An Annotated Bibliography of A.J.M. Smith

A.J.M. Smith: An Annotated Bibliography. Edited by Michael E. Darling. Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1981, 228 pp.

This bibliography is not handsome; nor is it as efficient as it might be; but it is welcome.  Indeed, the reader, exasperated by recent developments in other Canadian bibliographical undertakings, must thank Michael Darling for saving Smith from less qualified bibliophiles.  As it should, this bibliography bears the fruits of dilligent searches through Canadian archives, and Canadian, British, and American periodicals, and assembles for the first time an almost complete record of the work of Smith and his critics.  Only a proper enumeration of archival holdings at McGill, Toronto, Queen's, and Trent (and Michigan State?) remains to be undertaken.  Darling offers in his annotations to Smith's published books and pamphlets some of the archival material which clarifies or describes the poet-critic/anthologist's negotiations with publishers and other writers.  For example, that Smith considered calling Collected Poems (1962) Kaleidoscope attests to his own view that the collection had its individual shards but did form a unified image.

     The bibliography is divided into seven sections: A — Smith's books and pamphlets; B — Smith's first appearance poetic and prose contributions to others' books; C — Smith's periodical contributions, whatever their genre; D — Smith's contributions to anthologies; E — a section deceptively titled "Translations," that includes, not Smith's translations, but translations by others of his poems; F — criticism; and G — book reviews.  As well, an index to the last two sections is provided.  Sadly, the assembly and presentation of the material leaves the reader in a state of wonder.   Truly excited to discover a bibliography for an important Canadian poet, he soon finds himself ensnared by its contents, the victim of enchantment caught in the midst of a morass of details.

     The simple problem would appear to be that Darling's work does not offer the would-be Smith critic help where he most needs it.  A major difficulty with Smith's oeuvre is the dating of individual poems.  Somewhere in this bibliography the original place and date of publication of Smith's works are given.  For example, those of "The Lonely Land" may be found eighteen pages into section C, and, once found, the poem's subsequent publication record appears to be given by Darling.  Yet, this is not quite the case, for the cross-references provided only cover appearances of the poem in other periodicals and Smith's own books of poetry.  Only a separate consultation of each entry in section D (anthologies) reveals other published appearances of the poem, while an off-chance glance at section E (translations) will reward the eye with the information that the poem also has appeared once in a French translation not made by Smith.

     What is wrong here? Quite simply, the bibliography needs reorganization.  Chronological organization that ignores any generical classifications can reveal an author's output in a given year.   (Even at that, Darling's reader would have to check a specific year through each of the first five sections.)  But most students of Smith would come to a bibliography wanting to determine, not a certain year's output, but, more likely, the date of first (and subsequent) publication of a certain poem or article.  Only a full reading of section C, D, and E would provide such information.  A number of solutions propose themselves.  Without altering Darling's divisions, one could display in the voluminous section C the annual date, projected into the left-hand margin, thereby helping to break down the flow of entries while showing at a glance the quantity of work published in each year.  One might also (quite appropriately, I think) divide Smith's periodical contributions into subsections, one for poetry, and another for reviews and critical studies.  But what is most needed to complement a chronological format are a number of lists, lists for the contents (in order) of each of Smith's volumes of poetry, as well as alphabetically-arranged master lists of the poems, and of the critical articles.  Using Darling's code, these lists could give the complete publication history, in chronological order, beside each entry.  The poetry master list might include the following entry:

Lonely Land, The.

C141, C212, C228, D2, D6, A3, D9, D11, D12, A9, D13(I), A17, D13(II), A21, D24, D30, D31, D35, D13(III), A29, C456, E18.

Retention of Darling's code indicates that the poem was published three times in periodicals and twice in anthologies before Smith brought it out in his first volume of poetry (A3).  Further annotation by Darling also may have made possible in this example the notation from section F of those critical articles that treat "The Lonely Land" in any detail.  As well, an asterisk might have been applied against a coded entry to denote that revisions were made in the poem at a certain date in its history.  Sufficient blank pages at the end of the book will make it possible for its owner to make his own lists.  Almost the only detail not revealed by such a list, but which Darling's section D helpfully indicates, is the oddity that Smith, after including "The Lonely Land" in New Provinces (1936), chose not to include it in either his three editions of The Book of Canadian Poetry (1943, 1948, 1957) or his edition of The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (1960).

