[photo as we collected at Bank and First, by Chris Johnson]
For my second walk, the Glebe presented itself with far more information than I could ever present in a single walk. The lyric poet and critic Jay MacPherson (1931-2012), for example, may have been known as a Toronto poet, but attended both Glebe Collegiate and Carleton College (the precursor to Carleton University). Poet and former Ottawa City Councellor Clive Doucet and poet and writer Roy MacSkimming were long-time neighbours on Muriel Street, a short street stretching from Fifth Avenue to Holmwood, hidden just east of Bronson Avenue. One could mention poet, editor and Arc Poetry Magazine co-founder Christopher Levenson, a name I’ve seen attached to both 585 O’Connor and 30 First Avenue, either or both of which could have been sites of conversation around the creation of Canada’s National Poetry Magazine. As some of you most likely know, the journal was founded in 1978 by Levenson, Tom Henighan and Michael Gnarowski, all of whom were professors in the English Department at Carleton University. I could mention Pulitzer Prize and Giller Award-winning novelist Carol Shields, who lived with her family on the Driveway from 1968 to 1978, where she wrote poetry and fiction, was editorial assistant to the journal Canadian Slavonic Papers, taught a year at the University of Ottawa, and raised her five children, including her youngest, the poet, fiction writer and YA novelist Sara Cassidy, who was born in Ottawa in 1968. During Shields’ time in Ottawa, she published the first two of her three poetry collections—Others (1972) and Intersect (1974)—as well as her first novel. Along those same lines, there was activist Patricia Zolf, known as Patsy, who, as a member of the Glebe Community Association, was instrumental in preventing Carling Avenue from extending east beyond Bronson Avenue (the original plan would have extended Carling through the Glebe and over the Rideau Canal into Old Ottawa East), as well as one of the original contributors to the Glebe Report. Mother to poet Rachel Zolf, Pat and her daughter lived on Monkland Avenue for a couple of years around 1970, before they relocated to Toronto, where after being involved in halting the Spadina Expressway, Pat began her lengthy career as a Toronto City Planner.
There is a whole list of writers that have worked for Octopus Books over the years, including Ottawa poet Cameron Anstee, Toronto fiction writer Jennifer Whiteford, Ottawa writer Marwan Hassan, Vancouver poet Kim Minkus and even myself, during the mid-1990s. One could mention the former RR restaurant at Bank and Holmwood, where the Pizza Pizza currently exists, where First Draft, the collaborative sound and poetry group of writers, artists and musicians that included Colin Morton, Susan McMaster, David Parsons and Andrew McClure, among some half-dozen more members, regularly met. As Morton writes in an email, the RR restaurant was where the group “met every Wednesday night over coffee and beer as documented in The Scream (Ouroboros, 1984); also scene of the after-party following First Draft’s Theatre 2000 show Pass This Way Again.” Further north, the Clocktower Pub has been hosting the In/Words Reading Series since 2010, when Justin Million relocated the series, after time spent in a couple of locations around Centretown.
I even lived a year in the Glebe, in a terrible apartment with roommates around 1995-1996, on Fifth Avenue, just at the end of Lyon. This was during the two-year period I was co-coordinating editor of The Carleton Arts Review, a journal originally founded at Carleton Univeristy as The Carleton Literary Review in 1981 (the journal folded in 1997), and not long after I took over The TREE Reading Series. I don’t specifically remember what I wrote there, but I suspect it was terrible.
FIRST STOP: 299 First Avenue: This is where Toronto poet, playwrite and translator Richard Sanger grew up, and his father, “proud parent” Clyde Sanger still lives. Clyde wrote an article for the Glebe Report in 2005, in which he detailed a bicycle tour of poetry sites around the Glebe (a couple of the addresses gathered here are thanks to him), that includes his own home address, “where a proud parent reads from Richard Sanger’s works, either Paper Boy or, if the bikers seemed broadminded, The LowDown, about poor Mr. Pullen giving a sex-education talk to Glebe students with ‘know-it-all smirks.’” Richard Sanger, according to his online bio, “was born in Manchester, England, to a Canadian mother and an English father, both journalists. After living in Kenya, Connecticut and Toronto, the family settled in Ottawa where his parents still live and he grew up, played hockey and soccer, ran and skied cross-country, wrote poems and attended bilingual high school.” Richard Sanger has published numerous plays, translation and poems, and is the author of three collections: Shadow Cabinet (1996), Calling Home (2002) and Dark Woods, new this spring with Biblioasis.
