28 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 10: 'April' by Mary Morgan

For the month, the last of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

A final poem for National Poetry Month, 'April' comes from the pen of Mary Morgan, daughter of James and Catherine Morgan, niece of Montreal merchant king Henry Morgan of the Henry Morgan Company. The brief biography included in Types of Canadian Women by Henry James Morgan (no relation, I believe) suggests a life of both privilege and constraint.

cliquez pour agrandir

'April' is found in Poems and Translations (Montreal: J Theo Robinson, 1887), her first volume of verse.


                         Thou balmy April evening,
                              I love thy beauty rare;
                         The clouds obscure the heavens,
                              A star shines here and there.

                         The breath of love is filling
                              The zephyrs as they blow;
                         The fragrance of the violet
                              Is wafted from below.

                         O for a strain of music
                              To suit the pensive hour
                         Some cadence low and tender
                              To lell its soothing power!
The poet identifies 'April' as a translation "from the German of Geibel." I'm unfamiliar with the language, but believe the original to be 'Im April' by Emanuel von Geibel:
                        Du feuchter Fruehlingsabend,
                        Wie hab' ich dich so gern!
                        Der Himmel wolkenverhangen,
                        Nur hie und da ein Stern.

                        Wie leiser Liebesodem
                        Hauchet so lau die Luft,
                        Es steiget aus allen
                        Talen Ein warmer Veilchenduft.

                        Ich moecht' ein Lied ersinnen,
                        Das diesem Abend gleich,
                        Und kann den Klang nicht finden,
                        So dunkel, mild und weich.
Am I right?

My conclusion is based on a translation provided by Google:
                         You damp spring evening,
                         How I like you so much!
                         the sky overcast,
                         Just a star here and there.

                         Like a gentle breath of love
                         breathe so lukewarm the air,
                         It rises from all valleys
                         A warm violet scent.

                         I want to think up a song
                         The same this evening
                         And can't find the sound
                         So dark, mild and soft.
Assuming I am correct, I much prefer Mary Morgan's.

How 'bout you?

25 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 9: 'My Own Canadian Girl' by W.M. MacKeracher

For the month, the ninth of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

What could be considered romantic verse from W.M. (William MacKay) MacKeracher's Canada, My Land and Other Compositions in Verse (Toronto: William Briggs, 1908).

                    The demoiselles of sunny France
                         Have gaiety and grace;
                    Britannia's maids a tender glance,
                         A sweet and gentle face;
                    Columbia's virgins bring to knee
                         Full many a duke and earl;
                    But there is none can equal thee,
                         My own Canadian girl.

                    Thy hair is finer than the floss
                         That tufts the ears of corn;
                    Its tresses have a silken gloss,
                         A glory like the morn;
                    I prize the rich, luxuriant mass,
                         And each endearing curl
                    A special grace and beauty has,
                         My own Canadian girl.

                   Thy brow is like the silver moon
                        That sails in summer skies.
                   The mirror of a mind immune
                        From care, serene and wise.
                   Thy nose is sculptured ivory;
                        Thine ears are lobes of pearl;
                   Thy lips are corals from the sea,
                        My own Canadian girl.

                   Thine eyes are limpid pools of light,
                        The windows of thy soul;
                   The stars are not so clear and bright
                        That shine around the pole.
                   The crimson banners of thy cheeks
                        To sun and wind unfurl;
                   Thy tongue makes music when it speaks,
                        My own Canadian girl.

                   God keep thee fair and bright and good
                        As in thy morning hour,
                   And make thy gracious womanhood
                        A still unfolding fiow'r.
                   And stay thy thoughts from trifles vain,
                        Thy feet from folly's whirl,
                   And guard thy life from every stain,
                        My own Canadian girl!


22 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 8: 'Mended' by Edith Lelean Groves

For the month, the eighth of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

Verse from Edith Lelean Groves' Everyday Children (Toronto: The Committee in Charge of the Edith L. Groves Memorial Fund for Underprivileged Children, 1932)


          "You've mended my dolly, now please mend me."
               And the sapphire eyes they were dim
          As she showed me her poor bent twisted foot,
               And her queer little mis-shaped limb.

