Footprints Through Time

                        with Archivist Peter Bowman



The Early Years

(Part 2)

There was probably no one in Canada before or since quite like Dr. Lorne Pierce with his fierce determination to promote and support Canadian Literature. Born in 1890, he quickly obtained five University degrees from five different Universities. He assumed the position of Editor of the prestigious Ryerson Press of Toronto at the tender age of thirty and continued in that role for almost forty years. He also found time to write seventeen books of his own, as well as fourteen studies on other Canadian writers. A newspaper columnist described him as a “professional greeter” to new Canadian writers, helping many of them make it into print for the first time.

Dr. Pierce met Ida Sutherland Groom while in the process of publishing her chapbook, Queens and Others. It is clear by the extensive collection of letters amassed by Miss Groom in these Archives that she and Dr. Pierce became steadfast friends based on their shared desire to promote Canadian poets and their poetry. Little wonder then that the foreword to the second edition of Tower, 1953, was written by Dr. Lorne Pierce:

“This marks the second issue of The Tower, a larger and on the whole a better collection. There is a surprising range of matter and manner in so small a book, and that is all to the good. Little groups of authors and artists gather together in a vast land like this, in the sheer desperate need of companionship and self-preservation. It is remarkable that these creative writing fraternities, so often spontaneous associations in our colleges, preserve the independence of the individual members in an almost startling manner, so greatly do the members vary one from the other.

"One thinks of The Fiddlehead and the group at the University of New Brunswick, The Cataraqui Review, and the Queen’s poets, and The Tower with the McMaster fraternity. If they survive the hazards of publishing, they will become part of the literary history of our time. In this, The Tower sets a wise example; the main thing is publishing, not the de luxe medium, and so it is likely to continue for a long time.

"It is proper that nature verse should be emphasized in a country where it has been predominant, and fitting too that it should conform to the traditional pattern. Humour is becoming increasingly important in our literature; it is moving away from extravagance and the preposterous, to the pointed commentary upon life, and that is as it should be. But here is also a group of poems soundly based upon the classics and the Bible, that are not just socially aware but deeply conscious of man, and at times reveal profound religious insights. These poems further explore the rich vein uncovered in the first issue of The Tower, and we hope that there will be many others to follow. We wish both The Tower and its valiant contributors prosperity and progress.

                                                    Lorne Pierce."

The second edition contained submissions from twelve poets, as compared to ten in the first issue. There was of course the brother and sister team of Bernard Groom and Ida Sutherland Groom. Her strict formal poetry was often drawn from Biblical influences. Many of Miss Groom’s poems were reprints with permission from the original publishers in England. Other contributors were recognizable members of the McMaster University fraternity. Who actually published the second issue is not entirely clear; there is no mention of it in the volume. We can only leave it up to conjecture whether that was simply overlooked or deliberate.

On page 4 we find:


Sighing, I turn
to grasp the chalice with both hands.
It is still there.
How new this world has grown
when I can lean upon a cloud
and, talking to the moon,
tell her of the day
I stubbed my toe against a mountain.

                                  — G. C. JOHNSON

Page 11 reveals:


Fair seemed the driver of the flying car,
  And leagues on leagues of space we traveled, through
  The utmost bournes that lie beyond the blue
  Of heaven; round many a still-set star
Fixed in the firmament, till from afar,
  I saw an image of the sleeping earth
Among the clouds, where all my hopes had birth:
“Return,” I prayed, “to where my fellows are.”

Wretched and dazed I found myself beside
  A copse of trees, and on a grassy bed:
I raised my hands aloft, and feebly tried
  To hold the spaces from my whirling head –
Vainly: till on a sudden I espied
  A tiny flower, close by me, fringed with red.

                                  — BERNARD GROOM

And on page 13 we find:


“Sorry, we are closed!”
How oft the words
Are burned into his soul,
And sear with scorching sureness
The throbbing heart of him
Whose face is dark,
As is his hope,
An alien black.

“Sorry, we are closed!”
Those bitter words
Brought tears to Mary’s eyes,
Weary and heavy-laden.
Her throbbing heart knew well
That it was time
She gave the world,
The alien Christ.

                                  — JEAN MC CALLION

NOTE: An unfortunate incident took place in Canada in which a Negro was refused entrance to a barber shop on the grounds that the shop was closed.

Again, the publication of the second edition of Tower was a resounding success. The Chancellor of McMaster University sent congratulations after receiving his complimentary copy, as did the Office of the Governor-General after receiving his complimentary copy. A columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press and friend of Dr. Pierce, Thomas Saunders, wrote a piece titled “The Causerie” on December 12, 1953. With a hefty philosophical air he lambastes Canadian culture, beginning, “In a nation that sells everything but poetry in commercial quantities…” He dives into a review of the second edition of Tower calling it “the latest poetic outburst,” then steers into a rant about the creative artist being a lone wolf in search of a pack. He quotes extensively from Dr. Lorne Pierce’s foreword and particularly likes the poem, INSPIRATION, from which he quotes the last several lines as cited above. Mr. Saunders concludes his article by echoing Dr. Pierce’s wish for “prosperity and progress” but reminds his readers that prosperity in poetry is perhaps just “a nice wish.”

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