Time Annotation Layer
0:03 Irving Layton: Testing, testing. Sandra Djwa: Let’s sort of see…. IL: So this will go on for, what, an hour and a half? SD: About an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half. Now, if anybody goes over their ten minutes and they get dangerously close to twelve, I’ll pull them from behind. IL: Right SD: Okay? IL: Yeah, stop us. Stop us in the middle of a sentence. Dorothy Livesay: How will you do it? SD: I’ll pull you from behind, I’ll tweak you. DL: Tweak my tail! SD: I’ll tweak your tail! SD: Okay. dialogue
26:03 AM: And – Am I going over my time yet? SD: Finish your story dialogue
30:10 Audience member laughs. IL: haw, haw! SD: Would you like to step outside? dialogue
31:04 SD: Well, in the feminist ‘60s we sort of read these lines a little differently. But when they first appeared in the ‘50s, they were the gospel. IL: Besides that, their numbers have increased since then. SD: I think we’re meant to thank him. dialogue
46:03 SD: Well, I wonder if we could go back, now that we’ve had a brief overview of the period from the mid-‘20s to the late-‘40s, I wonder if we could go back to Dorothy and especially to the ‘30s. It seems to me, Dorothy, that you started to talk about the Spanish Civil War and there may be some questions that either the panel would like to put to you, or perhaps after we’ve moved through Anne and Irving, members of the audience, too, about the ‘30s and your part in it. Is there anything you’d like to add? dialogue
46:35 DL: Well, could I suggest that we be open to suggestions now with questioners asking whatever person they would like to have answer? Questioners on the panel, and then questioners— IL: And perhaps make a final statement, why not? SD: Yeah sure, how about questions from the floor on the ‘30s. Perhaps we could begin with Dorothy but if there are other questions we want to put we can fit them in, too. dialogue
47:03 SD: We actually have a good twenty to twenty-five minutes if go onto the full final quarter DL: Well, perhaps the panel would like to ask questions? SD: Or members of the panel, too, could feel free to ask questions, through the panel. SD: Yes. dialogue
49:52 SD: I remember that P. K. Page gave her first reading here, actually, in our Canadian Literature course in 1969-70. That was her first reading— DL: And she was terribly afraid, terribly nervous! And now she tours the country reading. dialogue
50:07 SD: Irving, what was your experience in the ‘50s? Did you do any reading? IL: I began to do readings around, I’d say, the middle ‘50s. I remember getting an invitation—Louis and I—getting an invitation to go to Toronto and give a reading there. There were very few readings that I can recall that I gave in Montreal. Wynne Francis, who was teaching at George Williams at the time did something which she considered—and we considered—daring in having John Sutherland and myself appear before one of her classes. But I noticed that the chairman of the department, as soon as I began to speak, just picked himself up and ostentatiously walked out of the room! So there was that kind of protest, you see, against what I was saying, or what Louis was trying to say about the gentility and the anti-sexuality that was prevalent at the time. dialogue
51:58 IL: So maybe things haven’t changed so much after all. SD: I think in answer to that question about the only Canadian poet who was trooping the country after Wilson Macdonald and Roberts and Carman who performed mostly in the ‘20s, about the only poet who trooped around E. J. Pratt. DL: Yes, that’s true. SD: He’s about the only one. DL: He read at universities, that’s true. I first heard “The Witch’s Brew” at Victoria College in Toronto when I was a highschool student and I first heard Pratt reading it. And this was a very exciting moment, to have poetry in the air instead of on the page. dialogue
53:40 SD: I think he’s saying that “the poet is the unacknowledged priest of the world. IL: That’s it, very good. SD: So I think there’s some truth to it. How about other questions from the floor? dialogue
53:51 DL: There’s someone over here. SD: Yes? Could you direct your question to a specific person and maybe could you stand so everyone can hear you? Sorry about that, but we can’t hear from over there. dialogue
1:02:27 DL: But they did stop Hitler—they stopped the war, along with Churchill. IL: That may be so. Of course they did, and we supported… I want to show the strands and the thinking at the time. We certainly supported the Soviet Union and I wrote poems and articles and I was all there, believe me, along with Patrick Anderson and even A. M. Klein. Of course it was important to keep the alliance going. All I’m saying is that because of the alliance, we didn’t examine the credentials. And we didn’t examine, for example, the credentials of the Bolsheviks or the Communists at the time of the Spanish Civil War. It was later that we read George Orwell when we learned what the Communists were doing to the Trotskyists and the Anarchists and the POUN during the Spanish Civil War that we began to rethink the whole issue. dialogue
18:28 AM: I would like to mention, Sandra, that I have had another book since Sandstone and Other Poems. I didn’t sort of just fade out and then I did have Countries in 1971. SD: Thank you. Marriott
18:38 AM: Listening to Dorothy makes me feel as if I had done nothing in the ‘30s and knew absolutely nothing about what was going on in the Canadian literary scene. And I guess that was really quite true. Marriott
18:52 As Sandra has said, I grew up in Victoria. I went to a girl’s private school where the main purpose of our education seemed to be to turn us into nice polite English ladies and maybe to play grass hockey well, which was something I never succeeded in doing. Marriott
19:11 And I can’t remember the Depression, for instance, ever being mentioned at that school and we certainly never heard anything about Canadian literature. We studied Keats and Shelley and we did get up to something as modernist John Masefield but that was where it stopped. Marriott