          "My dolly was hurled worse than me,
               For her stuffing came out, and then
          Her foot it came off, Oh, she was a sight!
               But they've made her over again.

          "I think I'm most as important as she,
               Dad calls me his own precious pearl,
          And mummy she cries, for I'm all that they've got,
               That one little onliest girl.

          "I'm awfully tired of braces and things,
               And crutches that weight most a ton,
          I want to run round on my own two feet,
               Like the others and have some fun."

          So early one day they carried her off,
               With never a sigh or a frown,
          To a wonderful children's hospital,
               In the heart of her own home town.

          "Why I think," she said, "this is fairyland!"
               And then she was sure it was Heaven,
          The nurses were kind and the doctors good,
               To this dear little girl just seven.

          And they straightened her mis-shaped twisted foot,
               Though the time it seemed very long,
          She never grumbled but cheered the rest up
               Right bravely with chatter and song.

          And this all has a fairy tale ending,
               For gladness and joy and laughter
          Came into the life of the little girl,
               Happy she lived ever after.
Related posts:

19 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 7: 'Dat's Laurier' by William Wilber MacCuaig

For the month, the seventh of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

The second of two poems praising Wilfrid Laurier in William Wilber MacCuaig's Songs of a Shanty-Man and other "Dialect Poems" of French-Canadian Life (Toronto: Musson, 1913). The poet's only book, it's also dedicated to the great statesman.

                    Who's dat raise h'all de row 'e can,
                    When 'e's small boy, h'also beeg man,
                    An' gets dere firs' mos' h'every tam?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    Who's dat, when 'e's young lad at school,
                    Was at de top 'es class, no fool.
                    Can fight lak' mischief an' keep cool ?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    Who's dat when partee Liberal
                    Was all bus' up on N.P. wall
                    'E save dat ship safe trou' it all?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    When partee Conservateur was run,
                    An' on 'es side got all de fun,
                    Who's dat was firin' off 'es gun?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    Who's dat, when Boer in h'Africa,
                    Raise beeg hurrah about some law,
                    'E feex 'im wid sodger from Canada?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    Who's dat, when our good Queen she die,
                    Advise dem people fer to try,
                    Dat young fella—de Prince, so shy?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    Who's dat, when in politique dey fight.
                    An' knock h'each oder out of sight,
                    Was settle h'everything all right ?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    Who's dat, when 'e's gone far away,
                    De people's lonesome every day,
                    De crop 's bad, and dere's no hay?
                          Dat's Laurier.

                    Who's dat dey blame for h'everyting.
                    When dere's damp wedder and cole spring,
                    But 'e jus' smiles an' says, "By jing!"—
                          Dat's Laurier.

Related posts:

16 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 6: 'Easter, 1942' by H.C. Mason

For the month, the sixth of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

Unconventional Easter verse, eight decades old this year, by son of Staffordville, Ontario Harold Campbell Mason (1895-1976). The poet served as gunner in the First World War, surviving a leg wound that took him out of the fighting two months before the Armistice. After his return to Canada, he studied at the Ontario Agriculture College, turned to dairy farming, served as farming editor for the London Advertiser, and worked on adverts for Purina.

Mason wrote two books, the first, Bits o' Brass (Toronto: Thomas Allen, c.1921), being a collection of short stories and verse inspired largely by the war in which he'd fought. His second and last book, Three Things Only... (Toronto: Thomas Nelson, 1953) collects verse from the first, adding others, some of which were inspired by the Second World War.

This is one.

Mason's enlistment papers record his religion as Methodist.  

EASTER, 1942
Ring out, O happy Easter bells
For Christ is risen, is risen indeed!
Proclaim to priest and people from every chiming steeple
That Christ is risen, is risen indeed!
Let your clamor, let your clanger, let your chime
     Beating time
     Praise the Lord!
Praise the risen Victor-Victim by all the saints adored.
     Praise the Lord!
For Christ is risen, is risen, is risen
For Christ is risen, is risen indeed
For Christ the Lord is risen, is risen indeed!