SECOND STOP: 314 First Avenue, between Percy and Lyon: Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa on November 18, 1939, the second of three children born to forest entomologist Carl Atwood and his wife Margaret, during a period the family lived at 314 First Avenue. I don’t know if I have to say much about Margaret Atwood, celebrated novelist, critic, poet, editor and short story writer who has also authored works in multiple further genres, including screenplays, graphic novels, radio plays and stories for children.
By 1941, the family had relocated to 2-1 Patterson Avenue, by the canal, and by 1945, had left the city entirely, as Carl Atwood relocated them north for the purpose of studying forest insects. According to Wikipedia, young Peggy didn’t attend school regularly until she was eight years old, spending much of her childhood in the backwoods of Northern Quebec.
THIRD STOP: 22 Third Avenue, between O’Connor and Queen Elizabeth: Poet and translator George Johnston joined the English Department at Carleton College in 1950, seven years before the College officially became known as Carleton University. His author biography in The Essential George Johnston (The Porcupine’s Quill, Inc., 2007), writes that “he was a charismatic and much-loved professor of Old and Middle English and Old Norse.” His first poetry collection, The Cruising Auk, written during the war, was published in 1959, during his time in Ottawa, followed by Home Free (1966), Happy Enough (1972) and Taking a Grip (1979). After retiring that same year, he relocated to Quebec, where, according to Wikipedia, he raised bees and continued to write, until his death in 2004. In the introduction to The Essential George Johnston, editor Robyn Sarah refers to him as a “master poet.” In his Glebe Report article, Clyde Sanger refers to “Raymond Souster’s charming poem that starts, ‘Ottawa to me, George Johnson, lies at the bottom of your street.’”
Farewell to Teaching
Knowing what I now know
would I have consented
to be born? Next question.
When it comes time to go
will I go forlorn or
contented? Ask again.
Anything in between
should be easier. O
K, what made up my mind
to come to Carleton? Work.
my kind of work was not
easy to come by, I
came by it at Carleton;
it was as simple as that
and lucky, plain lucky.
I cannot account for luck
but I can be grateful.
What was my kind of work?
whatever that may be.
Teaching is a kind of
learning, much like loving,
both doing each to each;
life itself, you might say.
Whatever teaching is
did I enjoy it? Yes.
Am I glad to leave it?
Even of life itself
enough is enough. Good-
bye Dow’s Lake, goodbye Tower,
essays, papers, exams,
you I can bear to leave.
But how shall I improve
the swiftly-dimming hour?
I shall deteriorate
amid bucolic dreams
and gather in my fate;
there’s lots worse ways than that.
Goodbye good friends. Alas,
some goodbyes are like death;
they bring the heart to earth
and teach it how to die.
Earth, here we come again,
we’re going out to grass.
Think of us now and then,
we’ll think of you. Goodbye.
In 1992, the English Department at Carleton instituted the George Johnston Poetry Prize, awarded annually to the best student poem, and has been won over the years by numerous poets, many of whom have continued to publish, including Aaron Kozak, Jenna Jarvis, Natalie Hanna, Kathryn Hunt, Amal El-Mohtar, Laurie Anne Fuhr, JM Francheteau, Mark Foley, Leo Brent Robillard, Jeremy Hanson-Finger and Bardia Sinaee (I have yet to see a comprehensive list of such, and was forced to cobble together a list with the assist of others on social media). This year’s winner was Emily Baird, for her poem “Lifeboat.” [produced as an above/ground press "poem" handout for the event; read the poem here]
FOURTH STOP: 191 Fourth Avenue, between Percy and Lyon: For a period in the early 1960s, Ottawa poet Harry Howith, one of William Hawkins’ circle of friends and contemporaries (and co-founder, along with Hawkins, of poetry readings at Le Hibou [discussed as part of my first walk]), lived here, where he ran his own short-lived small press, Bytown Books. In 1963, he produced his own debut as the press’ first title, Burglar Tools, and, as Cameron Anstee wrote about the press on his blog, a second title was announced the same year, in an issue of Louis Dudek’s Montreal journal Delta (the precursor to the publishing house DC Books), but was never published. That lost book was That Monocyle, The Moon, by Seymour Mayne, a Montreal poet most likely still out in Vancouver during that time, a full decade before he arrived in Ottawa to teach in the English Department at the University of Ottawa.