19:35 AM: I didn’t feel anything of the Depression myself. My father was a civil engineer who worked with the provincial government and although we never seemed to have enough money, at least not in comparison to my schoolmates, we were actually very comfortable. I was sick a great deal and very protected and I think I lived in a sort of nice, comfortable green cocoon in Victoria with no idea what was going on anywhere else. Marriott
20:02 But I did write poetry—well, as early as I can remember it was just a sort of natural part of living was to write poetry and stories. But this poetry of course was all very much influenced by the Keats, Shelley, and possibly Masefield tradition. Marriott
20:21 And I guess about 1936 I got into the Victoria Poetry Group, which was run by Doris Ferne. It was part of the Canadian Authors Association. And in that group I got my first glimmering that there was something else, some other kind of poetry. Marriott
20:41 And the first really big experience was when Ira Dilworth who was then, I think, at Victoria High School and then later on became associated with the CBC in Vancouver read Eliot’s “The Waste Land” at a meeting with the poetry group. Marriott
21:00 And this, to me, was just one of the most wonderful experiences of my life until then. I had never heard anything remotely like that, and the language, and the metaphors. I couldn’t under understand more than half of it of course, if that, but it was just the most marvellous, emotional experience. And I suddenly realized there was a whole new way of writing that I knew nothing about. Marriott
21:25 And around the same time, Alan Crawley—whom I will speak more about in a minute—came to Victoria and he was another person who read modern poetry, and who really showed me more of what was going on. Marriott
21:43 As I’ve said, the poetry that I wrote was all very much the nice little lyrics about laurel hedges and waves on the beach, and this kind of thing. Marriott
21:53 Until 1937 when I had been ill for quite a long time and our English family doctor suggested I should go to a high dry climate to recuperate, and my parents sent me off to Saskatchewan to my aunt’s. So instead of the moist greenness of Victoria, here was this enormous prairie, absolutely baked brown, full of wind, and dust blowing, and poverty. Marriott
22:29 And this was really a very traumatic experience. But actually it was the best time I’d ever had in my life until then because I went to—well, I think Sandra mentioned—that I went to dances in the schoolhouse and rode horseback and went to stampedes in the little town and I really had a great time. Marriott
22:51 Because one of the reasons I hadn’t been aware of what was going on, I think, was that I was excessively shy, so I was very comfortable with nature but I wasn’t very comfortable with people. And that was why, I suppose, why I wrote nature poetry, but when I got to Saskatchewan I felt very comfortable with the people there who seemed much more real than my schoolmates and I was accepted there and I had a very happy time. Marriott
23:19 But although I was enjoying myself so much I was very much aware for the first time in my life of pain and despair in the people around me. And I was also extremely aware of the difference in the landscape. Marriott
23:37 And so when I got back to Victoria, I had been home about three days and I was sitting at lunch in our dining room and suddenly a line of poetry began to form in my mind: “Wind flattening its gaunt furious self against the naked siding” and just like that I began to write “The Wind, Our Enemy” on the back of an envelope and I remember very clearly my mother cautioning me not to get ink on the tablecloth and I remember also noticing the difference—being really aware of the difference—of this nice white damask Victoria tablecloth compared to the cracked oil cloth that I had been having meals off of all summer on the prairie farm. Marriott
23:51 AM recites excerpt from "The Wind, Our Enemy" Marriott
24:24 Well, Doris Ferne showed the manuscript for “The Wind, Our Enemy” to Dorothy’s father, J. F. B. Livesay and he took it down to Toronto and it was published by the Ryerson Press and still crops up in anthologies because I guess it was one of the few poems that was written about that era. Marriott
24:45 And so after “The Wind, Our Enemy” came out, then I met Dorothy and other writers who were writing in a modern style and who were writing about the sort of things I was now becoming interested in. Marriott
25:00 But I wanted to mention Contemporary Verse because that was a very important thing, not just to me but to Canadian poets. It was the Easter weekend of 1941 and Dorothy was staying with Floris McLaren, a Victoria writer, and Doris Ferne and I went there for the afternoon, and we were saying how nice it would be if only there were some magazine that would use our poetry. Marriott
25:27 The Canadian Poetry Magazine had been in existence for a while but it was very traditional. It started out well with E. J. Pratt but it became very, sort of, hide-bound. Marriott
25:39 And Dorothy, I think, being the most adventurous one of us said “Why don’t we start a magazine?” And Floris who was very practical said “Oh well, you know that’s just a pipe dream.” But at the end of the afternoon we decided “Well, why not?” We would start a magazine. And somebody said “Well, who would edit it?” and everyone just said at once, “well, Alan Crawley.” Marriott
26:08 AM: Well, Alan Crawley was from Winnipeg. He was a lawyer who was very interested in poetry and had become blind. And he came to Victoria and he had this wonderful store of modern poetry, and he read to people, and he–really, we all caught his enthusiasm for modern poetry, and Contemporary Verse started with—the first issue cost sixteen dollars to bring out, and we had twenty-five subscribers at a dollar each and that launched the magazine, which ran for ten years, and well… published all of us. Marriott
31:59 IL: I’ll try to keep this from a descent into self-indulgent nostalgia. The fact is that I’m here tonight entirely through an accident, but I did write a poem some time ago called “Fortuna Et Cupidas” or “Chance and Appetite.” It’s a chance that I’m a poet. Layton
