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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Unfinished histories: Main St. Poetry/Unfinished Monument Press

Hi Marvin,
You are helping me recollect (guess that's almost a pun) a lot of nearly forgotten Canadian literary history with which I've been involved  - I'm enjoying our correspondence very much, and of course you are most welcome to preserve it for the archives. I've been putting some of it online already - instant CanLit documentation  :  )



Unfinished Monument Press was an important stepping stone for a generation of Toronto poets. I'm so proud to learn that Jones' reputation was recently 'resurrected', while our little gang is now busy 'resurrecting' Milton Acorn's legacy.

I founded Unfinished Monument Press in 1978 in order to self-publish a collection of poems I'd been writing since the Canadian Liberation Movement (CLM) had dissolved a few years earlier. The name Unfinished Monument refers to the monument in the Toronto Necropolis dedicated to Sam Lount and Peter Matthews, two martyrs hanged for their participation in the 1837 Rebellions.

(Possibly I coined the name 'unfinished monument' to refer to the monument. I believe in CLM we always referred to it as the monument to Lount and Matthews.)

After publishing my chapbook DOMINION DAY IN JAIL I became aware that other young poets were in need of a democratic, cheap & participatory means to get their poetry seen. Tom Clement published the chapbook SUPERMAN, and Dee September (her nom de guerre - not sure of her real name), a friend of Clement's, published MAKING WAVES.    

I've been writing and publishing haiku poetry since 1967-68, and through contact with other haiku poets, I published Hamilton poet Margaret Saunder's first collection, A FLOCK OF BLACKBIRDS.

Sometimes I did the typing, layout & photocopying for the chapbooks, and sometimes the individual poets produced their books with little input from me. One poet who preferred to have some sort of publishing house "name" on his first collection was Robert Priest. Robert did all the work producing his THE VISIBLE MAN. Robert has gone on to become one of the most published and high profile poets of our generation.

I also helped Bruce Hunter produce his chapbook, SELECTED CANADIAN RIFLES, as part of an assignment while he was a grad student in bp Nichol's course at York University.

Many other chapbooks and poets followed: my own WHITE RASTA, POEMS by Marglamb Wilson, PCB JAM by Lynne Kositsky. I stayed up all night drinking Lynne's gift of a bottle of glayva. By morning I had written my entire ISLAND WOMEN suite, which was published as a chapbook by Wayne Ray's HMS Press.

James' Deahl's first publication was his treatise on poetry, REAL POETRY. I consider James the leading Canadian practitioner of People's Poetry, true to the tradition of our mutual friend, comrade and mentor, Milton Acorn.

I met Shaunt Basmajian through our involvement with The League of Canadian Poets. We had been been rejected as full members by the cliquey, elitist and academically credentialist group, and were unhappy with our secondary status as associate members. We organized the other associate members, and then formed our own democratic national group, The Canadian Poetry Association (CPA). Shaunt's first full length (over 50 pages, bound) book was with Unfinished Monument, SURPLUS WASTE AND OTHER POEMS. 

The list of Unfinished Monument poets and their collections goes on and on. In the early 1990s, after leaving Toronto and 'retreating' to the Marmora area, I turned Unfinished Monument Press over to James and Gilda Deahl. They continued the tradition of publishing new and emerging poets, as well as established poets. Many of their books were much better produced than the earlier 'photocopy and staple' jobs.



In 1979, the year after I founded Unfinished Monument Press, I visited my local library on Main Street in Toronto's east end. The head librarian was pleased to have a patron volunteer to organize monthly poetry readings, and the series ran for six years.

So I was now wearing many hats: political poet, haiku poet, small press publisher (really more coordinator), host of Toronto's second most influential reading series (after the Axletree Coffeehouse), and working as a cook (arrggggggggggh - too many deep fryer burns, too many stupid managers to think much about those days!).

A further benefit to the emerging poets of the late 1970s to mid-1980s, many of whom I was helping publish with Unfinished Monument Press, was that I was also able to get them on the Canada Council readers list (qualify them for doing paid public readings by the CC).

I did this for James Deahl, Shaunt Basmajian, Bruce Hunter etc. .