Howith attended Carleton University, and later became an instructor at Centennial College in Toronto, where he also designed books, including Toronto poet Gwendolyn MacEwen’s first major collection of poetry, The Rising Fire (1963), a book published by Contact Press, a publishing house run by Louis Dudek, Irving Layton and Raymond Souster, that quickly became known as being the most important and influential poetry publishing house of its time. Even in Toronto, Howith maintained his connections to Montreal and Ottawa, including publishing his second book, Two Longer Poems (Toronto ON: Patrician Press, 1965), which consisted of Howith’s poem “The Seasons of Miss Nicky” alongside William Hawkins’ poem “Louis Riel,” and The Stately Homes of Westmount, published by Dudek’s DC Books in 1973. His sixth and final poetry collection, Multiple Choices: New and Selected Poems, 1961-1976, was published by Mosaic Press in 1976 and edited by Seymour Mayne, who spent many years editing books for the press. Howith eventually returned to Ottawa, as Blaine Marchand mentions that Howith lived in the Ambleside Apartments, off Richmond Road, during the late 1970s and into the 80s, but at some point, Howith relocated east, ending up in Kentville, Nova Scotia, where he died in June, 2014. His extremely short obituary in the Globe and Mail includes the final line: “As directed by Mr Howith, there shall be no funeral, flowers, donations, eulogy or memorial service.” It was around that time that William Hawkins suggested there was another, unpublished manuscript of Howith’s that existed, and one that he had a copy of, but Bill soon discovered that it had somehow been thrown out by one of his roommates in their shared rooming house, during one of Hawkins’ hospital stays.
FIFTH STOP: 91a Fourth Avenue: In May 1980, Juan O’Neill, Marty Flomen, Joe Lacroix, Jim McAuley, Nelson Oliver and Paul Ryan hosted a reading by Ottawa poet Jane Jordan (1926-2007) [see my Open Book column on dismantling her library here] as the first event under the name The TREE Reading Series, at what O’Neill later referred to as a “disused fire hall in the Glebe.” Research indicates that this would have been the No. 10 Graham Station at 260 Sunnyside Avenue, a building that has since been rebuilt and repurposed into the current Old Ottawa South Community Centre. By 1981, TREE had moved to 91a Fourth Avenue to what is now known as the Religious Society of Friends, or the Quaker Meeting House, where it ran throughout most of the 1980s, before relocating to the Glebe Community Centre. Held the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, TREE remained there until 1994, when it moved to SAW Gallery. During part of my own tenure as co-running the series in the late 1990s, the series reappeared in the Glebe, where it briefly lived at Irene’s Pub, before returning to SAW.
TREE is a series that has not only hosted readings by hundreds of poets and fiction writers from across Canada (only evolving into a poetry-only series around 2006), but, through its regular open set, provided the space for first public readings for generations of Ottawa poets and fiction writers. To list those that have read at TREE would most likely be one of the most comprehensive list of Ottawa-area writers available, and even a list of organizers past and present would be impressive, including John Barton, Colin Morton, Sylvia Adams, Rod Pederson, James Moran, Rhonda Douglas, Deanna Young, b stephen harding and Pearl Pirie. The series is currently being run by Claire Farley, Scott Lemoine, Dorian Bell, Jean Van Loon, Elanor Boyle-Stanley, Chris Johnson and Natalie Leduc, and is held at The Happy Goat Coffee Co., 55 Laurel Street near Preston and Gladstone.
Here is a poem from Jane Jordan’s A Signature of Leaves (Penumbra Press, 2005), a loosely-collected selected poems gathered from more than three decades of her writing:
Notes for the Dreamspeaker
I do not serve you platitudes
I need to speak & live
function & rebel
in my own language
I want to drop a line
watch the current flow
before I reel concepts
document my particular vision
bafflegab will never substitute
I take my stubborn route
a hardhat just in case
a cliff should fall on me
I watch the sky lengthening its mystic & surreal
focus ten years ahead
NOW IT IS YOUR TURN
SIXTH STOP: 82 Fourth Avenue: Poet, playwrite and nationalist Robin Mathews, who taught at Carleton University for many years, lived here with his wife Esther. Some might recall that Mathews was one of the more prominent voices who declared the works of George Bowering and his contemporaries in and around TISH magazine in the early 1960s to not be producing Canadian writing, due to their, as he declared, overwhelmingly American influences. This type of complaint culminated in the establishment of a one-off prize, the People’s Poetry Award, for Prince Edward Island poet Milton Acorn. In 1969, Acorn’s collection, I’ve Tasted My Blood, had been, some believed, unfairly passed over for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, instead awarded to George Bowering for two collections: Rocky Mountain Foot and The Gangs of Kosmos. The People’s Poetry Award was subsequently established as an annual book prize in 1987 by Ted Plantos, and continues to this day. In the Glebe Report in 2005, Clyde Sanger wrote that this was where Mathews “wrote Language of Fire: Poems of Love and Struggle. When they sold the house to a lawyer, he asked for the keys and they handed him a shoebox full of them they had inherited and said: ‘Try them to fit. We never locked anything.’”
