|Honorary Degree Recipient, John Hicks, October 24, 1987 (Photograph Collection, A-7984)|
Convocation date: October 24, 1987
Discipline / contribution: literature
Citation / biographical information:
Eminent Chancellor, on behalf of the Council and Senate, I present to you John Hicks. Born in England, 1907, Mr. Hicks moved to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan with his family when he was a young boy. He has lived in Prince Albert for 68 years, eclipsing a record set by that other famous man by the name of John, who was Chancellor of this university in the Seventies.Degree received: Doctor of Literature
What does a young man in Prince Albert do, circa 1925, with the music of Bach and the poetry of Yeats coursing through his veins? He becomes an accountant, of course. And this is how John Hicks made his living until 1972. I find it very interesting, however, that we are not honoring this man for what he did at his job but for what he did each day after his job was finished. First, he became a musician; a pianist, then an organist, and finally a choirmaster at St. Alban's Cathedral for many years. Perhaps this love of music led naturally into an equally passionate love of poetry. His love of classical music must certainly have brought him into the company of Marjorie Kisby, one of this province's most distinguished composers. They were married in 1936.
His second avocation was poetry, and by the 1950s became very much more than avocation. Would 'obsession' be a fair term for such a self-possessed and gentle man as John Hicks? If not obsession, then a long, abiding preoccupation.
The poems began to pile up, along with a number of prose pieces. He would show them to his friends, read them to Marjorie, or just let them accumulate. They began appearing in local newspapers; then in local periodicals like Grain and Wascana Review; then in national magazines: Canadian Forum, University of Toronto Review; then in American magazines and newspapers; The Saturday Evening Post, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Herald Tribune, Harper's and Poetry (Chicago).
His short stories have appeared in children's books, school texts and anthologies. His musings on the craft of writing have been collected in a recent book entitled “Side Glances.” His first book of poetry, “Now Is a Far Country,” appeared in 1978 when John was 71. Four volumes followed: “Winter Your Sleep,” “Silence Like the Sun,” “Rootless Tree,” “Fives and Sixes.” A new and selected volume is in the offing.
Here is a sample from a fall poem: "The click click click I heard/ in the bare
November tree/ was two skulls kissing,/ Tooth to tooth, a cold lovemaking." And here is a sample of his writing about writing: "The way to get ideas is to be the kind of person to whom ideas come. It isn't a conscious search, necessarily. You need inside you a soft-wax area that will take an impression the moment something touches down on it. You put your brains to work after that, not before." His advice on writing is so useful, that in any of a number of garrets I have chosen to suffer in over the last ten years, I have always tacked up his snippets on the wall.
Although he has no university degrees, John was made an honorary fellow of Emmanuel College in 1979, Writer in Residence for the City of Prince Albert in 1978, and in 1985 the City gave a testimonial dinner in his honor.
He is a provincial treasure. He is a national treasure. The English critic and poet, Robin Skelton, said of him that he is one of the finest poets writing in the English language today.
Eminent Chancellor, I present to you John Victor Hicks and ask that you will confer on him the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa.
Degree presented by: David Carpenter, professor of English
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