Footprints Through Time

                        with Archivist Peter Bowman




During the story of the Tower Poetry Society several members have reached near icon status, held in the highest esteem by other members, but no one has reached that status more so than the founder of the Society, Ida Sutherland Groom. On two occasions poems, addressed specifically to her, were written and published in Tower's magazine by other members. Upon her return to England in 1960, a parting tribute written by Dr. Lorne Pierce was also published in Tower.

In a press release issued by The Ryerson Press of Toronto in 1955, announcing the publication of a new Ryerson Press book, Queens And Others, it says about the author, "I. Sutherland Groom was born in London, England, and educated there and in France, subsequently studying Prosody under the late Mackenzie Bell who had been a close friend of Tennyson. While doing secretarial work in London, she published a volume of sonnets (PARTIALITIES, Erkine [sic] MacDonald) and became a frequent contributor to Poetry Review and English. During the War she held a small position under the British Council in Montevideo, Uruguay."

From Uruguay she accompanied her brother, Bernard Groom, to Canada where he was employed as Professor of English at McMaster University in Hamilton. The two of them set up household in an apartment building on Sterling Street. The year would have been 1950 and Miss Groom, as she was always properly addressed, would have been sixty years old.

It was at a Faculty Wives Club meeting at McMaster University that Miss Groom asked if she could address the assembly. She announced that she was interested in writing poetry and asked that anyone else with the same interest gather for discussion at a later time.

Thus Members and Associates of McMaster University began the journey to becoming The Tower Poetry Society. Miss Groom recalled to her little gathering of having once belonged to a collective in England that pooled their financial resources and published small pamphlets of their poetry from time to time. An immediate effort was launched to duplicate such a process, which proved to be quite successful.

Ida Sutherland Groom used the Bible as a source of inspiration. She specialized in writing about women in the Bible. She would take a short Bible verse and turn it into fifty or sixty lines of imaginative poetry. A shorter poem shown below appeared in The Tower's third edition in 1954.


Mary and Lazarus sat in sycamore shade
  silent as love:
Wrapped in a calm that formed no barricade
 the while they strove
to live again
those Bethany hours when Jesus walked with men.

No speech, no touch communion, there they stayed
 their darkened eyes
striving to visualize Him, there they essayed
 to realize
the peace He shed,
till Martha came to meet them bringing bread.

Dr. Lorne Pierce, then editor of Ryerson Press, wrote in 1960 upon Ida Sutherland Groom's return to England with her brother: "We like to remember her in the meetings of the group, the woman of grace and charm yet of mighty purpose and iron will. We like to remember her championship of the beginner, the amateur, as well as the established writer wishing to be different. Her sympathies were broad but her personal standards were high. She brought to the interpretations of famous women, both in the Bible and history, a particularly luminous insight. In these she discovered the inner light, compassion and wisdom that were a living part of her own mind and heart."

Ida Sutherland Groom's last poem published in The Tower in 1975 was a tribute to her brother, who had recently passed away, titled simply, Bernard Groom. It was the last poem printed on the last page of that particular edition. Her voice was never heard from again in the Tower that she had founded.

In her time here, just a short span of ten years, she had rallied Governors-General, book editors, literary agents, newspapers and poets across the English speaking world to pay attention to poetry and especially a little magazine known as The Tower, which publishes on average 250 copies per issue.

In the Winter 1983 edition of Tower, the first poem on the first page was:


Once to this strangely silent place a small bird came
Shy, decorous, precise, her tiny throat a frame
For moulding music. Trapped in our tapestry, all through
The monotone of our demure design she drew
A slender thread of song.

                                                        Frail migratory bird.
Lost but not comfortless, your sweetest notes were heard
More sweetly in this muted land, and with you went
A brightness from our scene, a shining filament.

                            —Catherine Holgate Bankier

*Reprinted from Pines The Canadian Tree in respectful memory of Ida Sutherland Groom, founder of the Tower Poetry Society, who died in England July 25th, 1983 in her ninety-third year.

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