I folded the series in 1985 after I bought a small starter house near the Gerrard/Ashdale branch of Toronto Public Library - TPL had hired me to work at the Main Street Library in 1982 as a desk clerk, based largely on my volunteer work organizing the readings. I transferred to working at Gerrard/Ashdale, and truthfully, I had tired of the machinations of some poets who were always finagling for readings. I offererd to turn the series over to several poets who had complained about my selection of featured readers, but of course some people prefer to complain and let others do the work. No one offered to continue the series, which folded.

I have the guest book for the series from the first to the last readings. It is a gem. I encouraged everyone to sign it, and readers in the Open Sets had to sign up as well. There are also impromptu snippets and clippings in the guest book. So it's an interesting & comprehensive document - a monthly 'who's who' of the Toronto poetry scene from 1979 to 1985. I listed the featured poets on my blog last year, and I'll see if I can cut & paste the list here:

Readers: MAIN STREET LIBRARY (Toronto) POETRY SERIES: 1979-1985

Main Street
Library Poetry Series
1979 – 1985 Toronto, Ontario, Canada
On November 15, 1979 I founded this monthly poetry series at the Main Street Library in Toronto’s east end. The main Toronto literary venue at that time was the Axletree Coffeehouse located downtown, and this series was created to provide both a local forum and an alternative and additional outlet for poets. The readings ran until December 11, 1985. The following poets and musicians performed during these 62 readings:

PETER ACKER                                  SUSAN GLICKMAN       LESLIE NUTTING
MILTON ACORN                               SHARON GOODIER        PAM OXENDINE
LILLIAN ALLEN                                AMANDA HALE              SUSAN PARKER
With TRUTH AND RIGHTS              CHRIS HEGGE                  BEN PHILLIPS
GAY ALLISON                                    LARRY HOPPERTON      TED PLANTOS
DAVID AYLWARD                             BRUCE HUNTER          ROBERT PRIEST
HERB BARRETT                                SUSAN IOANNOU       BRIAN PURDY
SHARON BERG                                 BETH JANKOLA            DAVID REID
DENISE BERTRAND                         PAT JASPER                    JIM ROBERTS
ROBERT BILLINGS                          GEORGE JONAS            HUGH RUDDEN
bill bissett                                             jones (Daniel)          MARGARET SAUNDERS
ANDREW BROOKES                         CLIFTON JOSEPH          LIBBY SCHEIER
BRIAN BURCH                                ANITA KELLER              JEFF SEFFINGA
HEATHER CADSBY                           LALA KOEHN               DEE SEPTEMBER
LESLEY CHOYCE                            MARK LABA                MARTY SINGLETON
TOM CLEMENT                                 DONNA LANGEVIN      JIM SMITH
DENISE CONEY                               ERIC LAYMAN          PATRICIA K. SMITH       
HELEN COSTAIN                              JUSTIN LEWIS          GEORGE SWEDE
JENI COUZYN                                  FRIEDA LING           KEITH SOUTHWARD
RITA COX                                  DALE LOUCAREAS          JAN DAWSON
TOM CRANE                                   RICHARD LUSH           IRENE MCGUIRE
jw curry                                            JULIE MCNEILL        LOLA L. TOSTEVIN
BEV DAURIO                               CAROL MALYON       YVES TROENDLE
JAMES DEAHL                              RAY MARTIN             ANDREW VAISIUS
MARY DIMICHELE                   ERIN MOURE                CARLY WHITE
ABBE EDELSON                     NEIL MUSCOTT               BARBARA WILSON
GLENN FREW                             bp nichol                        
STEPHEN GILL                                                                   ROBERT ZEND

peace, poetry power! and great memories ...  Chris Faiers, series coordinator
Posted by Chris Faiers/cricket at 13:06 1 comment: 
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Labels: Readers: Main Street Library Poetry Series (Toronto)


Marvin, I'm getting a bit tired after writing all this, but it is fun and a chance to document so much while I'm still able. Maybe more later,

peace & poetry power!
Chris ... and Chase ... wroooooooooooooooof!


On 2012-07-24, at 10:22 PM, marvin orbach wrote:

Hi Chris,
Thanks for sending me the  letter on Daniel Jones.    Your e-mails
are always literary gems, and have historical value.  Which means I
would like to preserve them  in my archive in Calgary, if you don't
  Blessings, from Montreal West.


On Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 4:51 PM, Chris Faiers <> wrote:
(from an email to a friend)

Back from ZRG about an hour ago - watered pines, painted more dragon scales, drank beer, pruned back sumac trails - the usual. Came home early again, & just back from small shopping at VM.

Cool news - last nite I Googled Jones (Daniel) - inspired by sending old Unfinished Monument books & manuscripts to Marvin for archives - I published Jones' first collection, a chapbook titled JACK & JILL IN TORONTO, & then he got a 'major' book published with Coach House. But the BS of the CanLit scene eventually got to him, & he committed a very crazy & dramatic suicide around 1994. Now his writing has been resurrected, & there were over 2 million hits on his name (altho Daniel Jones is a common name).

A couple of publishers brought out reprints of 2 of his books last year. I missed all the hoopla - would have attended if I'd known. Apparently his work is now on course lists, he has a cult following, etc. .

One of his 'resurrectors' wondered if he'd be pissed off by the late fanfare? Yeah, I'm pretty sure he would be! I believe Jones always had a strong sense of his literary worth, & even his ultimate literary lionizing & destiny. So now publishers, critics THE CANPOETRY ESTABLISHMENT, who ignored him & didn't see his value (when I did - first - with Unfinished Monument Press & readings at Main St. Library) are now cashing in on his legacy. Yeah, I bet he's both pissed & pleased.

This is part of why I bailed on the CanPo scene almost a quarter century ago. I realized that staying the course in TO would lead to further poverty, frustration - even depression & suicide in Jones' case - and then, years after you're effing dead, well, everyone suddenly sings your praises. Where the F were they when you were starting out & needed support!

Anyway, so great to belatedly learn that Jones is finally getting his literary merit acknowledged!!!!

I'm copying this to James Deahl, as know he'll be interested & pleased as well. First met Jones at a poetry party at Jim's house where he & Gilda lived in the west end. Still have clear memories of that first meeting, Jones spitting the cork from a wine bottle & then blowing our minds with his poem "Things I've Shoved in my Asshole"  : )

Enjoy Sushi Delight,

will call later,


email July 25/12

Dear Chris,
    I am glad to report that your package arrived  yesterday,
Tuesday.  Thank you so much for the amazing manuscript of Foot Through
the Ceiling, and the three very rare books.  These are very important
items  in our literary history, and will be welcome additions to the
collection in Calgary.  I should add that the books in your previous
package are, at this moment, winging their way to the Promised Land.
    I really enjoyed reading these three books.  I find your poetry
very much alive.  It engages the reader and doesn't let go.  It is no
wonder that you are a decorated poet.   In fact, your books, and your
poems   helped revive me and helped raise my morale.   I am much better
now, and have rejoined society.   I must say that your  poetry, books, and lively
e-mails were  important factors in my  recuperation and return to
normal society.
     And thank you for all the invaluable, historical information.
Your contribution, over the years, to Canadian literature is amazing.
Perhaps you should be cloned.   It is an honour for me to play a part
in helping preserve  your books and documents for future generations.
And the folks in Calgary, are delighted, I am sure, to   add your
material to the collection.
     You mentioned Maria Jacobs in an earlier e-mail.   I remember
reading and enjoying her poetry a number of years ago.   Her family in
Holland, during the war,  were outstanding citizens.  They  assisted
their Jewish neighbours in escaping the Nazis.  For this they will
always be remembered.   I have often  wondered why Maria changed her
last name to Jacobs, when she came to Canada.
      Thanks for all the information on Daniel Jones.  It is a real
pity that his life was so short.   It is great that there  is a
revival of interest in his poetry.
     Ray Souster was always very  kind to me.  My collection in
Calgary contains many of his handwrittem  poems.  I  lost touch  with
him many years ago.  Perhaps you can bring me up-to-date,  with a few
brief words.
      I am thinking now of our great People's Poet, Al Purdy.   Years
ago I attended one of his poetry readings at the Vehicule Art Gallery
on Ste.-Catherine St. downtown.   The audience was  medium-sized.
There was a pitcher of water and a glass next to Purdy.  Being a
People's Poet, he wasn't about to drink from a glass.  Purdy actually
drank straight from the pitcher.  This is the way a real man drinks.
For some reason this incident has remained clear in my mind, for so
many years.   Shortly after Al started reading,   a well-dressed man
quietly  entered the room and took his place in the audience. It was
Leonard Cohen.
      I am now looking at your list of poets and musicians who
performed at the Main Street Library Poetry Series.  I am familiar
with the verse  of many of the poets.  I like, in particular, Susan
Ioannou's poetry.  Over the last few years, she has sent me many
books and documents for my collection. Are you in touch with her?
     If ever you feel the need to send me more books and mss., please
feel free to do so.  I am honoured  to be able to play my part in the
grand scheme of things.
      Blessings, from Montreal West.
      Chi-miigwetch.       Marvin.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

