the one given to Milton Acorn.
Acorn on film
The National Film Board of Canada produced two films on Acorn's life and works. The first is entitled In Love and Anger: Milton Acorn - Poet, and came out in 1984. The NFB's abstract of the film reads:
Acorn left Prince Edward Island in the late 1940s to earn his living as an itinerant carpenter, and wound up in Toronto as one of Canada's most highly regarded poets and one of its most outrageous literary figures. Dubbed "The People's Poet" by fellow poets, he won the Governor General's Literary Award in 1976. Subject to bi-polar disorder and burned out by personal crises, Acorn moved back to Charlottetown in 1981. This film, directed by a P.E.I. filmmaker, brings out Acorn's wit, love of nature, unorthodox political views, and sometimes infuriating personal contradictions."
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