12 October 2013

The Foster Poetry Conference at Fifty

Irving Layton, Milton Wilson, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel and Aviva Layton,
Foster Poetry Conference,, October 1963
Off to the Eastern Townships this morning to celebrate the publication of The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco:
Brome Lake Books

265 E Knowlton Rd

Knowlton, QC 
12 October 2013, 2:00 pm
And what better day than today? 'Twas fifty years ago – 12 October 1963 – that Glassco's Foster Poetry Conference opened at the Glen Mountain Ski Chalet. With Glassco, F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, Irving Layton, Louis Dudek, Ralph Gustafson, Eldon Grier, D. G. Jones, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Angel, Kenneth Hetrz, Henry Moscowitz and Seymour Mayne, it remains the greatest gathering of Quebec's English-language poets.

Three days of poetry, comradeship and drink, even the most subdued reports paint it as a great success. Scott was so fired by the experience that he pressured Glassco to edit the proceedings for McGill University Press.  

Glassco agreed to take on the project, but soon came to recognize that the contents failed to capture anything of the exuberant nature of the conference. The late night conversations, the raw exchanges, the drinking – almost all that had been informal, spontaneous, and dynamic had been left unrecorded. What's more he found work on the book a "horrible bore." On 4 May 1964, he wrote Jean Le Moyne: "I shall never be an editor again: this is the work for professionals who have secretaries, electric typewriters, photocopy machines, the co-ordinative faculty and endless patience: but the book is now ready for press."

When the galleys arrived Glassco found the quality so poor that the November 1964 publication date had to be scratched. For months the anthology hung over his head as he awaited, with dread, the reset galleys. What arrived was much improved and he moved quickly to clear the sheets from his desk. Then, just when his work appeared to be finished, Glassco discovered that he'd been saddled with the task of distributing payments to the twenty contributors. The irritation was only compounded by the small sums. Leonard Cohen received three dollars, barely enough to purchase a copy of the book.

My work in editing Glassco's letters was much more pleasurable.

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