Louise Morey Bowman, Early Canadian Modernist
Rediscovered by Aislinn Hunter, poet and essayist.
Let’s say Virginia Woolf was right when she wrote that part of the poet’s task is “to find the relations between things that seem incompatible yet have a mysterious affinity, to absorb every experience that comes your way fearlessly.” Reading the Canadian poet, Louise Morey Bowman, it is the word “fearlessly” that stands out. This early modernist wrote with a sense of abandon, an exuberance, a friendly relationship with the exclamation mark. She published three books of poetry that displayed a bold experimentation: this earned her criticism from the literary circles of the time but also paved the way for such writers as Gwendolyn MacEwen and Elizabeth Smart. Yet, Bowman has all but vanished from our literary sight. How is it, this essay asks, that we can come so close to losing writers like Bowman so soon after they’ve set down a portrait of their time and place on the page?
Avi Boxer: 1950s Montreal East-end Poet and Protégé of Irving Layton
Rediscovered by Avi Boxer’s son, Asa Boxer.
Avi Boxer was a Montreal East-end poet who flourished during the 1950’s literary foment alongside A.M. Klein, F.R. Scott, Louis Dudeck, Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen. In his review-essay of _No Address_ (Avi Boxer’s only collection of poems), Asa Boxer discusses the successes and failures of his father’s work in the context of The Montreal School of the past and of today. “The Branch from which I Fell” is an essay that works to define a branch of the Montreal School and its ambitions, struggling to establish the author’s own place within the nascent tradition. Boxer’s evaluation of his own father’s work is at once respectfully honest and movingly heartfelt.
Audrey Alexandra Brown: Bestseller, West-coast Romantic
Rediscovered by Kim Blank, fellow Westerner.
Literary history suddenly dropped Audrey Alexandra Brown (1904-1998) like a hot potato. Despite the accolades, the awards, and the best wishes of those who early on championed her work–and those who may have played upon the fact that she was crippled by rheumatic fever–she was bull-dozed by modernism and professional literary critics. She was aware of what was happening, but helpless to stop it. Her failing, she claimed, was that she had no real experience of life.
Cheng Sait Chia: Chinese-Canadian Maritimer Imagist
Rediscovered by George Elliott Clarke.
Cheng Sait Chia, the Singapore-born, Chinese immigrant whose spare, beautiful poetry should have placed her among the great Canadian imagists, alongside her fellow Maritimer John Thompson, published only one book posthumously, and has never been anthologized, not even in collections of work by Chinese-Canadians, East Coast poets, or Canadian women poets. Cheng died of cancer in 1981, at the age of 41, and her work, though infused by her illness with the theme of death, exhibits an exhilarating refusal of luxury, heroic stoicism, and a stern and bracing morbidity.
Philip Child: WWI Poet and University of Toronto Scholar
Rediscovered by Chris Jennings, who, like Child, once worked for the University of Toronto Quarterly.
Arguably the best-known of Canadian poems written about the experience of World War I, “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae is a poem that isn’t much praised for its techniques or the subtlety of its themes. Philip Child shares McRae’s claim to immediate experience of the war; more, he saw what McRae didn’t: the way war fostered a culture of modernity and a modern literature. Both technically and thematically, Child’s poetry tries to harmonize a life segmented by experiences before, during, and after the war. An award-winning novelist before he turned from fiction to poetry, Child wrote two books of poems that fascinate as a highly intelligent, highly literate veteran’s attempt to make sense of an experience that few living voices still share.
James Denoon: 19th Century Royal Artillery Officer and “Everyman’s” Poet
Rediscovered by poet, critic and editor Carmine Starnino.
In 2006, Montreal poet and book dealer Michael Harris discovered a 125-year-old packet of handwritten, occasional verse “chapbooks” authored by an officer of the Royal Artillery named James Denoon (1802-1901). The essay uses the occasion of Harris’ discovery to write about Denoon, uncovering his life through his poetry, and at the same time celebrating unknown versifiers who wrote not for fame, but out of a sense of duty to family, friends, and community. Occasional, unpretentious verse (otherwise known as doggerel) has a long tradition in English poetry, a phenomenon that was especially powerful during the time Denoon was alive.
