I

 

79, Chesterfield Avenue,     
Westmount, Montreal, P.Q.,
February 12th, 1927.          


Dear Mr. Knister,

     I am writing to you to express my admiration of your stories and poems in THIS QUARTER1 and to ask you if you would be interested in the starting of a Canadian literary journal that should represent a break from the English tradition and the complacent inanities of the Canadian Author's Association. Surely there must be a few young writers in Canada who are capable of creating a literature that should be roughly complementary to the art of the Group of Seven.2 If we could get a group together and publish, say, a quarterly on fairly cheap paper I think we might do something towards hastening the advent of the long-awaited Canadian renascence: yourself, Morley Callaghan, E.J. Pratt, Merrill Dennison [sic], Fred Jacob are the names that suggest themselves to me.3 I have been helping to edit for the past two years "The McGill Fortnightly Review" and have good cheap printers, a fairly loyal band of about three hundred subscribers in Montreal, and know one or two young men here who are doing interesting work and shew promise of doing better.4 For myself, I am trying to write poetry, which is quickly becoming more subjective and more obscure,5 and have contributed to various American magazines -- The Dial, The Measure, The Nation, Voices.6 Canadian magazines, with the exception of the Forum (and that is more political than literary) are hopeless.7 If you think this idea of a Canadian literary quarterly is a good one, or if you have any criticisms or suggestions to make will you be so good as to write to me. Trusting that you will not regard this letter from an entire stranger as an intrusion,

          I am,

Yours sincerely,        

A.J.M. SMITH          


I TLS. McMaster Collection.


  1. This Quarter "was a bulky yellow periodical from Paris in which appeared a number of new writers, American mostly, part of them expatriate, nearly all of whom have already achieved the fullest recognition, and in some cases even popularity." Raymond Knister from "The Land is Full of Voices." Rev. of The American Caravan, Saturday Night, 1 Dec. 1928, p. 6. Ernest J. Walsh and Ethel Moorhead edited the first three issues: Spring, 1925 (Paris), Autumn-Winter, 1925-26 (Milan), and Spring, 1927 (Monte Carlo). "The artist will be edited in these pages in terms of himself . . . we are against literary politics and literary politicians...." These issues featured the poetry of Yvor Winters, Isidore Schneider, Ernest Walsh, H.D., Ezra Pound, Eugene Jolas, and Kenneth Fearing. Raymond Knister was Canadian correspondent appointed by Ernest Walsh. He published "Elaine," a short story in This Quarter, 1, No. 1 (Spring 1925), 160-66; "A Row of Horse Stalls," a series of poems in This Quarter, 1 No. 2 (Summer 1925), 30; and, "The Fate of Mrs. Lucier," a short story in This Quarter, 1, No. 2 (Summer 1925), 172-81. Smith may have read the review of This Quarter, 1, No. 2 (Summer 1925), by "H.R." (Herbert Read) in The New Criterion edited by T.S. Eliot in which Knister's poems were highly praised. "[They] are fresh and objective, and decidely more masculine than most of the 'masculine protests' of these rebels [Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, e.e. Cummings] "Exiles." in The New Criterion (London), 4 (April 1926), 403-4. Smith was familiar with and highly impressed by the work of Eliot. "Hamlet in Modern Dress " McGill Fortnightly Review, 3 Nov. 1926, pp. 2-4 was modelled on the criticism of T.S. Eiiot. As early as "Symbolism in Poetry," McGill Fortnightly Review, 5 Dec. 1925, pp. 11-12, 16, Smith explored some of the Symbolist sources which influenced Eliot.[back]
  2. "roughly complementary to the art of the Group of Seven." The group of modern realist painters were Frank Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, F. Horsman Varley and Frank H. Johnston. Sandra Djwa has discussed how modern painters and writers were inspired by the northern landscape. In "'A new Soil and a Sharp Sun'; The Landscape of a Modern Canadian Poetry." Modernist Studies, 2 (1977), 3-17 she refers to E.J. Pratt, F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith and W.W.E. Ross. She suggests a thematic connection between "The Lonely Land" and the art of the Group of Seven featured in The Canadian Form during the 'twenties.[back]
  3. Callaghan was a graduate of St. Michael's College of the University of Toronto in 1925. He worked as a reporter for the Toronto Daily Star with Ernest Hemingway. He published "Amuck in the Bush" American Caravan (1927), "Girl of Ambition," This Quarter (Winter, 1926), "Last Spring They Came Over," Transition (June, 1927), and "Wedding Dress," This Quarter (Spring, 1927).

