UNB Archives to host tribute for Fredericton artist Joe Blades

Young poet Joe Blades posing from his desk where he did most of his writing. (Submitted: UNB Archives)

Poet, multimedia artist, publisher and activist Joe Blades died in April 2020 at the height of the pandemic, leaving it hard for his friends and fellow artists to mourn. Two years later, the UNB Archives will host a special tribute to him on Oct. 21 at the Harriet Irving Library.

Archive assistant Matty Watson believes that Blades did a lot for New Brunswick and wasn’t fully “appreciated.” He said that there have been multiple Atlantic anthologies he wasn’t invited to participate in.

“I think that if you write from here, you’re considered to just be a New Brunswick writer and you can’t write on a broader scale,” he said.

Blades was born in Halifax in 1962. He worked and studied all over the world. In Nova Scotia, he founded the Bourbon Street Poetry Society. In Banff Alta., he started his publishing agency, Broken Jaw Press.

Moving to Fredericton in the early ’90s, he was centered here for the rest of his career. His publishing took off, including printing works by David Adams Richards and a translation by the late Austrian poet George Trakl. Since then, he published works from writers all across Canada.

Event coordinator Kim Von Jones said Blades will also be remembered for the mentorship role he took on in the Fredericton community.

”I always think of Joe as the man who showed up,” she said. “[He] was always so supportive, always showing up to people’s openings or readings.”

While in Fredericton, he was a member of the Blacktop Motorcycle Gang. The group went around town doing “random acts of poetry.” Apart from pasting up their work, they would also hold performances.

“He wanted to be that agitator as opposed to be part of that mainstream,” said Von Jones.

The UNB Archives own more than 200 of Broken Jaw Press’ releases — this includes his poetry, plays and artist catalogues. Their collection also includes nearly 100 of his self-designed poetry books, covered with collages and stickers.

“Joe’s poems were very much like a journal. He would be describing snippets of what he was experiencing all around him all the time,” said Von Jones.

Blade was big on using found items in his work, like business cards, gum wrappers and others.

Joe Blades served as a volunteer for CHSR-FM at the University of New Brunswick. (Submitted: UNB Archives)

Many of his experimental works will be on display — such as different movie props he created like cigarette packages and fake newspapers.

Two other interesting attractions will be a poem that gets blurrier the more you read it and a collection of poems called “96 Tears,” which is bound with denim.

“That would be really interesting to see, somebody eventually come in here, dig into the collection and really try to get a sense of the artistic nature of what he was doing,” said Von Jones.

The event has become a collaboration between Blades’ close friends, along with members of the UNB Art Centre.

“Everyone was surprised when he passed away, but there was no way to — because of the restrictions — celebrate his life. I think this is going to be very cathartic for a lot of people,” Von Jones said.