Awards: Governor General's Award for English language poetry or drama
October 20, 2012
Dear Chris, et al,
Canada lost one of its greatest poets yesterday. Here is the bio note I wrote for The Ambassador not very long ago.
Raymond Souster was born in Toronto during 1921 and has been a leading member of the Great Generation for the past 70 years. Souster won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1964 (for The Colour of the Times), was presented with Canada’s Centennial Medal in 1967, won the City of Toronto Book award in 1979 (for Hanging In), and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995. He was a founding member of the League of Canadian Poets and served as LCP President from 1967 to 1971. He is the author of well over 70 books, largely of poetry, most recently Easy Does It and Never Counting the Cost.
Souster served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. In the 1950s, he edited first Contact and later Combustion, the foremost Canadian poetry magazines of their day. He also ran Contact Press for 15 years (1952 – 1967), which published many of Canada’s most important contemporary poets. Souster lives in Toronto with his wife Rosalia.
Or you can check Ray on Google. In my short bio I only hit some (but certainly not all) of the highlights. The bio on Google has not been updates since 2006, so it does not mention Ray’s most recent 13 books. You read correctly, 13 new books in 6 years. And a 14th book was almost completed.
. . . James
The shy man was absent
(Raymond Souster Tribute, Nov. 22, 2011)
The shy man was absent
from his own poetry tribute
sixty plus of us crammed
the second floor of Runnymede Library
the shy man's bookish retreat
for most of his 90 years
The shy man's imprint was Contact
(irony universal in poetry's ascent)
he made contact with poetry readings
poetry magazines and poetry organizations
poetry of the best, by the best
but poetry for everyone
The shy man slipped his teller's cage
miraculously to birth, with a few close friends
the modern age of Canadian poetry
A bank teller, for God's sake
who never swore, womanized
stole a dime, overwrote a line
Will he even show up for his own funeral?
will we file past an empty casket
the shy man busy elsewhere, composing perhaps
When the shy man passes
to join his legion of friends
in the Canuck poetry pantheon
we earthbound ones will need
a statue or two
to fix his shy spirit a place
beside bronze Al in Queen's Park?
(Al shy? - all poets are shy)
or comfortable yards apart
from an even shyer genius
Glen on his permanent bench
outside CBC quarters?
until the time of bust in bronze
poet after poet visits Ray
in a nursing home just around
Runnymede's comfortable corner
But tonight the shy man's legacy connects
a tribal gathering of poets his tribute
not one empty chair
Pape and Queen
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Nov. 25, 2011
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On 2012-10-20, at 5:01 PM, Fiorito, Joe wrote:
his ashes should be carried up Yonge St. by elephants
Joe Fiorito, city columnist
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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Poetry Tribe* Honours Elder: Raymond Souster
Last winter professor/philosopher/author Terry Barker began lobbying me to feature the life and work of seminal Canadian poet Raymond Souster at our annual August Purdy Country LitFest (PurdyFest) gathering. Terry explained Souster's key roles in creating a modern Canadian poetry, and the major roles he played in founding the League of Canadian poets and in reinvigorating public Canadian poetry readings.
Of course I was quickly won over, but Terry persisted in advocating for Ray. I learned Terry was visiting Ray on a regular basis in his nursing home, as were poets James Deahl, Kent Bowman, Donna Dunlop, Mick Burrs and probably others. And at 90 years old, Ray was publishing another collection, BIG SMOKE BLUES.
And so Terry and poet Anna Yin gave presentations on Ray at this summer's Symposium at PurdyFest #5. Anna's powerpoint display was a nice counterpoint to Terry's academic overview of Ray's work and historical importance to the CanLit scene. But it seemed a pity that only 13 Purdyfesters, gathered in the rural Ontario Marmora Public Library meeting room, had the opportunity to share in their enthusiastic knowledge.
I suggested they should repeat their performance in Toronto, while Ray is still alive, and where Ray lives. Thus was created the idea for last night's heartfelt tribute to Ray at the Runnymede Public Library in west end Toronto. Unfortunately Ray was unwell, on antibiotics, and unable to attend. But an intimate gathering of 60 filled the pleasant meeting room on the library's upper floor to hear tributes from poets Ray has influenced.
