Footprints Through Time

                        with Archivist Peter Bowman



The Early Years

(Part 3)

The third issue of The Tower was published in the final week of September 1954. It appeared with a pale cream cardboard cover with the title, The Tower, in tall brown capital letters. In its twenty-six pages thirteen poets were represented. The title page restated the title in the same font and manner as the cover, then announced “By members and associates of McMaster University.” At the bottom of the page, in italics, we read:

“Printed by Robert Duncan & Co. Limited
  Hamilton, Canada
  Copies obtainable at: Book Room, McMaster University
  and Robert Duncan Book Department”

With this issue, The Tower seemed to be struggling to find a format. The poems appeared in order by each included poet, with some represented by as many as five poems, others as few as one. One poem only takes four lines. Another spans two and a half pages, subdivided into seven parts by Roman numerals. The volume is a literal cacophony of words, with no apparent reason or design. Professor Bernard Groom has five poems published including one entirely in Spanish. Ida Sutherland Groom is represented at the end with her usual collection of Biblical poems. Three poems in the centre are acknowledged reprints from The Muse, the McMaster University Students Association’s yearly publication.             

Appearing on page 14:


O why do you stay in your darkened rooms,
Missing so much and so much?
Saluting the symbol of breadwinners’ boom,
Why do you stay in your darkened room,
When lilac, so lavish, laughs into bloom,
All scented, and starred to your touch?
O why do you stay in your darkened room,
Missing so much and so much?
  (With apologies to Frances Cornford.)

                                  — MARJORIE WILKINSON

In a letter from The Ryerson Press dated September 29, 1954, Dr. Lorne Pierce offers to Ida Sutherland Groom,

“If you will send me ten copies of The Tower and the invoice I shall send them out to a number of reviewers across Canada and try and assure some sort of comment on the chap-book.”

His efforts seemingly were in vain since no clippings of reviews of the third issue can be found in the archives.

On January 11th, 1955, Dr. Pierce wrote yet another letter in response to a query Miss Groom had raised about her own chapbook, Queens and Others. In it he discussed extensive details on the progress of her chap book. However, in the final paragraph of that letter he turns his attention toward The Tower.

“I hope that the new issue of The Tower goes well. It deserves the sponsorship of the University for in time it would be a very interesting part of the tradition of McMaster.”

On January 18th, 1955, Miss Groom received a letter from C. H. Stearn, Director of University Extension at McMaster University.

“Thank you for your letter of the 14th of January. I really do not know what to say. With regard to an approach to the Humanities Association, I am of the opinion that they would only be interested in assisting in the publication of research work along some definite line sponsored by a scholar or scholars in a particular field. I hardly think that they would regard The Tower, however good its contents may be, as coming within their particular sphere of interest…Do not think that I am not interested in exercising what little influence I have here in favour of such a grant. I will do my best and let you know the results. Yours sincerely,”

It might be noted that on page 7 of the third issue in 1954, a poem by Rosalynda Stearn appeared:

Man toils like a bee
For a golden fee
As the bee sucks honey,
So man seeks money,
The more fool he!
The bee spends hours
Among the flowers,
Man like a mole
Slaves in his hole
And wastes his powers.
The bee flies high
In crystal sky
To meet his queen,
A love unseen,
And then must die.
Man returns to the dust whence he came,
But the bee has soared like a living flame.

On February 15th, 1955, Dr. Lorne Pierce responded to a query from Ida Sutherland Groom, estimating the cost if Ryerson Press printed The Tower. He compares it to the cost of a chapbook, PRESSED ON SAND, by Al Purdy, suggesting it would take about $200.00. He goes on to advise that an outside referee should be engaged to choose the published poems. He then counsels,

“It is better for the book to appear independent of a publishing house although it would do no harm as in the present instance to have friendly contacts with the editor of a book publishing firm who would give you the advantage of his experience to assist you in making contacts. Wherever these independent publications appear, they are closely identified with the area or university. That is the strength of the publication and I think it should be kept there. However, to issue a publication such as THE TOWER each year calls for a good deal of sacrifice on the part of a few, and every now and then one has to pause and take stock and inquire whether it is worth all the effort. Personally I think it is worth the effort, providing the selections are made with great care so that each issue is distinguished. There are too few books such as THE TOWER in Canada and some way must be found to bring out even a sample of the best work being done to the attention of a small audience interested in poetry and its development in Canada.”

A letter, or maybe a posting on a bulletin board, was issued shortly thereafter:

“NOTICE OF MEETING. Contributors to THE TOWER and those who have shown interest in the publication are being invited to attend a meeting to be held at the home of Miss I. S. Groom, 3 Sterling Street, Hamilton, (Next to Wells’ Pharmacy) on Saturday, February 19th, 1955, at 3 p.m. Since this group does not have an opportunity very often to get together for discussion, may we respectfully request your attendance if at all possible.”

The meeting took place in Miss Groom’s home. Miss Groom provided an elegant tea. Two new members were welcomed to the group as well as the seven regulars. Those present included Mrs. Stearn, Mrs. Wilkinson, Mrs. McCallion, Mrs. Wood, Mr. Bell and Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson read the Treasurer’s Report revealing a credit balance of $11.20. An informal election followed. Miss Groom announced that she needed to step down from executive governorship of the group for the time being due to other pressing duties. She then reassured the group that she would remain as counselor and guide to the Executive.

An informal election resulted in the following board: Mrs. McCallion as co-corresponding secretary, Mrs. Wood recording secretary, the two to act as co-organizers under the aegis of Miss Groom, whose spirit seemed vital to the group for the time being. Mr. Johnson was to remain as Treasurer and a new position, Publicity Agent, created to avail the group of Mr. Bell’s particular talents.

The meeting approved Mrs. Wilkinson’s motion that a letter be sent to Dr. Gilmour to discover what might be the University’s attitude to having “Graduates and friends of McMaster University” printed in The Tower and whether permission needed to be sought to use the phrase.

Miss Groom tabled an extensive report of terms offered by Duncan’s, Ryerson Press, and Grimbsy Independent Publishers. After a lively discussion the meeting voted to continue printing with Duncan’s, using the same format with no illustrations, the sale price to remain one dollar, and the issue to be limited to 250 copies for the first printing.

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