George Faludy: Torontonian and Great 20th Century Hungarian Poet
Rediscovered by Torontonian, poet and critic Christopher Doda.
George Faludy died last year at the age of 96. Widely considered the greatest Hungarian poet of the 20th century, he spent 20 years in Toronto, taking Canadian citizenship in 1976, and only returning to Budapest after the end of the East Bloc in 1989. Faludy ran afoul of successive governments in his native land: he first fled the fascists in the 1930s for France, northern Africa, and the US only to return in 1945 to a Hungary increasingly under communist control. He was arrested in 1950 and spent three years in a secret concentration camp in the town of Resck. Deprived of any means of writing, he began to memorize his works and took the extraordinary measure of organizing salon-type discussions with fellow prisoners. Many of those who dropped out of the discussions later perished, while those who talked into the long nights survived. Again fleeing Hungary after the suppression of the 1956 uprising, he bounced around Europe for a decade before arriving in Toronto in 1967. The essay on him introduces some of the main themes and characteristics of his work, and argues that translation is an underappreciated art in Canada, especially that which comes from Europe outside our two official languages.
Joseph Howe and Thomas D’Arcy McGee: Nation-Builders and Poets
Rediscovered by Matthew Holmes, reviews editor of [_Arc Poetry Magazine_], poet and former bureaucrat.
Before the so-called long-hailed Confederation Poets there were passionate, visionary politicians such as Joseph Howe and Thomas D’Arcy McGee (a former Irish rebel later assassinated on an Ottawa street after giving a stirring speech in the House of Commons). Howe and McGee were accomplished poets and statesmen who deserve credit for planting the seeds of our national literature. Howe and McGee penned their verse in between strident efforts at nation-building, thus shaping the country through both politics and writing. Was their poetry any good? Was it expectedly patriotic, or did it hold surprises? Does it remain historically significant? This essay explores these and other questions, while introducing the work of two of Canada’s earliest bards.
Douglas LePan: Queer Poet, GG Winner and WWII Veteran
Rediscovered by John Barton, co-editor of the recently published [_Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets_], which includes works by LePan.
Douglas LePan was born in Toronto in 1914 and died in 1998. He studied at the University of Toronto and Oxford before serving with the Canadian Army in Italy, an experience that informs his second book, _The Net and the Sword_ (1953). After the Second World War, he joined the foreign service, then left to teach at Queen’s University, Kingston becoming Principal of University College, University of Toronto. A man with a lifelong talent for hero worship, soon after his retirement, he published a memoir, _Bright Glass of Memory_, in 1979. It recounts his relationships with significant figures of his time, including Wyndham Lewis, General Andrew McNaughton, T. S. Eliot, and John Maynard Keynes. In 1990, at age 76, he published [_Far Voyages_], a landmark book of poetry in Canadian queer studies that also broke personal ground in its frank exploration of his relationship with a man almost thirty-five years his junior. A writer who won Governor General’s Awards for both poetry (in 1953) and fiction (in 1964), who was singled out for praise by Northrop Frye, and published many iconic poems about the Canadian experience, LePan is unjustly forgotten by today’s readers and critics. The essay in _Arc Poetry Magazine_ is the first ever published on his work and explores the telling ways in which he evokes ideas of the heroic in some of the most luminous poetry ever written by a Canadian.
Kenneth Leslie: GG Winner, East Coaster and Extraordinary Sonneteer
Rediscovered by Zachariah Wells, poet, critic and editor of the upcoming anthology _Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets_.
He was a farmer, a teacher, a preacher, a political activist, a journalist, a broadcaster, a composer, a restaurateur and a cab-driver. He was blacklisted by _Life_ magazine as one of fifty prominent “dupes and fellow travelers” of communism during the McCarthy era. On top of all this, Kenneth Leslie was one of the most gifted poets of his day, and won the Governor General’s Award in 1938 for his collection, _By Stubborn Stars_. Although he travelled widely and lived in New York, Boston and Paris, Leslie’s poetry was stubbornly rooted in the culture and landscape of Nova Scotia’s north shore.