Articles & Reviews

"Montreal Poetry Tradition", Quebec Writers' Federation Newsletter, Autumn 1998

By Stephen Morrissey

Growing up in Montreal in the 1950s, I always took for granted that poets lived and worked in the community in which I lived. Poets were never "someplace else" - London, Paris, or New York - they were right here. So the idea of becoming a poet was never unusual, indeed, my brother went to high school with Irving Layton's son, and Layton lived a few blocks away. Layton's and Dudek's letters to newspapers, critical of each other, were read with interest. My dentist of the last thirty-five years grew up with "Lenny" Cohen, they used to play at each others' homes. People spoke with pride of F.R. Scott who went to court against the Quebec government defending the freedom of religion of Frank Roncarelli. A.J.M. Smith was a noted Montrealborn anthologist and poet living in the United States, while Ralph Gustafson and John Glassco lived and wrote in North Hately. Al Purdy and Milton Acorn, P.K. Page and Phyllis Webb, all lived for a while in Montreal and contributed to the poetry scene. In high school we read the poems of these people as well as poems by other Canadian poets; I still have the brown covered textbook, A Book of Canadian Poems edited by Carlyle King. Canadian literature was accepted as important, at least by all of us students who didn't know that it was still the exception and not the norm.

We were fortunate then, as we are still today, to live in a community that takes the presence of poets as a given of civilized life. Perhaps it was a smaller and less aggressive world, it was certainly a kinder world in which one could send copies of one's first book of poems to older, respected poets, and receive back a letter welcoming you to the poetry community. This was my experience and I am grateful to all of the poets, those still alive and those deceased, for their kindness. We would not have the poetry community we have today without these older poets - as a literary community we need to honour and celebrate their achievement and dedication to poetry, their presence and work has deepened and made more serious a life that is sometimes brutish and shallow.

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