        Young Jimmy Geantley, fresh-faced fighter pilot,
        Just ten months out of college
        Still grilled by his commission,
        His uniform and badges,
        His cunning and his courage,
        The thunder of his engine and the power of his guns,
        Sees the tracers smoking past him,
             Dives her,
             Spins her,
        Sees the blue and orange flame-spout
        Spurt across the dizzy cockpit,
        Tries to beat the horror down with bare hands,
        Burned and helpless hopeless hands,
        While he plummets flaring, flaming
             To the earth.

        There's a girl in far Toronto who will never know her mate
        But such is human nature, such is fate.
        Every Sunday, through the years,
        Through a haze of prideful tears
             She will see his name enshrined
        "To the glory of our God and in loving memory"
        While the boy fades out of mind
        And legend grows instead,
             Warrior-hero, warrior-dead,
             Happy hero, happy dead,
        Smiling hero, dead to save us
             In the war.

Ring out, O happy Easter bells
For Christ is risen, is risen indeed!
He is risen, He is risen, He escapes this earthly prison,
He prepares us many mansions
     For believers
     In the skies!

        "Ah lovely and blue is the sky above Naples
             And lovely and blue is the sea,
        And lovely and blue are the eyes of Giana
        The bright one, the fair one, from fair Lombardy!"
        So humming to comfort him, heartsick and lonely
             To bolster his courage, alone in the night,
             Antonio Rillio hears not the rustle, the only
        Faint warning of peril, of heart-clutching fright-
        Of the rush, of the yell, of the knives, and the Night.

Ring out, O happy Easter bells
For Christ is risen, is risen indeed!
Proclaim to every nation glad tidings of salvation
For Christ the Lord is risen, is risen, is risen, is risen,
For Christ the Lord is risen, is risen indeed!

        Soldier Ivan Volushenko hangs groaning on the wire.
             Hangs tangled in the wire,
        Holding hard his belly where the Fascist bullet got him
        As if almost he hoped to stop that steady bleeding, that inward fatal bleeding,
             But he knows— 
        He knows the thing will kill him
        Here so far from far Kazan.
        Little Ivan, and Katushka, and the others,
        They will never know their father,
        They will think of him as a hero, not as a man,
        They will tell the tale with pride,
        How he fought and how he died,
        How he died to save his comrades
             In the war.

Ring out, O happy Easter bells— 
Intone, O priest, and chant, O choir!
     Let your voices, soaring higher,
Join a tale of jubilation, tell the story of salvation,
Spread the story far and wide
How the Victor-Victim died,
How he died and how he rose
With a mighty, mighty triumph o'er his foes,
     O'er his foes— 
Alleluia, praise the Lord,
For Christ the Lord is risen, is risen indeed!

        Little Gretchen Kinderkin lies dying in the rubble,
        Lies dying in the rubbish where the British bomb exploded,
        Twisted, torn, and flung to die
        Pinned beneath the bone brickwork.
             She is lucky, she is dying
        Free from pain and freeform terror
        After that first shrieking instant,
        That brief shrieking instant,
        Not again too hear the bombers, not again to bear the bombings,
        Not again to shrink and shiver
        And hear the children cry.
             She is dying,
        Luckier far than brother Hansel whom she sheltered as they fell
        In the centre of the howling and the thunder-blast of hell—
        He must live out his life with his arm torn off.
        They will tell him, when he's older,
        How his sister sought to save him,
        How his sister died to save him
             In the war.

Ring out, O Easter bells, ring out,
For Christ is risen, is risen indeed,
And Mrs. John Jones has a new spring hat.
Let your calmer, let your clanger, let your chime
     Beating time
     Praise the Lord!
Doesn't Mrs. Smith look ghastly in that ghastly green creation,
I wonder what it is he sees in her?
Do you think the tartan tie is really regulation,
And the collar of that tunic—do you think it's really fur?
Proclaim to every nation glad tidings of salvation,
     Tell a tale of jubilation
To the booming and clanging of the bells—
     Praise the Lord,
For Christ is risen, is risen indeed!

        For Christ is risen, is risen indeed?
        Ah no. He hangs upon his cross
        Bewildered by defeat and loss— 
        Worshipped. A god. A thing apart.
        The nails still tearing at his tortured hands,
        The doubt still tearing at his tortured heart.

Related posts:

13 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 5: 'Sad End of a Noted Politician' by James MacRae

For the month, the fifth of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

To think I once worked to celebrate this horrible man.

