with Archivist Peter Bowman
Some time ago I was asked, as the Tower Poetry Society’s archivist, if I would be interested
in creating a series of articles to post on this website from the material I have been housing
in my small apartment. I inherited this position, along with the paper treasures it holds,
from former archivist Jean McCallion in 1998. Jean is the only remaining founding member and
continues to be actively involved with TPS.
Included in the archives was, of course, a collection of all the books Tower Poetry has published since 1952, approximately seventy, and growing by two with each subsequent year. A drawer in a two-tiered filing cabinet contained folders marked with the names of past members. Within these folders are newspaper articles, mail and copies of talks given occasionally during meetings of the Tower Poetry Society. Curiously, there were also two plastic shopping bags containing several brown manila envelopes with the appropriate years scribbled on the outside in blue pen or black magic marker. These envelopes contain an overabundance of letters that have been summarily stuffed away for future discovery. Also included in this array of paperwork is an aged black binder, the First Secretary’s Notebook, with the agendas and minutes recorded from long past executive meetings.
The ultimate treasure was a signed letter of thank you to Ida Sutherland Groom in 1955 for the receipt of a complimentary issue of our publication The Tower, accompanied by helpful words of encouragement, from the English poet John Masefield, who at that time was the official Poet Laureate of England.
I do not believe in editorializing about this varied material but instead will try to capture the essence of the time and that of the original creator of the artifact by describing its content and what I see before me. Perhaps it will be a selected poem or an introduction to a certain volume of The Tower, or maybe the words from a letter received or a past newspaper review of The Tower. There is so much to draw upon here one hardly knows where to begin. In all cases I shall attempt to give credit where credit is due, keeping in mind the perils of copyright.
A collection of correspondence received by Ida Sutherland Groom from Dr. Lorne Pierce, at that time the Editor of Ryerson Press in Toronto, is simply magical in its grace and tone. Spanning a decade, the correspondence continues right up to the passing of Dr. Pierce in 1962. This correspondence in itself, serves as a tribute to Dr. Pierce and his loving support for the Canadian literary movement. I would like to share many of these letters with you, hoping that his Estate will forgive me for reviving his eloquence.
In 1951, when Ida Sutherland Groom first proposed the idea of pooling their finances to publish a poetry collective to a group of McMaster University Professors and their wives, Canada was still a young country, not yet 100 years old. Ida Sutherland Groom was a visionary and instigator while at the same time remaining a staid, proper English woman who specialized in writing poetry based on women of the Bible. While Miss Groom sparked the Tower’s beginning, she eventually left Canada and returned to England. Many other individuals here in Hamilton, Ontario stepped into her leadership role to guide the Tower Poetry Society to become the completely autonomous secular group of business men and women, teachers, librarians, labourers and retirees that exists today.
The Tower Poetry Society has never relied on Government funding for any support to fill its mandate of encouraging and promoting poetry everywhere. Nor does Tower ask for assistance, other than from its membership fees or book sales, to publish two volumes of poetry every Winter and Summer, despite often facing the adversity, negativism, and struggle presented by an uncaring non-poetic world. Submissions to Tower arrive from everywhere around this shrinking planet.
That is exactly what has drawn these people together over all these years … the need for expression, the need for learning and the need for acceptance amongst their peers. The Tower Poetry Society is a special group with a special history, whose mere existence is a modern inspiration.
I sincerely hope you will visit with me again and again on this site as I try to unfold the story of the Tower Poetry Society. It promises to be quite a journey.