32:21 And it came about because my sister-in-law Eckie was working the Diana Grill in Montreal and at that same place John Sutherland’s sister Betty was also working as a hat-check girl. Layton
32:40 And one day I was on furlough and my sister-in-law Eckie told me, “you know there’s somebody working at Diana Grill who’s as crazy as you are. You ought to meet her.” And of course that was an invitation I couldn’t refuse so I met Betty and I embraced her the first time I saw her and I said, “You and I will have beautiful children, a prophecy that was fulfilled.” Layton
33:05 So through Betty I met John [Sutherland] who had just started First Statement because, as Sandra’s told you, his poems had been rejected by Preview. Layton
33:19 And I became a member of the editorial board and I had met Louis Dudek when I was at McGill before I went into the army and so I said to Louis, who at that time was working in the Sun Life Building, “Why don’t you come along and join up?” And so he did. Layton
33:41 And so we had the group. The trio of John Sutherland, Louis Dudek, and myself, and then there was John Sutherland’s girlfriend who became his wife, Audrey Aikman and my wife Betty Sutherland. We composed the editorial board of First Statement. Layton
34:03 There were several things that bound us together. One, our opposition to Canadian gentility. The feeling that there had to be a gap where some people believed, especially the academics, who were mostly English. You must remember what the period is. Most of the heads of the Canadian universities were imported from Great Britain. Just as now some of them are imported from the United States of America. And they, in turn, imported teachers, instructors, also from Great Britain. And they had absolutely no use for Canadian literature—it didn’t exist. Layton
34:56 And so we were protesting against that: the gentility that separated culture from reality. That’s how I define both gentility and academicism. And the three of us felt—we all felt—that this was bad. Layton
35:16 The other thing that bound us together was the desire to create a national poetry. Not nationalistic—a distinction that has to be made. We weren’t going to keep out foreign influences. On the contrary, we were very much interested in what was happening in the United States, and to distinguish ourselves from Preview, I would say that we were more interested in the American poets like Cummings and Frost, and Hart Crane, and of course, the father of them all, Walt Whitman, than we were in the English poets. Layton
35:48 We felt that the Preview poets were very much oriented towards W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot. I had very little use then for T. S. Eliot. I’ve never been able to develop a real liking for him. I had some kind of admiration for W. B. Yeats, but certainly my heart was not with them as it was with the American poets. Layton
36:19 Another thing that bound us was a kind of realism, a desire to describe the world as we saw it. Louis and I were both fortunate enough to be brought up in the slummy areas of Montreal. We knew something about prostitutes and drunks and crime and the more sordid aspects of urban life. And we were turning against the landscape poetry of Carmen and Roberts and so on. We wanted to express the urban reality. Layton
36:57 And finally, of course, there was the left-wing orientation. Like the poets of Preview we were socialist in our outlook—left-wing in our outlook—I was a Marxist. Louis was not quite a Marxist but sympathetic. John Sutherland embraced Marxism, and largely because I was his brother-in-law, and also because I was always thundering at him, you know, excerpts from The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital and The Class Struggles in France and all that. Layton
37:31 So these were the things that bound us together. There was a great deal of rivalry between Preview and First Statement. They were the older writers—F. R. Scott, A. M. Klein, A. J. M. Smith. And there was Patrick Anderson, and I have to pay my tribute, my respects to Patrick Anderson. Layton
37:57 He was an Englishman and he came hot with the gospel right off the griddle of Dylan Thomas and the left-wing poets, Auden and Spender and people like that. We had not even heard of them—at least I hadn’t. Layton
38:14 And he knew the European poets. He knew poets like Stefan George and Rilke, and—oh, he was a blazing meteor that burst into the sky and for someone like myself who had never heard—let alone of European poetry—but I had never heard of T. S. Eliot! I mean, the universities were doing then a pretty good job of insulating anyone from any kind of useful or necessary knowledge. Layton
38:42 So I went through the university without ever hearing of T. S. Eliot. And of course when I was in highschool, not only did I hear of any important English poetry, but I had never heard of Canadian poets like Lampman, or Duncan Campbell Scott, or Sir Charles G. D. Roberts. I was brought up with the notion that to be a poet you had to be either English or dead! Layton
39:08 IL: Imagine me going through the university and never hearing of T. S. Eliot or Auden or any of the important contemporary poets. Well, can you imagine my surprise and my delight in discovering modern poetry? And I discovered it largely through the influence of John Sutherland, and his sister Betty, and I got my first glimpse of Eliot and can you imagine the strangeness of a line like “an evening spread upon the table like an etherized patient”? How foreign it sounded to somebody who’s brought up on [quoting William Wordsworth] “I wandered as lonely as a cloud / that floats on high.” Or [quoting Lord Alfred Tennyson] “Break, break, break / On thy cold gray stones.” Layton
40:01 And coming across Auden—the foreign-ness, the strangeness of Auden’s line “Sir, no man’s enemy, forgiving all / But will his negative inversion”— how strange it sounded, how fascinating, how delightful. Layton
40:20 And all the surrealism and the fantasy and the imagination and what they were doing with language. That, for me, was the great thrill. And had I not met John through my wife Betty, I dare say I would’ve gone onto become a wealthy multi-millionaire in real estate, or somebody like that, instead of a poor poet. Layton