         E.J. Pratt was teaching English at Victoria College, Toronto. His poems were accepted by Acta Victoriana, The Rebel, The Canadian Forum, Dalhousie Review, Queen's Quarterly, Canadian Bookman, Saturday Night and London Mercury during the twenties. By 1930 he had published six volumes of verse in book form.

         Merrill Denison was both an architect and a writer. His interests lay in radio drama, economics and biography. He was one of the moving spirits of Hart House Theatre in the early nineteen-twenties at the University of Toronto. (For a study of his drama, see Alexander M. Leggatt, "Playwrights in a Landscape: The Changing Image of Rural Ontario," Theatre History in Canada /Historie du Theatre au Canada, 1, (Fall, 1980) 135-48.) He published four realistic comedies in The Unheroic North, 1923 and sixteen lively dramatic sketches in Boobs in the Woods, Ottawa: Graphic, 1927. Knister reprinted "The Weather Breeder" from Harper's Magazine, August 1924, in Canadian Short Stories.

         Fred Jacob published Day Before Yesterday, a novel (Toronto: Macmillan, 1925), 319 pp.; One Third of a Bill, some short Canadian plays, (Toronto: Macmillan, 1925), 140 pp. (contains "Autumn Blooming," "The Clever One"; "The Poem that the Ponsonby Wrote;" "And They Meet Again;" "Man's World;" "The Basket," and Pee Vee, a novel, (Toronto: Macmillan, 1928), 400 pp.[back]

  4. "…it was a very remarkable group of undergraduates that edited, managed, and wrote for the Fortnightly during the two years [21 November 1925 to 27 April 1927] of its existence. Sharing most of the editorial work with me was F.R. Scott, and we were ably assisted by the now famous biographer of Henry James, Leon Edel, and the brilliant son of Professor G.W. Latham, Allan, whose career was to be cut short by an automobile accident a few years later; among our contributors were Leo Kennedy, the poet; the psychologist Otto Klineberg; the late well-known Montreal journalist T.H. Harris; John Glassco, author of the recent delightful Memoirs of Montparnasse; and an occasional professor, Harold Files, of the English Department, or Lancelot Hogben, later to write Mathematics for the Million, then a teacher of biology, communist, wit, and romantic poet, a thorn in the side of the good Sir Arthur Currie. Our energetic and effective business manager was Lew Schwartz, who at the time of his recent death was owner and director of the New York publishing house of Abelard Schumann. "A.J.M. Smith, review of Snowmobiles Forbidden, a book of poetry by McGill students, for McGill News.

         Smith modelled the McGill Fortnightly Review on the pattern of The New Statesmen or The Nation.[back]

  5. "For myself …and more obscure" became an interpretation used by Knister in "Canadian Poems of the Month," The New Outlook, 18 May 1927, p. 6. Of Smith's poetry, Knister says it is increasingly "more subjective and obscure".[back]
  6. "For myself, I determined to study and practice, and to test the value of any piece by submitting it to the best English or American literary magazines" A.J.M. Smith, "The Confessions of a Compulsive Anthologist 1976." On Poets and Poetry, p. 107.

