Acorn was a World War II veteran. On a trans-Atlantic crossing, he suffered a wound from depth charges. The wound was severe enough for him to receive a disability pension from Veterans Affairs for most of his life. He returned to Prince Edward Island and moved to Montreal in 1956. He spent several years living at the Hotel Waverly in Toronto.
In Montreal, he published some of his early poems in the political magazine, New Frontiers. He also self-published a mimeographed chapbook, In Love and Anger, his first collection of poems.
In July 1986, he suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. Acorn died in his home town of Charlottetown on August 20, 1986, due to complications associated with his heart condition and diabetes. According to fellow poet and close friend Warren Kinthompson, he had "lost his will to live after the death of a younger sister."
Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award
In 1987, the Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award was established in his memory by Ted Plantos. It is presented annually to an outstanding "people's poet." The award is $250 (since raised to $500) and a medallion, modelled after the one given to Milton Acorn.
Acorn on film
The National Film Board of Canada produced two films on Acorn's life and works. The first is entitled In Love and Anger: Milton Acorn - Poet, and came out in 1984. The NFB's abstract of the film reads:
Acorn left Prince Edward Island in the late 1940s to earn his living as an itinerant carpenter, and wound up in Toronto as one of Canada's most highly regarded poets and one of its most outrageous literary figures. Dubbed "The People's Poet" by fellow poets, he won the Governor General's Literary Award in 1976. Subject to bi-polar disorder and burned out by personal crises, Acorn moved back to Charlottetown in 1981. This film, directed by a P.E.I. filmmaker, brings out Acorn's wit, love of nature, unorthodox political views, and sometimes infuriating personal contradictions."
The second is called A Wake for Milton. It was produced in 1988. The NFB abstract for this film reads,
"Canadian poet, Milton Acorn, is remembered with feeling and eloquence in this tribute that takes the form of a wake. Cedric Smith acts as the singer of Acorn's life and art, while such friends as Al Purdy, Pat Lane, and former wife Gwendolyn MacEwen recall the man known as 'The People's Poet.' Evoked here is the unique mixture of intense emotion, wit and radical politics that identified Acorn as a man and a poet."
- In Love and Anger (1956)
- Against a League of Liars (1960)
- The Brain's the Target (1960)
- Jawbreakers (1963)
- I've Tasted My Blood (1969)
- I Shout Love and On Shaving Off His Beard (1971)
- More Poems for People (with Warren Kinthompson, 1972)
- The Island Means Minago (1975)
- The Road to Charlottetown (with Cedric Smith, 1977)
- Jackpine Sonnets (1977)
- Captain Neal MacDougal & the Naked Goddess (1982)
- Dig Up My Heart (1983)
- Whiskey Jack (1986)
- A Stand of Jackpine (with James Deahl, 1987)
- The Uncollected Acorn (1987)
- I Shout Love and Other Poems (1987)
- Hundred Proof Earth (1988)
- To Hear the Faint Bells (1996)
- Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada, ed. Anne Compton, Laurence Hutchman, Ross Leckie and Robin McGrath (Goose Lane Editions, 2002)
- More Poems for People Audio CD reading Canadian Poetry Association, (1986 audio tape / 2001 CD) ISBN 0-919957-42-0
- 1970 Canadian Poets' Award, more commonly known as the People's Poet Award and Medal
- 1976 Governor General's Award
- 1977 Honorary Doctorate of Law Degree (from the University of Prince Edward Island)
- 1986 Life member Canadian Poetry Association
- Robinson, Fraser; Szende, Josef (2009). "Spadina iTour". Heritage Toronto.
- "Canadian Poetry Online | University of Toronto Libraries | Gwendolyn MacEwen". Library.utoronto.ca. Retrieved 2013-12-26.
- Coupey, Pierre. "Straight Beginnings: The Rise & Fall of the Underground Press", The Grape weekly newspaper #8, pages 12 and 13, March 8, 1972, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
- Downey, Donn. "Award-winning poet honored by peers", Globe & Mail. August 22, 1986.
- HMS Press (Toronto) (1986) ISBN 0-919957-21-8
- Canadian Poetry Online: Milton Acorn - Biography and 6 poems (The Island, I Shout Love, What I Know of God is This, Hummingbird, Live With Me On Earth Under the Invisible Daylight Moon, The Natural History of Elephants)
- Milton Acorn's entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia