06 March 2009

The Poet Mayor of Toronto

The Mackenzie Poems
William Lyon Mackenzie & John Robert Colombo
Toronto: Swan, 1966

A great deal is being made today over Toronto's 175th anniversary. This all goes back to the city's incorporation, of course, ignoring the founding of York by the heroic John Graves Simcoe some four decades earlier. Never mind, the day gives cause to look more closely at this interesting collaboration between Toronto's first mayor and John Robert Colombo. 'Is this prose or poetry?' asks the cover copy. The answer is clearly the latter - found poetry, to be precise. To quote further: 'Here are the actual words of William Lyon Mackenzie, the man who led armed citizens through the streets of Toronto in 1837.'

Let the readers
of the Colonial Advocate
keep a watchful eye
upon the march of events
in Europe;
the tide rises.
Predating F.R. Scott's Trouvailles: poems from prose by one year, this is poetry of the Centennial, written - or, to be more accurate, cut - at a time of healthy, heightened interest in the past. Fun stuff, it's easy to see why names like Scott, Earle Birney, Raymond Souster and James Reaney wrote blurbs for the book.

Object: A slim title, just 94 pages in length, The Mackenzie Poems appears to have been issued in simultaneous hardcover and paperback editions. Both are published on cheap newsprint and state 'First Edition, 1966'. My paperback copy was purchased nine years ago for 69¢, a full 6¢ off the original price, at a Toronto Value Village. A pretty good find, it's inscribed by Colombo to Philip Givens, who was then the city's mayor. 'Your cultural crusade is as needed today as Mayor Mackenzie's political crusade was in his', wrote the poet - a reference, perhaps, to Givens' lengthy campaign to bring Henry Moore's Three-Way Piece No. 2 to Nathan Phillips Square.

Access: A fairly fragile item, I imagine most library copies have long since fallen apart and been discarded - the Toronto Public Library holds only three. That said, it is readily available and inexpensive. Very Good copies of the paperback can be had for as little as C$3. Expect to pay roughly C$10 for the hardcover.

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