39:43 IL recites excerpt from "The Wasteland" by T. S. Eliot Layton
39:52 IL recites excerpt from "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" by William Wordsworth and "Break Break Break" by Lord Alfred Tennyson Layton
40:05 IL recites excerpt from poem "Sir, No Man's Enemy (Petition Poem)" by W. H. Auden Layton
40:43 It was great. And how wonderful—how wonderful to meet people like A. M. Klein and Frank Scott and Page and Anderson. All of them devoted to the craft of poetry. That’s what they taught me—that poetry was a craft. Layton
41:04 And their devotion to that craft, that there was something more in life than making money or achieving success, that getting a good poem done was the greatest thing you could accomplish. Having people who felt that way about it. That they survived to—know that somebody like A. M. Klein walked the streets of Montreal, that he was a poet that had been published, and that he had survived. Layton
41:31 You must remember what the climate was then—the literary and cultural desert that Canada was in 1942, 1943. And suddenly to find a group of like-minded men and women who loved poetry, and every time we met at this man’s house or that man’s house, taking out a poem that you had just composed and reading it, and getting their criticism—criticism from those that valued the craft of poetry and had devoted their lives to it. For me, that is the essence of the ‘40s. Layton
42:14 Apart from the rivalries and the jealousies, and the envy, the burning envy when a poet like Patrick Anderson published a poem—like his marvellous poem “Summer’s Joe” or “Canada,” you burned with envy, you wanted to do something better than he had done. Or getting Louis Dudek’s first copy of Unit of Five published along with four other poets and you were excluded. The burning, seething envy, you know? Layton
42:49 Great, great experiences, you see? Where it was that rivalry, it was that competition. But it was competition and rivalry to achieve the best, you see? And that’s a different kind of competition. Layton
43:03 So you had First Statement and you had Preview and eventually, because we had the press, and they had the prominent writers—the well-known writers like Patrick Anderson and Frank Scott and A. M. Klein and Pat Page and A. J. M. Smith—anthologist, critic, poet. And we were obscure writers then. John Sutherland, Louis Dudek, myself—well, we came together. It was a marriage of convenience. They wanted the press and we wanted to be associated with these great authors. And so that is how Northern Review was formed. And one evening we were all together and somebody remarked, “well, if somebody threw a bomb now, Canadian literature would be put back 50 to 100 years.” You know, we were all there. Layton
43:55 And then the rivalries that erupted between the old rivalries that had been suppressed that again erupted between the First Statement group and the Preview group, and because of the review that John Sutherland had written over [Robert] Finch’s receiving the Governor General’s medal, the whole Preview group resigned en mass, leaving the original First Statement-ers. Layton
44:22 So there was John Sutherland and myself and Audrey Aikman, his wife, and Betty and Louis Dudek at that time was in New York. And then Louis and I called because John became increasingly religious, Catholic, reactionary. He turned against all the idols that he and I had espoused so vehemently. Nietzsche and Lawrence, you know, modern poetry. Now he had turned his back on that, and of course I couldn’t go along with that. So I resigned and John was left as the editor of Northern Review but this time a different kind of magazine from what it had been originally when First Statement and Northern Review had come together. Layton
51:10 IL: You know the glorious thing, I mean this is no longer true, but how glorious to be alive at a time when you could astound and bewilder an entire country by putting forward two simple propositions, such as: sex is here to stay and sex is enjoyable Layton
51:45 IL: But if you said that at that time, or if you said that a woman had breasts and other delightful things, there was a silence—a shocked silence… almost like the one that happened just now. Layton
53:02 IL: Of course the reason for the popularity of poetry readings is simple, isn’t it? Namely that the rabbis and the ministers and the priests have lost the kind of authority and prestige that they had and poets have really taken the place of the discredited ministers. Layton
53:16 People go to poetry readings for spiritual uplift. They don’t go—the young people don’t go to churches, they don’t go to the synagogue. There’s no spiritual uplift to be found there. But you might possibly find something like that a poetry reading! So there’s a laying-on of hands, there’s benison and prayer at poetry readings. So in effect I think that poetry readings have taken the place of chapel-going. Layton
1:00:43 IL: Of course Dorothy is quite right in saying that the Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for the Second World War. The fascists—the Germans and the Italians—were using Spain as a sort of testing ground for their blitzkrieg, and the democracies were asleep. And the poets were aware of what was happening and they knew that what was happening in Spain was heralding World War II. Layton
1:01:19 But there was another element that was beginning to enter and I think it has to be mentioned because it certainly played a part in my own later development, and in the development of the thinking of both John Sutherland and Louis Dudek. Layton
1:01:37 One of the insincerities—one of the hypocrisies, I felt—of Patrick Anderson’s position when he talks about the Preview poets being for democracy was the fact that there was a great support for the Soviet Union at the time because the Soviet Union was regarded as an ally. Layton
1:01:55 Joe Stalin and Communism were regarded as allies of the democracies so we didn’t look too closely into their credentials. But in the latter part of the decade it was becoming quite clear to me that Joe Stalin was as blood-thirsty a dictator as Hitler had been. And that Joe Stalin and the Bolsheviks had killed more people, more innocent people than Hitler, and Mussolini. Layton