SEVENTH STOP: Bank and Fourth: Avenue Bookshop: From January 7 to February 7, 1986, Ottawa poet Michael Dennis [also discussed as part of my first walk] composed his poetry collection poems for jessica-flynn, a small title produced later that year by proprietor Rhys Knott under “not one cent of subsidy press,” an imprint seemingly created for the sole purpose of this single title. While the store is long gone, Knott later ran another bookstore, for used and antiquarian titles, on Hawthorne Street. Knott also employed Dennis occasionally, which Michael often used as an opportunity to trade work hours for store credit, thus adding to his large personal library of contemporary poetry.
Michael Dennis’ month in the window was part of a much larger project that allowed artists to install whatever they wished for a month-long display, curated by Dennis himself, and the series also included Ottawa artists Richard Negro, Daniel Sharp, Bruce Deachman, Dennis Tourbin and Dana Wardrop. Dennis’ month writing poems was the final of the twelve month series.
1st in a series of poems from a bookstore window
so, i'm finally heresitting in a bookstore window
and trying to write
of all things, poetry
you have to get everything right
you have to be sitting in the perfect position
with the typer at just such an angle
you have to be feeling a certain way
and then you can do it
you can let go
of whatever it is that controls you
whatever it is that sets the rules
and you simply go the other way
that's exactly what i'm doing
here in this bookstore window
in the middle of winter
Influenced by Michael Dennis’ work and bookstore window project, I even did my own version of same, sitting a month in the window of Octopus Books when it still lived at 798 Bank Street, writing banker’s hours throughout the month of June 1996. My own project was far less successful than Michael’s, although it did attract the mockery of Frank magazine, a political tabloid that prided itself on going after the “rich and important” (keeping in mind, of course, that I have never been rich).
EIGHTH STOP: 2 Howick Place, at Fifth Avenue: From 1976 to 1982, Ottawa poet and fiction writer Blaine Marchand lived in apartment 1, during which he ran the short lived SPARKS magazine [see my interview with Marchand on SPARKS here, with full SPARKS bibliography] with an editorial board that included, variously, Robert Craig (who went on to co-found Lowertown’s infamous BARD Reading Series of the 1990s), Timothy Dunn, Kathryn Oakley and Juan O’Neill, back when Juan was still known as John O’Neill. Some might remember Juan as the founder and organizer of the long-running Sasquatch Reading Series, hosted in various locations around Lowertown, a series that was actually founded, originally, by Jane Jordan at Pestolozzi College on Rideau Street in 1971. The series, once Jordan handed it over to O’Neill in 1982, was redubbed Sasquatch. After O’Neill’s death in 2006, the series continued under poet Lynne Alsford, and finally folded in 2012 under Alistair Larwill.
SPARKS magazine was a chapbook-sized poetry newsletter consisting of new poems alongside an interview or possibly a review, and listings of literary events throughout Ottawa over the following weeks. SPARKS ran montly from March 1977 to September 1978. After the demise of the journal, it continued as a weekly poetry show at CHEZ-106, hosted originally by Marchand and Oakley, and later, by poet Ronnie R.Brown, running until the mid-1980s. The format of SPARKS magazine was based on PoetryToronto, a monthly publication founded by Maria Jacobs and Heather Cadsby that ran from January 1976 to December 1988, providing information on readings, workshops and other literary notices, as well as publishing new poems by Toronto writers. Jacobs and Cadsby also went on to found the literary publishing house Wolsak and Wynn in 1983, a press since sold to Noelle Allen, who currently runs it out of Hamilton, Ontario. After SPARKS ceased publication, Bywords, another publication clearly influenced by Poetry Toronto, was founded in 1990 as a monthly poetry publication and newsletter by Heather Ferguson, Gwendolyn Guth and Seymour Mayne out of the University of Ottawa, and Bywords ran continuously until 2001. Bywords was revived by Charles and Amanda Earl as an online journal in 2003, and continues to provide complete listings of Ottawa-area literary events, publications and calls for submissions, as well as hosting the annual John Newlove Poetry Award.
On his part, Blaine Marchand went on to publish numerous books of poetry and fiction, co-founded the Ottawa Independent Writers and the Ottawa Valley Book Festival in 1996, and was President of the League of Canadian Poets from 1992-94.