Gavin Barrett

Gavin Barrett's picture
Photo credit: 
Photo by Richard Picton
Biography: 

Gavin Barrett is a poet and the author of Understan, a new collection of poems published by Mawenzi House in June 2020. Understan is a CBC Books recommendation.

Gavin was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), of Anglo-Indian and Goan East African parentage. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay, and an M.A. in English Literature from Bombay University. After leaving Bombay, he lived in Hong Kong for several years before immigrating to Canada.

In addition to Understan, Gavin’s poetry has been published in Ranjit Hoskote’s anthology of 14 contemporary Indian poets, Reasons for Belonging (Viking Penguin, India); the journal of Pen India; The Folio; The Independent; The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad; and Poeisis — the journal of the Bombay Poetry Circle — he was a Poetry Circle member from its very first meeting.

He is the founder, host and series co-curator of the Tartan Turban Secret Readings, a Toronto reading series that focuses on giving BIPOC writers a stage. He is a member of the Canadian Authors Association and sits on its Toronto branch Advisory Board. and is also a member of the League of Canadian Poets, PEN Canada and The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Gavin is the co-founder of Barrett and Welsh, a visible-minority-led branding and advertising agency. A certified B Corporation® based in Toronto, the agency specializes in creating inclusion through communications.

His commercial writing has been published in 35 countries, helped elect prime ministers, drew the ire of the lawyers for Dolly the cloned sheep, attracted an angry crowd in Lagos, has been studied in business texts in Canada and India and was critiqued by a fictional character in a John Irving novel.

Micro-interview: 
Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?: 

Yes. English poetry was a part of the curriculum as was Indian poetry. I was struck by Gerrard Manley Hopkins' Spring and Fall, Yeats's When You are Old, and Wilfred Owen's masterpiece, Futility. But the poems of Rabrindranath Tagore made a great impression on me as well.

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?: 

I have a written record of my first poems at least from age 10 but I suspect I began writing poetry when I was around eight years old. I think I began thinking of myself as a poet when I was 12.

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?: 

Writing poetry is a compact with the mystical. You must be ready to receive. You have to be empty to be filled with the angels and demons, to wrestle with them. I think you have to be a little mad to be a poet. That’s why Plato banished the poets from his ideal republic. They scared him and his tidy mind. He complained that they were fed by “divine madness.”

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?: 

John Donne's The Good-Morrow is an anthem that anchors the love story between my wife and me. We've been together since we were 17, and have been married for well past 30 years now. I used to recite it to her when we were falling in love. And I still do. 

Publications: 
Title: 
Understan
Publisher: 
Mawenzi House
Editors: 
MG Vassanji, Nurjehan Aziz, Fraser Sutherland
Date: 
2020
Publication type: 
Book
Poem title(s): 
Julietta, good night, Deccan, A fat woman’s dignity, One Way Out and A Dream in a Train, of a Library
Title: 
Reasons for Belonging
Publisher: 
Viking Penguin India
Editors: 
Ranjit Hoskoté
Date: 
2002
Publication type: 
Anthology
Poem title(s): 
Apologia
Title: 
Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad Vol. 18, No. 1
Publisher: 
TSAR
Editors: 
MG Vassanji
Date: 
Fall 1999
Publication type: 
Periodical/Magazine