Helen flint, the new Runnymede Head Librarian, warmly welcomed us, and introduced poet Allan Briesmaster, who hosted the tribute. She noted Runnymede Library has been Ray's lifelong branch of Toronto Public Library, and that preliminary meetings of the League of Canadian Poets were held nearby.
I didn't take notes, being eager to listen without distraction, so this is a subjective report on the evening, rather than a journalistic one. Apologies for names omitted or misspelled. Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito was one of the speakers, and I suspect Joe will write a more professional report on events. Joe also gave one of the most striking tributes. He told of arriving in TO from Fort William, an eager and naive young poet, eager to meet established poets. After much hesitation, Joe found Ray's number in the phone book, and finally screwed up his courage to call. Ray's wife answered, and upon learning Joe is a 'good Italian boy', she encouraged a reluctant Ray to meet the neophyte poet. Ray took Joe to lunch, and complimented him on his poetry. Joe's advice to young poets having lunch with their idols, 'Don't order soup - it's obvious your hand is shaking with each spoonful'.
John Robert Colombo told another favourite tale. Although the creator of public poetry readings in Canada, Ray left much to be desired as the host and emcee. 'He was a bit stiff, as if still in the bank teller's cage where he worked. And he was very shy'. JRC listed the poets in one of Ray's rosters, each one now famous. 'Ray admired maritime poet Alden Nowlan (as do I), and brought Nowlan to TO for a reading, at some considerable expense. After the audience had settled, Ray stepped forward to shyly announce that unfortunately the feature poet hadn't arrived. A hand went forward from the back of the room, and an even shyer voice managed to speak up, Yes, I'm here!'
Each presenter gave a brief and heartfelt tribute to Ray. Greg Gatenby, founder of Harbourfront's world class International authors series, told of how Ray inspired him to found the series. Poets Mick Burrs, James Deahl, Kent Bowman and Norma West Linder gave emotional tributes which caused small gasps in the audience.
Novelist Hugh Cook drove from Hamilton to reminisce about writing his master's thesis on Ray's work, and how surprised he was that Anna Yin had somehow discovered this lost treasure in university library archives.
Ray's close friend Donna Dunlop closed the evening with another sign of Ray's generosity and love and support of poetry and the poetry tribe. She drew tickets from a coffee cup, each of the 5 winners receiving a collection of 5 of Ray's signed poetry collections.
* I believe it was poet James Deahl who told me that Toronto People's poet Ted Plantos referred to the poets he knew as a "tribe".
signing off for now for dinner ... maybe more later, with possible revisions, but wanted to write this while the memories of last nite are so fresh
... and Chase ... wrffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff!
Thursday, Nov. 24/11
A few more thoughts on Tuesday's Tribute to Ray Souster.
At the Tribute I learned why Ray Souster named both his reading series and his mag/imprint "Contact". Ray wanted to make contact with his readers, something which now sounds so obvious, but in the 1940s & '50s, when elitist & academic poets were in the ascendancy, writing and READING poetry to, for and by 'the masses' was a novel idea.
People's Poetry (Canuck)
Souster's concern and leadership with writing & reading accessible poetry led the way for the creation of Canadian People's Poetry, as exemplified by poets such as Milton Acorn, Al Purdy, Ted Plantos - indeed, according to James Deahl, the majority of Canadian poets now consider themselves to be People's Poets. So in some respect, most of us are the poetic children and grandchildren of Raymond Souster.
A toast to Ray
After the Tribute, about a dozen of us wandered Bloor Street West until we found a pub with enough room & tolerance to accommodate our motley throng. First order of business: a hearty toast to Ray and his productivity and longevity!
'thank you!' to everyone who participated in this Tribute to Ray
note to Conrad - I'm still in TO, but I'll ask Terry Barker if he can recommend a collected of Ray's poetry
Hi again Conrad,
Terry Barker and I chatted last nite about your request for info on a collected of Ray's poetry. Terry knows more about CanPo than any other person I know. Terry informed me Ray's longtime publisher, Oberon Press, published a multi-volume set (6?) of his complete works some time ago. But Ray is so prolific, there will be hundreds, if not thousands more of his poems now. Terry also told me Bruce Whiteman has published an entire book just of Ray's titles and annotations - again, this would be missing the many more recent publications by Ray.