6:41 DL: Thank you Livesay
6:50 DL: I have so much to cover that I expect I shall be plucked by the tail and told to stop! Livesay
7:00 The 1920s in Canada were a most unusual period between social upheavals that might have made this country the first British colony to achieve socialism. Livesay
7:09 All of Canada experienced the trauma of the First World War with its decimating losses of young men. All of Canada, proud at first to have been a contributing partner in the British Empire was seized by another kind of pride – that of being Canadian and of desiring complete independence and nationhood. Livesay
7:28 That was one dominant element in the ‘20s as I was a young girl still at school: Canadian nationalism. It was strong enough to push for complete independence from Britain, achieved at the end of the decade through the Treaty of Westminster. Livesay
7:44 But there was another kind of ferment going on during the ‘20s – a social ferment. The defeat of the 1919 General Strike in Winnipeg, with its parallel struggles in B.C. tended to create a fog around what had really happened and why. Livesay
7:59 It is only in our time that the historians have documented the poverty of the new immigrants, the low wages and long hours, the return of veterans expecting to be heroes but finding only unemployment. The ruthlessness of the state in bringing in the police against peaceful demonstrators. Livesay
8:16 Yet all the time there were documents to be had and found – for the writers were writing. Their books were being published all through the ‘20s. Livesay
8:25 In Manitoba the first literature of social protest was being created by all manner of folk who were close to the people and wanted their voices heard. This is the whole ‘populist’ movement of Canadian prose fiction, which has been dismissed by critics and forgotten, but it was a tremendous thing because Ralph Connor and Nellie McClung really were speaking of the social evils of the day, and presenting them—and their books sold by the … 50,000. Livesay
8:57 So they were laying the basis—this populist movement of prose writers—were laying the basis, I think, for all that happened afterwards—the fact that the Canadian novel really came to birth on the prairie in Manitoba, with the descendants of Martha Ostenso, the descendants of Laura Goodman Salverson, the descendants of Mazo de la Roche in Ontario. People who wrote for the people, but did not write brilliant literary pieces of work, but they laid the basis, I believe, for Margaret Lawrence, for Adele Wiseman, for Gabrielle Roy, and the Canadian novel came to birth and to long life. Livesay
9:45 In the field of poetry the picture is less clear. It’s been obscured on the one hand by the hangover from the Confederation Poets, particularly Roberts and Carman, who returned to Canada after the war after 25 years [of] exile—they were both in the states—and toured the country with their less than passionate lyricism and nature poetry. Livesay
10:05 These were fascinating literary figures, who traveled up and down the country reading their poems, and as a young girl I was extremely interested in them, of course. I make no bones about the influence they had on a young student like myself. But their influence on the literary scene was to send poetasters and sunday poets backwards. Most of the people writing for the newspapers and so on were dubbed “The Maple Leaf School.” Livesay
10:34 Only in isolated productions did Carman in his Sappho poems and Roberts in a poem like “The Iceberg” reveal their own interest in free verse poems. So, the fact that they were not concerned with modern poetry led the younger people in the country to resist it, and to write against what they had been doing. Livesay
11:00 And the influence that caught hold of the imagination of young poets in Ontario like Raymond Knister and in Montreal Louise Morey Bowman, and myself also in Ontario, and two other poets in Ontario—W. W. E. Ross and the painter Lauren Harris—the influence which really caught their attention was imagism, which was an international movement in poetry centered in England and the United States. Livesay
11:35 I think that that movement had a tremendous effect on these individual poets, such as Raymond Knister, Ross, and myself. Because it was concerned with plain speech, free rhythm—a debarassment—a taking away of all the clutter of adjectives and adverbs and of poetic structures and speaking out plainly about the immediate place and time. So these individual poets, I feel, gave our poetry a locus and a focus. Moment and scene. Time and place. Livesay
12:20 In my view it was a great pity that the Montreal McGill group published in 1937 an anthology written some ten years earlier of poems largely irrelevant to the Canadian literary scene to the needs of the time. Livesay
12:34 It seems to me that what was going on in individual poets in Ontario was being ignored entirely by the Montreal group who were internationalists and were not really being concerned with place. Livesay
12:53 Be that as it may, we all did get together and know each other. I knew Leo Kennedy well, and A. M. Klein, A. J. M. Smith, and all that group—of whom I’m sure Irving Layton will tell us more. Livesay
13:08 Leo Kennedy is perhaps the most interesting member of that Montreal group because he started out being an Eliot man and a mythic, mythopoaic poet and he started a magazine called Canadian Mercury which was to propagate the new idea of the new writing, and then when the ‘30s came along and the Depression hit him, he became a Marxist and his whole poetry changed, from being religious and mythical, to a poetry dealing with the crisis in the country—the unemployed crisis. Livesay
13:51 I don’t believe I can possibly talk about what happened in the ‘30s in a very brief space. Let me tell you that we started a theatre movement in Canada—a worker’s theatre movement—which made a great impact on the country and we started two magazines. One was Masses, which was proletarian literature to the hilt, very working-class and left-wing. And then a much more united-front magazine called New Frontier, which really sprang to life because of the Spanish Civil War and the struggle against it. Livesay
14:33 I’m sure we all know by now that Canada sent more soldiers to aid Republican Spain than any other country except France. We sent twelve-hundred young men, and only six hundred came back. And this event stirred the imagination of the poets writing, especially a lot of newer voices like P. K. Page, Miriam Waddington, Ralph Gustafson and F. R. Scott also was writing poems about Spain. Livesay
15:03 And then there were two very interesting proletarian-oriented—labour-oriented—poets. Balladeers. One, Joe Wallace from Nova Scotia. A Catholic who was also a communist. And the other, a man who died only recently, Kenneth Leslie—also a Catholic and a great supporter of the miner’s union in Cape Breton. His poems aren’t known at all but they have now been published since his death in a Collected Poems and this little paperback called O’Malley to the Reds where a Catholic priest argues with the leaders of a miner’s trade union. Livesay
15:45 So all these things were happening in this country but they weren’t published at the time. They’re only being looked at and known about now. But if you do want to learn more, read in your library the files of New Frontier. Thank you. Livesay
47:26 DL: As far as I know there were no readings anywhere. The readings are a phenomenon of the ‘60s and the ‘70s. It’s true that once Contemporary Verse got going in B.C. Alan Crawley and Earle Birney did do readings and talked about poetry on the CBC and they also started a movement of readings in the highschools in Vancouver, way back in the ‘40s. Livesay
47:58 But in the ‘30s there were absolutely no readings. We were much too, I think, embarrassed or shy even to read much, even to each other. Everything was the printed and that’s why the magazine was such an important thing. People–or poets–were working together to produce a magazine and to try and get an audience for it with no help whatsoever—remember there was no Canada Council and there was no possible way of getting help for these, except when we went out and begged or had socials to raise money for our projects. Or perhaps we would find one or two sugar daddies who would kindly give us a hundred dollars to do the next issue, that sort of thing. Livesay
48:45 New Frontier itself was financed by a great friend of mine who herself had gone to the Spanish Civil War as an ambulance driver. But she helped finance it because her grandfather happened to be a capitalist and she inherited some of his money. So here was this left-wing socialist magazine financed by capitalist money. Livesay
49:10 I think it’s very hard for you to understand—there was no CBC in the sense of continuing putting on programs of Canadian writing and there was no Canada Council whatsoever. It wasn’t until 1949—was it?—that the commission… SD: The Massy Commission. DL: …. The Massy Commission investigating the arts came up with the idea that there should be a Canada Council. Also from about the ‘50s on, Canadian Literature was launched by George Woodcock. So we lived in, I suppose, small pockets of people doing things, but never really reaching the mass of the people at all. Livesay
54:27 DL: Well, it was the greatest issue, I think, in Canada, and one that united Canadians in a way that nothing else did. It certainly united the writers. I became an activist when I came back from France in 1931 and I joined a peace group which became the League Against War and Fascism and I joined a youth anti-war group, and we also went out into the streets whenever there were any struggles with the police and the unemployed or any mining or lumber strikes across the country. The writers went out and documented this and wrote about it in the left-wing press and out of that came a lot of my poems about struggle, like “Day and Night” and “The Outrider” and a thing called “Depression Suite” about Toronto unemployed. Livesay
55:28 So we were very much ‘with it.’ Particularly this was the case when I was a social worker in Montreal and Toronto and I think there was a hardly a day that went by when we didn’t make some act or do some speaking against the danger of fascism coming. And this was the time when, was it Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here in the United States—a book that influenced of us because he showed that fascism was already showing itself in the United States. Livesay
56:00 And we could certainly see it in the police actions against, say, Montreal unemployed. I remember walking along the street with the unemployed and the police of Montreal coming out on horseback and the horses kicking us back against the buildings as we marched along the sidewalk. I had seen a lot of this in France when I was at the Sorbonne. But it was a strange thing to find it in Canada. Livesay
56:30 DL: So it was absolutely—we were certain that unless we stopped it there would be World War. And we were certain that Hitler and Mussolini had to be stopped and therefore the Spanish Civil War was the thing that revealed to us that the chance had come to stop both of these things: war and fascism. Livesay
56:52 And if it hadn’t been for the non-intervention of Britain, France, and the United States who allowed German and Italian planes and bombs and guns and tanks to come into Spain on behalf of Franco… if there had not been such a non-intervention, I think we might have stopped fascism and then have stopped the war because Hitler and Mussolini used Spain to get practice for their next move. Livesay
57:27 And we knew this—all the young people I was with knew this was happening and it was kind of—for Canada—it was kind a struggle such as the Americans had over Vietnam. It was our one great struggle. After that, as you know, instead of having a change of society after the war, we went back to comfort and negligence and consumerism. And so everything we had fought for seemed to have been lost. Livesay