        "The Dial has done more for the taste of America than any other magazine in the past eight years. I am talking about the force, not necessarily the inevitable rightness of its influence. It printed the best established artists of Europe: Anatole France, Knut Hamsun, Thomas Mann, Ivan Runin, William Butler Yeats, and with these, the work of American writers whose qualities if not tendencies seemed comparable. No doubt The Dial missed some of the freshest new talents which American has produced." From "The Land is Full of Voices." Saturday Night, 1 Dec. 1928, p. 6. by Raymond Knister. Under the editorship of &ofield Thayer, then Marianne Moore, The Dial published a long list of poets including Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot (whose "Wasteland" had its first American publication here), William Carlos Williams, Conrad Aiken, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, H.D., E.E. Cummings, Hart Crane, Malcolm Cowley, Carl Sandburg and others. Its editorial attitude was truly avant-garde: "If a magazine isn't to be simply a waste of good white paper, it ought to print, with some regularity, either such work as would otherwise have to wait years for publication, or such as would not be acceptable elsewhere."

         The Measure published Robert Frost, Conrad Aiken, Wallace Stevens, Genevieve Taggard, Maxwell Anderson, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, Elinor Wylie and others.

         Voices edited by Harold Vinal has given "space to the new poets who need a hearing." Further, "a poem is always to a greater or less degree a subjective matter, and complete objectivity in poetry is as unattainable as it is in philosophy or mathematics which strive to be the most objective of the sciences." Voices published Allen Tate, Mark Van Doren, Robert Penn Warren, Kenneth Fearing, Donald Davidson, Genevieve Taggard and others.

         Smith submitted a poem to The Double-Dealer (Jan. 1921-May 1926. Monthly. New Orleans) which was accepted but not printed because the periodical ceased before it could be published. For the period ending June 1922, Vincent Starrett appears as Chicago correspondent, a name which Smith seems to have adopted as his psuedonymn "Vincent Starr" at McGill.

         See [II] note 3 for Smith's contributions to The Dial, The Measure, The Nation, and Voices.[back]

  7. Dorothy Brown (nee Smith) has suggested to me in a letter 2 May 1979 that Smith's poetry may have appeared in local newspapers while he was still a youth. He was reluctant to reveal to Knister his poems in the McGill Daily and "The Dilettante" columns which he probably regarded as juvenilia or apprentice work of a poet practising his skills. We know one of his earliest psuedonyms was "Tomfool" because Smith published "A Song Against Constancy" in McGill Daily, 12 March 1924, p. 3 signed "TOMFOOL" and under his own name in The Saturday Evening Post, 4 April 1925, p.124. If this nom de plume is consistent (and with no evidence to the contrary we may assume it is) then Smith under the variants (Tomfool, TOM FOOL, T.F., TOMFOOL) published several poems: "At a Fireside," "Halloweten," "A Hymn of Hate," "Kind to Animals," "To His Coy Mistress," "Ye Epicure Wisheth for Himself a Merrie Yuletide". "Art for Arts 25's Sake" appeared in Old McGill 1925.

         Furthermore Smith was fond of initials, as his signature suggests. He probably published some early material (poems, reviews, fiction) under "S", "J.S." "S.M," "A.S.S.", the latter in a parody issue of McGill Daily known as "The Dilly-Dally" column of the "Mongrel Daily." Some of the poems may be: "Beauty Dead," "Country Walk," "Humouresque," "In the City," "Maps," "Quiet Haven," "Sylvan Rhapsody," "Symbols," "To an Old Tune," "When Thought of Her."

         For a complete listing of Smith's work during his McGill years see Anne Burke, "An Annotated Bibliography of A.J.M. Smith," The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors, vol. IV.

         Outside of college tabloids Smith had published some poems in Canadian journals: "Sonnet" ["Although today no gleaming cavalcade. . ."], Canadian Bookman, N.S. No. 3 (June 1921), 18; "Pagan," The Canadian Forum, Sept. 1924, p. 370; "The Smile," The Canadian Forum, Feb. 1925, p. 149[back]