I first learned of John J. MacDonald – "James MacRae" – a few months after moving to St Marys, the small Ontario town he adopted as his home. That introduction came through The Four James, William Arthur Deacon's 1927 study of MacRae and fellow poets James McIntyre, James Gay and James D. Gillis.

The four are forever united by that book. Indeed, their very legacies are crafted by that book and its subsequent reissues, the last of which was published forty-eight years ago by Macmillan.

"Canada's Four Worst- And Funniest-Poets."

They're not the four worst, nor are they the four funniest.

It's all too easy to see the Four Jameses as being similar (Paper Lace), when in fact they were actually very different from one another (The Beatles). McIntyre, the most prolific, was the most grounded. Like so much of his verse, 'Ode on the Mammoth Cheese,' his greatest hit, was intended to raise a smile at country fairs. Deacon encourages us to laugh at it, when we should be laughing with it. Gay, a loving and loveable loon who thought himself Tennyson's rival, is the most fun to read. Gillis wasn't so much a poet as a prose writer. He's included for no other reason than to make for a great title.

The differences between these four men is most evident in their respective reactions to the 1880 murder of politician and Globe publisher George Brown.

Unsurprisingly, the tragedy inspired no verse from prose-writer James Gillis. James McIntyre writes of his sorrow in a poem titled 'Departed Statesman.' James Gay expresses great affection for the fallen man with 'The Honourable G. Brown.' James MacRae's 'Sad End of a Noted Politician' is something else entirely.

A different kind of loon than Gay, much of MacRae's poetry is taken up by hate thrown on women, strangers, Protestants, and Liberals. 

'Sad End of a Noted Politician' comes from The Poems and Essays of John J. MacDonald, (Ottawa: Ru-Mi-Lou, 1928), the poet's third and final book.

MacDonald's nom de plume is misspelled on the cover.


On a cold winter night, cruel death in its might,
Deprives Mr. Brown of his senses;
Now the joys that attend all his honours must end,
And his long night of sorrow commences.

As he hears the decree, he determines to flee
To the gate of the dwelling of glory,
But that gate he finds closed, and his entrance opposed,
Although sad to his party the story.

Thus insultingly used, thus disowned and refused,
He goes on in another direction;
At that medium place, where the Papists have grace,
He asks humbly for rest and protection.

But in vain as before for thgat rest to implore—
He must follow his downward gradation;
With the devil despite he soon meets at the gate,
And there follows this sort of conversation:—
     G.B.—Disappointed and grieved, of mu comforts bereaved,
                 And my relatives all at a distance,
                 I have come to request of you leave her to rest,
                 And to ask your paternal assistance.

     DEV.—Oh! my corpulent friend, I your case apprehend,
                 And will grant you coveted pittance;
                 If you tell me the claim that you have on the same
                 You will gain to my dwelling admittance.

     G.B.—It is little you know in these regions below;
                You must think I'm a Papist or Paddy;
                As a Child if you prize the retailer of lies,
                I can certainly claim you for daddy.

     DEV.—You must still keep aloof till you give me some proof
                 On your noble and worthy exertions;
                 For I oft shall mistake if I venture to take
                 Every wandering stranger's assertions.

     G.B.—In my nethermost robes I have brought you some globes,
                You will find them a recommendation;
                     They will prove beyond doubt that I laboured throughout
                 In extending your own dominion.

     DEV.—By the stories they tell now I know you too well,
                 And to have one more prudent would rather,
                 For, exposing my plan by the course which you ran,
                 You have brought disgrace on your father.

                 For to win the applause some men for my cause
                 Some discretion and caution are needed;
                 But, regardless of this, you have acted amiss,
                 And my wise inspirations unheeded.

                 But your failings I feel have resulted from zeal
                 To encourage your partners in evil;
                 So forgetting your sin, you may quietly come in
                 But you must be exceedingly civil.

Related posts:

12 April 2022

Talking Ted Allan with Dick Bourgeois-Doyle

The second of my two conversations with Leacock Medal scholar Dick Bourgeois-Doyle is now available here on Soundcloud.

The topic is Ted Allan's Love is a Long Shot – in its 1949 and 1984 incarnations – and why I believe the latter was ineligible for the award.