Fiorito: Happy birthday, Raymond Souster
A tribute to Raymond Souster?
The League of Canadian Poets, which Souster helped to found, has announced an annual prize in his name, to honour the best book of poetry by a League member.
The prize is apt and overdue.
But Souster is not just a champion of the league; he is also this city’s life-long laureate and the reason why so many people, including those who don’t read poetry, smile if you mention these words:
“Ten Elephants On Yonge St.”
Souster will be 90 years old on Sunday. He continues to write short, sharp poems; a lesson in this for all of us, and for some of us.
Greg Gatenby — you remember him from Harbourfront, and the International Festival of Authors — smiled somewhat wryly when the poet’s absence was announced. “A cold? That’s what he says. He’s very shy.”
Gatenby should know. He organized the last tribute in Souster’s honour, in 1998. Ray didn’t attend that one, either.
Donna Dunlop, Souster’s friend, editor and right-hand woman, produced a modest letter of regret from the poet, who asked that two of his poems be read.
One of these was, naturally enough, written to celebrate the appearance of the Runnymede Public Library on the Canadian $1 stamp many years ago. The second poem was a blistering anti-war poem, written in 1966 and still topical today.
If the lack of a guest of honour caused the packed house to groan in disappointment, it did not dampen the enthusiasm of those who came to pay homage.
John Robert Colombo spoke wittily and fondly of Souster’s work as an organizer of poetry readings. “He knew every poet worth reading in Japan, Canada, the U.S. and Britain.”
Terry Barker and Anna Yin mounted a kind of poetical, two-handed power-point about Ray, and we watched an NFB animated film of Souster’s poem, “Death By Streetcar.” Oh, children, gone are the days, not when we get run over by streetcars, but when films are made of the resulting poems.
Gatenby offered a charming story: “Ray held a reading for Alden Nowlan at the Isaacs Gallery.” You may know that Nowlan, a poet almost as shy as Souster, is also in the Canadian poetic pantheon.
“The reading was late. Nowlan hadn’t shown up. Ray told people to go home. A voice from the back of the room said, ‘I’m Alden Nowlan.’”
Then, echoing Colombo, Gatenby added this: “Ray ran that reading series for five years. The readers he brought in: Margaret Avison, Phyllis Gottlieb, Jacques Godbout . . . Robert Creeley, Charles Olsen, Frank O’Hara.”
We have nothing like it today.
Hugh Cook, who wrote a dissertation on Souster’s work said, “He wanted to make contact with his readers.” On the page, readers, on the page.
Kent Bowman told the assembled that he’d brought a card for everyone to sign, and everyone did.
Mick Burrs — I know him from the Prairies — read a couple of Souster poems. Norma West Linder was right to compare the poet Souster to the painter Colville.
And then James Deahl said this of Ray: “He teaches you how to live: honest, faithful, hardworking, dedicated, truthful, courageous; I wish I were half the man he is.”
Some 700 poets, members of the League, will be eligible for the $1,000 prize, which was established by an anonymous donation.
The best part of the evening?
Souster’s books were on sale; he asked that the money raised — more than $300 — be given to the Daily Bread Food Bank.
Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
FROM TEN ELEPHANTS ON YONGE STREET
“The Fire In The Tenement”
After the fire in the tenement,
besides the four closets of garbage,
six dozen wine bottles, eighteen gas cookers, seven wood-burning stoves,
three charred bodies found in a room,
which made it a little embarrassing
because not even the landlady
could remember their names.
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from Pearl Pirie:
As Bruce Meyer posted this afternoon on Facebook:
Yesterday Canadian poetry lost one of its giants with the passing of
Raymond Souster. He was the first in Canada to take up the poetics of
William Carlos Williams. His career spanned generations. I saw him about a
year ago and his brilliant mind was still sharp though he was physically
infirm. We talked for about six hours, until I was exhausted. He didn't
want me to leave. His life was Canadian poetry. Rest in peace, Ray. See
you at the World Series.
The author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, he live the entirety of
his life in Toronto, and was once called the citys most loved poet. If you
can find Stephen Cain's essay, Sousters Toronto, I would highly recommend