58:16 DL: No, you are quite correct in saying that the poets I’ve mentioned and know now or were writing on behalf of Spain in New Frontier were middle-class. But there were many other unsung poets and balladeers such as I mentioned earlier, such as Joe Wallace and Kenneth Leslie in the Maritimes. There were singers and balladeers in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. It’s just that their work was never published in Canada. Joe Wallace was published in Russia and he got most of his audience from there eventually. Livesay
59:05 But all that side of labour writing didn’t get published and it’s only now that people are collecting prints to short stories written at the time. I’ve read some fifty short stories written in the ‘30s about the struggles. Realist stories, surrealist stories, ironic, satiric stories that are very worth looking at. And they are just now being collected. Livesay
59:29 So there’s this strange, strange lapse between what happened as history in the ‘30s and our sudden new interest in it. There have been more books about socialism and communism in Canada and its origins—there have been more books in this last few years than ever before. And there are more biographies and autobiographies of people like Tim Buck, Tom McEwan, J.S.Woodsworth, all of these. Livesay
59:57 It’s the strangest thing that there was almost this complete wipeout of what had happened and of the people who lived through it. But it’s rather marvellous to know that it’s finally being written and published and the novels today that go back that remember, like Garner’s Cabbagetown and the novel of Irene Baird about the unemployed sit-down in Victoria. SD: [whispering] Waste Heritage DL: —has been republished in paperback. And then you have writers like Anne Henry writing about the unemployed days of her youth. Livesay
1:00:33 All kinds of books are coming out now and I don’t know how to explain it, but this is what’s happening and I find it it’s a very healthy thing. Livesay
6:40 Applause audience
16:01 Applause audience
18:19 Applause audience
19:18 Audience laughter audience
22:08 Audience laughter audience
26:45 Applause audience
31:02 Audience groans audience
31:15 Audience laughter and groans audience
31:55 Applause audience
42:48 Audience laughter audience
43:50 Audience laughter audience
45:13 Applause audience
47:16 Audience question relating to prevalence of poetry readings in the period audience
51:26 Audience laughter and groans audience
54:10 Audience member asking question of poets' impressions of impending fascism and their impressions of the people around them audience
57:57 Audience member asking question about the poets' educational backgrounds audience
0:45 SD: I wonder if we could have your attention.The subject of tonight’s symposium is “Poetry of the Thirties and Forties”. The poetry that really laid the foundation, in fact started modern poetry, and laid the foundation for the contemporary. Djwa
1:01 We’re fortunate tonight in having here with us some of the major poets from this period. Dorothy Livesay, who began writing in Ontario in the late 20s, Anne Marriott, whose major poem was written in B.C. In 1939, “The Wind Our Enemy,” and Irving Layton who began to write in Montreal in the early 40s. Djwa
1:24 We’re happy to have Anne here substituting for P. K. Page, who wasn’t able to come. And we very much regret that F. R. Scott has been ill, and is not able to be with us. Djwa
1:37 Our format this evening will consist of a brief introduction to each of the three poets, followed by an overview of their particular period by each of the poets. We will then move onto a general discussion with the panel, and after that we will throw the meeting open for questions. Djwa
1:58 Now, I’d like to begin, perhaps, by invoking F. R. Scott in spirit, since he can’t be here in person. Because it was Scott’s satirical verse, “The Canadian Authors Meet,” written in 1927, which really sketches out the kind of poetry that most of our three panelists were reacting against. Djwa
2:20 This was the poem entitled “The Canadian Authors Meet” and it was written at the Ritz Carleton Hotel one night in 1927 while Scott, sitting at the back of the room, watched A. J. M. Smith go up to the front of the room to get two prizes for two sonnets, which he had submitted pseudonymously. The poem that Scott wrote is this: Djwa
2:45 SD recites poem “The Canadian Authors Meet” by F. R. Scott. Djwa
3:44 SD: Well, Scott was parodying the kind of poetry that he didn’t care for. Djwa
3:50 Dorothy Livesay who is going to begin tonight’s symposium will be telling us something about the Miss Crotchets, the lady poets of the 20s, who preceded her. Djwa
4:01 More importantly, she will be telling us about another strain of poetry - an important imagist line that began with Raymond Knister that carried on through W. W. E Ross, and also she will be talking about, briefly, the poetry of Louise Morey Bowman. Djwa
4:19 SD: Dorothy knows the world of the woman artist firsthand, because her mother, Florence Randal Livesay was a well-known poet of the 20s. Her father, J. F. B. Livesay was for some time a head of Canadian Press. Djwa
4:33 Dorothy’s first book of poetry, Green Pitcher was published in 1928. It differs from the earlier verse—much of the earlier verse of the 20s—in that you will find here an original voice which draws on the new imagist movement for its form. Djwa
4:51 Early in the 30s she became committed to the left. Her poetry, which had earlier concentrated on nature, now turned to human nature. And particularly the social struggle and its place in a reconstructed society. Djwa
5:07 She was associated with the short-lived little magazine Masses, which ran from 1932 to ’34, and with the left-wing New Frontier of 1937. Djwa
5:19 It was her poem, “Day and Night,” a description of the toiling factory worker, which for many Canadians epitomized what was wrong with the industrial system. Djwa
5:30 SD recites excerpt from “Day and Night” by Dorothy Livesay. Djwa
5:37 The whole fascinating story of these years is to be found in her recently published book, Right Hand Left Hand, a montage of letters, documents, and clippings from the period. Djwa