I first wrote about Love is a Long Shot in the 2011 Fall/Winter issue of Canadian Notes & Queries; then reworked the piece for The Dusty Bookcase book. I'm sharing it here for the first time:


Love is a Long Shot
Alice K. Doherty [pseud. Ted Allan]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
160 pages

Can a writer, even a deceased writer, be stripped of the Leacock Medal? It’s a fair question, particularly when one considers the late Ted Allan, who received the honour in 1984 for Love is a Long Shot. This slight, uninspired novel tells the story of seventeen-year-old David Webber and his sometimes ribald adventures tending the till in a thirties-era Montreal cigar store-cum-bookie joint. It features a cast of characters that are characters; each ultimately and invariably proving themselves loveable types despite earlier indiscretions. Readers familiar with Lies My Father Told Me, the 1975 film that earned Allan an Academy Award nomination, will recognize some of these folks, including David’s frustrated inventor-father and his ideas for moveable cufflinks and permanently creased trousers.

This is not to suggest that there’s anything deceitful here; not with the film, at least. The overlap between Lies My Father Told Me and Love is a Long Shot is trifling, and in no way makes the latter ineligible for the Leacock. The medal’s rules inform: adaptations are fair game, we need only discount works of which “significant or substantial parts have been previously published in book form.”

Like so many tomes, the 1984 Love is a Long Shot includes a list of the author’s previous works. Allan’s first novel, This Time a Better Earth (1939), is followed by The Scalpel, The Sword (1952), the commercially successful biography of Norman Bethune that he wrote with Sydney Gordon. There’s Quest for Pajaro (1957), the science-fiction novel Allan published under nom de plume “Edward Maxwell,” and his children’s book Willie, the Squowse (1973). Also included is a comprehensive list of Allan’s plays and screenplays. What’s missing is telling: an earlier Love is a Long Shot.

Published by News Stand Library in September 1949, two months before newspaperman Al Palmer’s Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street, this Love is a Long Shot holds the distinction of being the first pulp noir novel set in Montreal. Its setting is a Depression-era city that’s as dark as the second Love is a Long Shot is light. Where in the remake David Webber gets his job through a helpful, good-natured uncle, our desperate protagonist—recently orphaned teenager Katie Doheny—is out of options. Like David, she takes a job in a cigar store that’s little more than a front for illegal gambling. The early pages of the girl’s bleak world are broken by fleeting moments of black humour—all of which Allan reused in his Leacock-winning novel. Here, for example, is the most memorable, a comic scene that features Molly, the wife of the cigar-store owner. It begins with a boast:
“Never wore a corset in my life. Never had to.” She swaggered out from behind the counter.  “If you don’t believe me, feel,” she said, offering me her hip.
     “I believe you,” I said.
     “Feel. Feel. Don’t be shy.”
     I touched her quickly with the tips of my fingers.
     She started to laugh again, a loud, hearty laugh. “How old are you?”
     I dug the broom into the floor, pushed hard and told her my age.
     “I bet you never had a man.”
The Molly of the 1984 Love is a Long Shot, also married to the cigar-store owner, is equally proud:
“Never wore a corset in my life. Never had to.” Weaving from behind the counter, she offered me her backside. “If you don’t believe me, feel.”
     “I believe you.”
     “Feel, feel, don’t be shy.” She wiggled her behind. I touched her hip quickly with the tips of my fingers. This made her cackle. You have to hear a woman with a bass voice cackle before you can believe the sound.
     “So help me, he’s blushing. How old are you?”
     “I’m twenty-one,” I lied.
     “I bet you’re still a cherry.”
Any further frivolity in the original Love is a Long Shot is soon overwhelmed by the noir. The greatest difference between the two novels lies in their depictions of organized crime. While the Leacock-winning Love is a Long Shot has the “syndicate” as a group of misbehaving boys, the 1949 original comes uncomfortably close to ugly reality.

