A poet, playwright, essayist, translator and editor who lives in Ottawa. His commitment to writing first came to national attention through the controversial political and literary journal Edge which he founded in Edmonton, Alberta, and edited from 1963 to 1969. Since then he has over thirty publications to his credit that have received high critical acclaim in Canada and abroad. His versatility as a writer is evident even in a partial list of them: twenty volumes of poetry; six books of plays, both for adults and young audiences; numerous productions of his plays as well as of his adaptations of plays (most recently Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, 2009, and Sophocles’ Antigone, 2011, both performed to much critical and audience acclaim); translations from the works of Bauer, Huchel, Ibsen, Mrozek, Dorst; fiction and non-fiction; a book on Canada; a Festschrift for Irving Layton; two anthologies of plays for High Schools. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages
Critics and fellow poets have acclaimed his poetry. Patrick White wrote: “Henry Beissel is undoubtedly a Canadian poet of the first rank. He writes with the clarity and precision demanded of a strict imagist, and yet manages, without overburdening the issue, to give the image symbolic weight.” The late F. R. Scott said about his Cantos North: “The Canadian imagination, as elusive as the Canadian identity, is nevertheless a reality. Henry Beissel finds its constant source of strength and renewal in the wonder of our northland… This epic is the first to see it in its entirety, as a matrix which binds the whole together in a national mythology.” And Keith Garebian declared “Season of Blood is one of the most powerful, moving, lyrical triumphs in modern poetry.”
Beissel’s most successful play is Inuk and the Sun has been performed in many parts of the world. When it premiered in Stratford in 1973, Thomas Willis, the theatre critic for the CHICAGO TRIBUNE wrote: “`If you could have your pick of the Stratford, Ontario, season for an opening in Chicago next week, what would you choose?’ asked a friend. The answer was easy. Not Shakespeare, Goldsmith or Gogol… What I would give a lot to see here next week, next year, any time, is Inook and the Sun…as beautiful and magnificent as Homer.” Sherrill Grace in Canada: the Idea of North (2001) refers to the play as “a mythic masterpiece”. It has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, Turkish, a.o.
Beissel has been invited to read from his work all across Canada as well as in the USA, South and Central America, Europe, Africa, and China. In November 1994 he was awarded the first Walter-Bauer Literaturpreis in Germany for his translations of Bauer’s poetry and for his own literary oeuvre. In October 2006, he received First Prize in Poetry for “The Jade Canoe” in an international competition adjudicated by the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. In 2008, he was awarded the Naji Naaman Literary Prize for his book-length poem, “Where Shall the Birds fly?” and became an honorary member of the Maison Naaman pour la Culture in Beirut, Lebanon.
His most recent work includes the epic Seasons of Blood (2011), the autobiographical cycle Coming to Terms with a Child (2011), a heart-wrenching confrontation with his childhood in Nazi Germany, and Fugitive Horizons (2013), “a mind-blowing journey across the known micro- and macrocosms to the extreme outer edges of space and time,” (a finalist for the 2014 Ottawa Book Award) and Sightlines (2016), “a book for readers who want to think, to contemplate, to feel, to experience, to imagine, to dream, to remember, to forgive, to celebrate, to cherish music, poetry, art and nature” (John B. Lee). Both Coming to Terms with a Child and Fugitive Horizons have been published in a bilingual English/German edition by the Verlag LiteraturWissenschaft in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The germaan Academy for Language and Poetry declared in March that Fugitive Horizons was the most important international poetry collection published in Germany in 2015.