5:49 In 1941, Dorothy was one of the founders of Contemporary Verse, that British Columbia little magazine which was one of the first to decentralize Canadian poetry. Her collected poems, The Two Seasons, was published in 1972. She received two Governor General’s awards: one for Day and Night in 1944 (the book this time, not the poem); and in 1947 for her Poems for People. She received the Queen’s Jubilee medal in 1977. Djwa
6:21 Through her candor and her explicit statement of the woman’s position, Dorothy Livesay has had a considerable influence on younger woman poets in the 60s and 70s. Tonight she will be describing the literary climate of the 20s and some of the more exciting events of the 30s. Dorothy Livesay. Djwa
16:11 SD: I think that when we get through hearing each of the panelists in turn it might be a good idea to go back to you, Dorothy, and to ask you more about the ‘30s and especially the Spanish Civil War and the way in which it had an influence here in Canada. Djwa
16:28 SD: To introduce our second panelist, Anne Marriott: Anne comes to poetry with a somewhat different perspective than either Dorothy or Irving in that she didn’t hold a particular ideological position during what was really a highly political decade—the ‘30s. Djwa
16:48 SD: She is a B.C. writer, educated in Victoria at Norfolk House and she later took courses in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Djwa
16:58 During a summer visit to the prairies, she experienced some of the effects of a long depression and drought. It was near the end of the ‘30s when she was in the prairies. Her poem “The Wind, Our Enemy,” one of the best known poems of that decade, is a word painting of her own emotional reaction. Djwa
17:18 She received the Governor General’s award for her chapbook Calling Adventurers in 1941 and published Salt Marsh in 1942 and published Sandstone and Other Poems in 1945. Djwa
17:31 In “The Wind, Our Enemy” Anne writes from the perspective of one who feels with and for the prairie farmer as the sun beats down destroying his crop. Djwa
17:43 But on the other hand, she hasn’t forgotten—as some of our writers of the Depression have—the, sort of, enormous human solidarity. There were dances, there were get-togethers, there were soirees in “The Wind, Our Enemy.” Djwa
17:58 She will be describing her approach to her art and her part with Dorothy Livesay in the setting-up of Contemporary Verse. Djwa
18:07 I should mention, as a matter of interest, that all three of our panelists were together, in the pages of Contemporary Verse in 1941. Anne Marriott. Djwa
26:45 SD: That was a darn good magazine! Djwa
26:58 SD: Well, shortly after Contemporary Verse got going and Irving Layton and Dorothy Livesay and Anne Marriott appeared in its pages, Preview, a new little magazine was founded in Montreal. Djwa
27:09 As P. K. Page is not here to tell the Preview story, perhaps we should have a few sentences on it. Preview began in March 1942 as a mimeograph bulletin. F. R. Scott, Patrick Anderson, and Neville Shaw were among the original founders, and P. K. Page and A. M. Klein soon joined the group. Djwa
27:31 The first editorial of this little magazine stated that the poets involved were all anti-fascist, and this is what they said: “We feel that the existence of a war between democratic culture and the paralyzing forces of dictatorship only intensifies the writer’s obligation to work. Now more than ever, creative and experimental writing must be kept alive and there must be no retreat.” Djwa
27:39 SD quoting Preview editors Djwa
27:57 World War II, then, brought with it a new interest in the arts, especially poetry and especially poetry in the service of democracy. Djwa
28:07 First Statement, a second little magazine began shortly after Preview, partly, as Irving will probably tell us, because John Sutherland, the founder of First Statement submitted some poems to Preview and they weren’t accepted. So he then decided he needed an outlet for his poetry and First Statement came into being. Djwa
28:32 First Statement also took a political stand. However, the cosmopolitanism, especially the British influence of the Preview group irked First Statement members, especially John Sutherland, Irving Layton, and Louis Dudek. They saw Preview’s cosmopolitanism as just another name for colonialism. Djwa
28:55 As John Sutherland wrote: “a poet preaching politics in the guise of Auden may be just as colonial as a member of the CAA praising Britain in the metres of Tennyson.” What Sutherland wanted was a poetry that stopped being a parasite on other literatures and has had the courage to decide its own problems in its own way. Djwa
28:57 SD quotes John Sutherland Djwa
29:18 Irving Layton, who began to write in the pages of First Statement, and in fact in the early years of the war as Lieutenant Layton can best speak of this period. Djwa
29:32 He hardly needs an introduction to this audience as many of you will have heard his excellent reading last night. In the early ‘40s, Irving was writing particularly of the social injustices, which he perceived in Montreal and in the larger world around him. Djwa
29:48 In the April 1943 issue of First Statement, we find a verse from Irving called “The Modern Poet” and here are the first four lines: Djwa
29:58 SD recites excerpt from "The Modern Poet" by Irving Layton. Djwa
30:07 Irving Layton, is, above all, a passionate poet. And his great contribution to Canadian literature is that he brought eros to Canadian poetry, where she properly belonged. Djwa
30:32 In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s he complained that Canadians were “too dull, too conservative, and much too neglectful of the joys of the flesh.” Djwa
30:42 In pastorals such as “Look, The Lambs Are All About Us,” he set out to educate Canadians: “Hell, my back sunburnt from so much lovemaking in the open air. What luck, what luck to be loved by the one girl in this Presbyterian country who knows how to give a man pleasure” Djwa
30:48 SD recites excerpt from "Look, The Lambs Are All About Us" by Irving Layton Djwa

SFU Panel Recording: Part 1 at SFU Archives and Records Management.

IIIF manifest: https://teddiebrock.github.io/sfu-poetry-panel/panel-side-a/manifest.json