Young Katie falls for “tall, rugged-looking, tanned” mob boss Hazen Black, a relatively young man rendered impotent by a life of debauchery. In what is surely one of the darkest scenes in Canadian literature, the appropriately-named Black masturbates while instructing his henchman Herbert to rape Katie:

Herbert grabbed me and held his hand over my mouth. I tried to bite it. “Go ahead,” Black was shouting. “Go ahead, damn it, go ahead.” His eyes looked insane. His breath was coming in short gasps, as if he’d been running. He was close to me, but hadn’t touched me yet. “Go ahead. Pick up her dress… do it, do it, do it.”

The original Love is a Long Shot ain’t that pretty at all—nor is it funny. Printed only once, in a fragile, disposable edition that credits the author variously as “Alice K. Doherty,” “Alice H. Doherty,” and simply “Alice Doherty,” it slipped by the judges of the 1984 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. The most one can say about the award-winning Love is a Long Shot that is that is was far superior to the previous year’s winner, Gary Lauten’s No Sex Please… We’re Married. Allan didn’t deserve the honour; the $3,500 cheque should have rightfully gone to fellow nominee John Gray, whose debut novel, Dazzled, had been issued by the anaemic Irwin Publishing. It’s a sad fact that the best novel Ted Allan ever wrote was one that he chose not to recognize. A cheap mass-market paperback issued under a pseudonym that the publisher couldn’t get right, it has been out of print for over half a century.  

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11 April 2022

Talking Joan Walker with Dick Bourgeois-Doyle

This past weekend I had the pleasure of speaking with Dick Bourgeois-Doyle of Canus Humorous about the life and work of Joan Walker (née Suter), whose memoir Pardon My Parka received the 1954 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal.

You can listen to our conversation here at Soundcloud, or if you prefer, the transcript can be found through this link to Canus Humorous.

10 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 4: 'You' by Ram Spudd Stephen Leacock

For the month, the fourth of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

Verse from Ram Spudd, "one of nature's gentlemen," as celebrated in Stephen Leacock's Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy (Toronto: Gundy, 1915).


With your warm, full, rich, red, ripe lips,
And your beautifully manicured finger-tips!
With your heaving, panting, rapidly expanding and contracting chest,
Lying against my perfectly ordinary shirt-front and dinner-jacket vest.
                                 It is too much
                                 Your touch
                                 As such.
                                 It and
                                 Your hand,
                           Can you not understand?
Last night an ostrich feather from your fragrant hair
                                Unnoticed fell.
                                I guard it
                           From your tiara I have slid,
                               A single diamond,
                               And I keep it
Last night you left inside the vestibule upon the sill
                               A quarter dollar,
                               And I have it

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07 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 3: 'My Little Suffragette' by Thaddeus A. Browne

For the month, the third of ten poems
I find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

Thaddeus A. Browne had a decades-long career as an Ottawa civil servant, though his Citizen obituary (9 March 1935) makes more about his standing as a literary figure.

I'm not sure that Browne was a widely known as a writer of poems and prose; I'd never encountered his name before buying The White Plague and Other Poems (Toronto: William Briggs, 1909). Of its twenty-two poems, 'My Little Suffragette' is the second to take on soldiers in petticoats. 


                         Little blue-eyed suffragette,
                         What for suffrage calling yet?
                         Stop your worry, cease your fret,
                              Don't you see the harm it brings? 
                         If a vote were given you,
                         Many things no doubt you'd do,
                         You might mould the world anew
                              As upon its course it swings. 
                         But I want to tell you this,
                         Winsome little suffrage miss,
                         You are keeping me from bliss
                              By your interest in such things. 
                         You have worried my poor mind,
                         You have been to me unkind;
                         Good it is that Love is blind,
                              Or he might have taken wings. 
                         What! you did it just to tease!
                         Little minx, give me a squeeze.
                         Love you give me ecstasies
                              What's your choice of wedding rings?
Remarkably, the poet did marry... though not until middle age.

 Thaddeus Augustine Browne

04 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 2: 'The Tame Apes' by Robert E. Swanson

For the month, the second of ten poems
find interesting, amusing, and/or infuriating.

Verse from Robert E. Swanson's Rhymes of a Lumberjack (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1943). The accompanying illustration is by Bert Bushell.

Not the sort of thing I expected from the publisher of "Poet Laureate of the Home" Edna Jaques.


