Footprints Through Time

                        with Archivist Peter Bowman



The Early Years

(Part 4)

In 1955, the fourth issue of The Tower was published with a few surprises. The most notable was an excerpt from a letter sent to Ida Sutherland Groom from John Masefield, the Poet Laureate of England, regarding the Tower. The excerpt read: “I hope that your group may prosper in all good ways of writing, and read and create much, and have a jolly time in the doing and trying. Yours sincerely, John Masefield.”

Another surprise was the inclusion of four poems by Ruth Cleaves Hazelton. She worked in some yet unexplained capacity for the Cirencester Literary Agency in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Her name was suggested as one of four writer contacts provided in a letter dated April, 4, 1955, from Mrs. Douglas Scott, the Editorial Secretary for Dr. Lorne Pierce. This marked a major departure from the publishing of only the small circle of “Friends and Associates of McMaster University” which incidentally still appeared on the fly leaf of the 1955 volume.

The last pleasant surprise was that Dr. Lorne Pierce consented to providing another short foreword to the magazine. It reads,

"A decade or so ago the publication of poetry in Canada was confined to a few periodicals, and was sponsored by two or three book publishers. Today, Canadian poets are still greatly in need of more and better outlets, but there is a better collection of year-books, and college-sponsored magazines, the “little” magazines. Canadian poets and artists are still the most creative and distinctive contributors to our national culture, yet they have to fight for their lives.

"Amid the profuse flowering of Canadian verse it is good to see the survival of The Tower. Not only has it managed to exist, but, what is more important, it has succeeded in being alive. The Tower in its fourth year is more mature, better in many ways, than the first issue. There is a deeper understanding of people, and a more competent sharing of experience.

"Friends of this brave venture hope that it may become the trysting place of a wide circle of poets — the Niagara Peninsula rich in history and legend, and then West and South, may there be no end to its growth or limit to its dominion."

The fourth publication of The Tower included eleven poets. Ida Sutherland Groom had four of the thirty poems published in the twenty-four page volume.

On page 6 we discover a poem typical of Miss Groom.


Heavily Pilate slept, but Portia rose
      And tiptoed warily to the portico,
Thus to forget her dreams, dreams such as those
      That mount the mind with a swift-riding woe;
Then slept, and at last awoken
Pilate had risen and gone, her warning words unspoken.

“Pilate, have no more dealings with this man,”
      She scrawled on parchment with a hurrying hand,
“For love’s sake, I beseech you to ban
      All prosecution — let the matter stand —
Call it a craze, a whim,
But I have suffered many dreams concerning him.”

He read the supplication with a smile,
      His lovesome wife had many hours to spare
To see her coiffure in the newest style;
      For tambourine and harp, for dream and prayer,
Her he absolved, but was it fit
To ignore the pigmy plot and wash his hands of it?

Uneasily he resolved with the mob
      Eager to control its growing restlessness
By diplomatic argument, and rob
      It of its malice, Portia of distress.
Of no avail, he turned his eye
Muffling his ears at the first shout, “Crucify!”

But the Lord rose again, the little herd
      Of Procurators, priests, and Caesars died,
The Kingdom waxed, the glory of the Word
      Brought Pilate’s Portia to the Apostle’s side.
Her place is with the Adoring Three:
The Magdalene, the Virgin, Mary of Bethany...

                                  — Ida Sutherland Groom

On page 14 we find in a more modern style,


squares, triangles and circles
of faces
crowded together
on a city street,
waiting for the light
to turn green.

parallel lines
that seek infinity,
and intersecting lines
like tracer bullets
that find no mark
but spin into the night.

Strange geometric patterns
seen on a busy street.

                                  — Jean B. McCallion

And on page 20,


A GLEAMING PEBBLE: smooth and white and round
An iridescent fancy, by the sea
That life might term, perhaps
A simple thing of beauty.

There, on the fine white sand it lay alone,
An object men might carry as a charm
To ward off evil sights…
As if a stone might out-thrust harm!

The pragmatists would say it was a stone;
A child would see a shining sphere to hold.
But I have reached “outside”
And hear a song once told:

That smoothness, roundness, whiteness are all thoughts —
That stars and trees and stones and men are drawn
Past finite guards, and dreams —
As lines before the Dawn!

                                  — Ruth Cleaves Hazelton

On September 26, 1955 this letter arrived in Miss Ida Sutherland Groom’s mailbox at apartment #5, 3 Sterling St. in Hamilton, Ontario from Dr. Lorne Pierce on letterhead from The Ryerson Press Accounting Department.

Dear Miss Groom:

I have read the fourth issue of The Tower with great interest and also great enjoyment. It is a marked improvement on the first issue of the chap-book and I should think that you especially would be happy over the growing importance and success of this venture.

As before, I should like if you will send me ten copies with the bill. I was going to enclose my cheque but I was afraid this time your expenses had increased over the last issues and perhaps I might not be sending you enough. I shall try and place these copies as before where I think they will do the most good.

Your suggestion that I should accept the office of President of the McMaster group will require more thought. I have been relinquishing my committed obligations especially during the last year, and I feel that I should take on nothing more, certainly of a capacity where I would be expected to help make policy and give direction and in other ways place my shoulder to the wheel. You must do that if you are a president or convenor. I have been Honorary President of the Vancouver Poetry Society for a great many years by some fantastic mistake succeeding both Carman and Roberts in turn, for a simple and very inadequate reason that I knew them all and had been helpful on one or two occasions. Another fact that makes my attendance very difficult is my hearing which has not improved at all, and consequently public meetings, especially those where I am expected to hear and reply, can be very embarrassing all round. However, as I have stated, I should like to think out the matter a little more and for the moment my feeling is that I should continue to serve as a sort of honorary member.

Kindest personal regards.

Cordially yours,

Lorne Pierce

Found in the archives loose amongst all the gathered papers was a newspaper clipping undated, unsigned, and impossible to determine from which newspaper it had been clipped. (The writing is superb so with apologies to its newspaper and its author I show it to you.) It appeared under the heading Poems followed by an introduction to The Tower and its asking price of one dollar.

“The heart and soul of literature is the pamphlet, the brochure. There is something significant in that “tomorrow’s novels,” read today and outdated yesterday, need the comforting gaudy covers of a five-dollar book to prosper, but art needs no adornment. Students, graduates and professors at Hamilton’s seat of academic learning have collected representative works into this slim volume of poetry — the most utterly unprofitable, and thus perhaps one of the most worthy, of the arts.

"No Canadian with a feeling for literature could help but experience pride in the efforts of the “little poets” of his country, who are publishing their work with only small funds and their own energy to back them. Their vigour puts to shame those who cry out for governmental aid of the arts, as if the government could subsidize a sunset or the pomp of the sea.

"Canadian poets should be elated at their great opportunity. They are building the bedrock of Canadian culture, that one day, long overdue, will hit our public hard, destroy the stigma of its being Canadian and the nervous acceptance of its being Canadian at a blow, and be welcomed — because it is good art. The contributors to this excellent pamphlet are part of this great enterprise.”

And so, there it is. The Tower Poetry Society had seemed to establish itself as an ongoing proposition. However, the group was not yet referring to itself as the Tower Poetry Society. It was simply the McMaster Group and held no regularly scheduled meetings. The only place the members actually met one another was among the pages of the publication, The Tower. And it clearly was being propelled by only one person, Ida Sutherland Groom.

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