email July 31/12: donation of 1989 notebook for Univ. of Calgary archives

Hi Marvin,

I'm sending you one of my personal notebooks for the Univ. of Calgary archives. I've kept these notebooks much of my adult life, & they contain information on just about every aspect of my life, from mundane financial records and 'to do' lists to drafts of haiku and longer completed poetry manuscripts.

This notebook in dated Aug. 1989 on the cover under "subject". It's a green, cirlox-style spiral binder, approx. 8 1/2 X 11 inches, 108 pages, "FANCO" 3 subject notebook.

1989 was a crucial time in my life. I had bought a derelict century house in the mining hamlet of Cordova Mines after selling my small semi-detached 'starter' house in Toronto's east end. Two years earlier I had received the inaugural MIlton Acorn People's Poetry Medal for my collection, FOOT THROUGH THE CEILING (1986, Aya Press, then Mercury Press, Toronto).

I moved to Cordova Mines, Ontario, about 100 miles from Toronto, in early April, 1989. This notebook would have detailed my early experiences and musings in my new rural Ontario surroundings.


There are many drafts of haiku, some included, some rejected, for what would become my book, EEL PIE DHARMA: A MEMOIR/HAIBUN (self-published with my Unfinished Monument Press, 1990). Almost at the end of the notebook is a list of the 28 chapters which would become this seminal English language haibun (and now much-referenced history of the tail end of the 1960s in London, England, and the hippie/squatting/music scene).

EPD has been quoted in EEL PIE ISLAND by Dan Van Der Vat and Michele Whitby (2009, Frances Lincoln Limited, London, England). It was also used as a reference for WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN: THE WHO FROM LIFEHOUSE TO QUADROPHENIA by Richie Unterburger (2011, Jawbone Press, London, England).

Noted English novelist Hari Kunzru credits EPD at the back of his novel MY REVOLUTIONS (2007, Penguin). It was nice of Kunzru to formally credit EPD as a source, but there are enough similarities between my life and that of his protagonist (named "Chris"), that I suspect EPD was as much an inspiration for his book as a resource. 

Among the myriad notes, poetry drafts, financial records and jottings are drafts of a book review on a posthumous collection by poet Marty Singleton. I was probably doing this as a regular contributor for CANADIAN BOOK REVIEW ANNUAL.
Another poet who died young was Shaunt Basmajian, and there are notes on my plans to attend his poetry wake in Toronto.

Another project I was involved with was co-publishing an anthology titled SMALL PRESS LYNX with Edmonton poet Mark MCCawley. There are also travel plans for a Canada Council sponsored reading in Edmonton which Mark arranged for me.

Another project with Mark was his publication with his Greensleeves Press of a broadsheet of my poetry titled MOON CITY. There is a checklist of the poets and magazines where sent copies of this broadsheet on the next-to-last page. 

All in all, this old notebook provides a fascinating snapshot of the life I was beginning to live in rural Ontario, and a glimpse back at the very active life I had led in Toronto on the poetry and political scenes. It covers the year I turned 41.

peace & poetry power!
Chris (Faiers) ... and Chase wffffffffffffffffffffff (who has slept thru this pleasant hour of typing & reminiscing)

1 comment:

Mark McCawley said...

Thanks for the stroll down memory lane, Chris. Dominion Day In Jail remains one of my all time favourite chapbooks. Unfinished Monument Press definitely caught the golden age of small press in Canada. I'm proud to have played a very small part. The poets you published were my education. Be well, you old dog!