            Tame apes of the jungle they call us,
                 He-men of the forest are we;
            Who spend our money on poker and booze,
            And don't give a damn if we win or lose.
            And a carefree life in the forest we choose,
                 On the slopes by the Western Sea. 
            We live a tough life when we're working,
                 We play just as rough in the town;
            We're suckers for women who wear high heels,
            With well-moulded bodies and looser ideals,
            That trip down the street, dolled up in their seals;
                 Just waiting for us to come down. 
            We paint the town red when we're spending.
                 It's drinks on the house by the crock.
            Then our friends are many, and women smile.
            It's "What is your hurry? Please tarry a while."
            But when she's all spent—we walk the last mile
                 Down to the Union dock. 
            Then it's "Give you an upper? The hell you say!
                 You bums can sleep on the floor!"
            The world seems cold, and people will shun.
            But a tame-ape brother won't see it undone—
            He's still got a crock! ... the son of a gun!
                 So you step in his stateroom door. 
            "Say! ... Who's pushing' camp up at Kelley's?
                 They tell me you're running full slam.
            Now the air is blue with cigarette smoke—
            Someone is trying to tell you a joke;
            You kinda forget you're going' broke
                 To the jungles: but who gives a damn? 
            So back to the jungles you're headin' once more—
            To the brush where the tame-apes roam;
            To the little old camp, by a railroad track,
            Where the blue smoke curls from the bull cook's shack,
            And the smell of the bunkhouse welcomes you back.
                 By Gawd! but you soon feel at home. 
            And before the dawn breaks in the morning,
                 From his bunk the tame-ape will roll.
            While still it is dark, he heads for the brush;
            When the push-ape hollers, he'll scramble and rush—
            Get down on his knees, in the cold damp slush,
                 And scratch for his choker hole. 
            Soon the hooker will holler for the straw-line;
                 Then the apes in the brush don mad.
            One runs with the end up the hill, sheer;
            When he hollers out "Line!" you get in the clear,
            And bound over logs and chunks like a deer;
                 If you're slow ... well, it's just too bad. 
            Then you think of the stake thhat you squandered.
                 And the plans that you conjured before;
            So you make them again, in the very same way—
            You'll head into town with your heard-earned pay;
            But you know in your heart you'll be king for a day,
                 Then come back to the woods once more. 
            But life to a woodman is freedom,
                 Not measured in dollars sublime;
            But to come and go and quit when he please,
            Not beg for a job on bended knees.
            No roadie to tycoons, with rich properties,
                 Who would see him in Hell—for a dime.

01 April 2022

Ten Poems for National Poetry Month, Number 1: 'Snow in April' by Marjorie Pickthall

I haven't given National Poetry Month the attention it deserves. The first year of the Dusty Bookcase saw  James MacRae, he of William Arthur Deacon's The Four Jameses, recognized. The following April, National Poetry Month was pretty much given over to fellow James, Cheese Poet James McIntyre. The year after that, I produced a chapbook and promoted an evening celebrating the first James – by which I mean MacRae (né John J MacDonald) – in beautiful St Marys, the small Ontario town he'd chosen to call home.

National Poetry Month month has received little recognition since. I aim to make amends by posting verse – one poem every three days – until the cruelest month runs its course. Some I like, some I very much dislike; all are shared for no other reason than I find them amusing, interesting and/or infuriating.

We begin with 'Snow in April' by once-celebrated, now neglected Marjorie Pickthall. It isn't one of her best, but I like it. So, now that April's here, from The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1927):

                  Over the boughs that the wind has shaken,
                  Over the sands that are rippled with rain,
                  Over the banks where the buds awaken
                  Cold cloud shadows are spreading again.
                  All the musical world is still,
                  When sharp and sudden, a sparrow calls,
                  And down on the grass where the violets shiver,
                  Through the spruce on the height of the hill,
                  Down on the breadths of the shining river
                  The faint snow falls.
                  Last weak word of a lord that passes—
                  Why should the burgeoning woods be mute?
                  Spring is abroad in the spiring grasses
                  Life is awake in the robin's flute.
                  But high in the spruce a wind is wailing,
                  And the birds in silence arise and go.
                  Is it that winter is still too near
                  For the heart of the world to cast out fear,
                  When over the sky the rack comes sailing
                  And suddenly falls the snow?
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