The son of Jewish parents from Poland, Joe Rosenblatt was raised and educated in Toronto. He attended Central Technical School but dropped out in Grade 10. He worked at a variety of blue-collar jobs before finding steady employment as a railway worker.
Since his first works, Voyage of the Mood (1963) and The LSD Leacock (1966), Rosenblatt accumulated an eccentric and witty body of poetry and drawings that includes more than 20 books. His poems celebrate humankind’s link with the natural and animal worlds and emphasize the fundamental unity of all organic forms. By transferring human values and attributes to the animal kingdom, Rosenblatt created a fresh vocabulary, often a mix of mysticism and contemporary science, along with an original set of images. As Edmonton poet Catherine Owen once said, “To me, he’s our [William] Blake. He turned fish and cats and birds and frogs into demented, ectoplasmic angels.”
Throughout his career, Rosenblatt developed and expanded experiments with language. Bumblebee Dithyramb (1972) contains several chant poems that emulate in poetic structure the vibrant energy of nature. Dream Craters (1974) and Virgins and Vampires (1975) feature more conventional forms of short poetry. A selection of his poems, Top Soil (1976), won the Governor General’s Literary Award. The Sleeping Lady (1979) is a sonnet sequence. Brides of the Stream (1983), which contains short lyrical poems and prose passages, suggests the need to observe, not dissect, living nature. He recalls his boyhood in his prose memoir, Escape from the Glue Factory: A Memoir of a Paranormal Toronto Childhood in the Late Forties (1985). Another selection of his poems, Poetry Hotel (1986), was awarded the BC Book Prize for Poetry (now the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize). He also wrote two novels: The Kissing Goldfish of Siam (1989), which records the initiation of its young protagonist into life, love and sex; and the experimental Beds & Consenting Dreamers (1994).
Rosenblatt moved from Toronto to Qualicum Beach, on Vancouver Island, in 1980. He also held numerous residences at various universities and libraries in the course of his career. He was the writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario (1979–80); at the Saskatoon Public Library (1985–86); and at the University of Rome and University of Bologna (1987). He was a visiting lecturer at the University of Victoria (1980) and the University of Western Ontario (1980). He also taught creative writing at the University of Victoria (1980) and the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts (1982).
Rosenblatt published several collections of drawings, including Doctor Anaconda's Solar Fun Club (1978). He was senior editor of Jewish Dialog, an eclectic literary magazine, from 1970 to 1983. He was the associate editor of the Malahat Review at the University of Victoria from 1980 to 1982. Rosenblatt also served as a literary consultant for Porcupine's Quill, Blackfish Press, McClelland & Stewart, the Canada Council, and Oolichan Books. His poems and drawings are well represented in two anthologies: The Joe Rosenblatt Reader (1995) and The Voluptuous Gardener: The Collected Art and Writing of Joe Rosenblatt, 1973–1996 (1996). His final book of poetry, Bite Me! Musings on Monsters and Mayhem (2019), was published shortly before his death.