     Just as the poems listed in section C are cross-referenced only to Smith's books of poetry and his anthologies, his critical articles are cross-referenced only to his book, Towards a View of Canadian Letters.  To take "Contemporary Poetry" as one example, Darling lists the short essay correctly as C183 under contributions to periodicals, but does not notify his reader whether and where it has been republished.  He does list it in D20 under the contents of The Making of Modern Poetry in Canada, but there, he does not cross-reference the entry back to C183, thus leaving the student who is familiar with the essay only in the anthology searching in Dudek and Gnarowski for the requisite bibliographical information.  What the problems with "The Lonely Land" and "Contemporary Poetry" underscore is that Darling has done the spadework well enough, but has not brought his findings out into the clearest possible light.

     Several bibliographical decisions raise questions.  Why was New Provinces not included in section A (books and pamphlets) if it was decided that The Blasted Pine should be?   The Gnarowski introduction to the reprint of New Provinces (1976) shows that Smith played a notable editorial role in the evolution of the volume, certainly as large a one as he did for The Blasted Pine, which includes, in the first edition, four fewer and, in the second edition, three fewer Smith poems than appeared in New Provinces.  As Smith's debut as an editor / anthologist (albeit in a co-operative endeavour) and as a poet published in book form, New Provinces has always been firmly linked to his name.

     The inclusion of New Provinces only in section D (anthologies) reflects the lower status accorded the volume by Darling, who believes as well that no reviews of it need have appeared in section G (book reviews).  Not directed to these reviews, students may miss many critical remarks on twelve of Smith's poems, remarks which include those made by W.J. Keith in his salutary review of the reprint, which appeared in the pages of this journal in 1979.  By reading Smith's "Rejected Preface" back on the volume, Keith offers the following valuable reminder: "There are ironies in his [Smith's] position.   Just as Scott drew attention to the fact that the new poetry was a quarter of a century old, so Smith conceded that in advocating a poetry of sharply-chiselled phrase and finely-honed intellect he was 'only following in the path of the more significant poets in England and the United States'."

     Whether this absence is the consequence of oversight or deletion is not difficult to determine if one traces Darling's announced decisions on other matters of inclusion and exclusion.  He states that section D comprises only "a representative selection of anthologies including Smith's work" (p. 6), without stating his criteria for selection.  Another choice is made in section F (criticism) where, "the emphasis. . . is on early references, while later commentaries that add little to our knowledge of the man or his work are largely ignored" (p. 6).  Section G (reviews of books) also reflects an ill-defined critical choice.  Its contents "have been selected with a view to presenting either representative opinions or disparate views that are worthy [emphasis added] of recording.  Brief notices in magazines and newspapers are numerous, but usually uninteresting, and these are rarely included" (p. 7).  Unworthy, apparently, are Keith's remarks, as well as those made by John Sutherland in his April, 1944 editorial in First Statement, entitled "Cosmopolitanism and our Literary Provincialism," in which reference is made to the critical categories chosen by Smith in The Book of Canadian Poetry.  Darling continues: "Some of Smith's books, especially the American anthologies, received little or no attention, and I have decided not to include the very few reviews of these that I did locate" (p. 7).   What possible good can such deletions do?  Surely it is for the critics of Smith, not his bibliographer, to decide what is important, and, in order for critics present and future to make the most intelligent decisions, the maximum of information must be made available to them when the opportunity arises.

     At least one difficulty occurs with the book's format: the double-spaced typescript is a disappointment in a book with hard covers but, be that as it may, section A is not easily read.  The code numbers are not projected into the margin, as in sections B, C, D, and E; nor are the titles indented, as in sections F and G.  One other annoying aspect of section A is the inconsistent mention of Smith's epigraphical use of Santayana in all five of his poetry books.  Because Darling includes only what appears on the title page of each edition, mention of Santayana occurs only in the entry for A Sort of Ecstasy, and in the note on the publication of News of the Phoenix.

     For the most part, the annotations are cogent and concise, though one might wish to dispute the remark in the entry for The Book of Canadian Prose: Volume 1 (1965) that: "it is indicative of the relative unimportance of prose in Smith's view that in the twenty years it took him to complete his prose anthology he produced seven anthologies of poetry" (p. 45).  Also, it seems beyond a bibliographer's jurisdiction to surmise where facts do not present themselves.  Darling offers this speculation on the publication of The Classic Shade (1978) by McClelland and Stewart: "Although there is no documented information on the pre-publication history of this book, one can gather that Smith was unhappy that his publisher, Oxford University Press, had let Poems New and Collected go out of print, and offered this selection to McClelland" (p. 57).  Can one guess that the same causes motivated Smith's move from Ryerson to Oxford for the publication of Collected Poems (1962)?  Smith may have been enticed by a better offer, or he may simply have been distraught, as are the owners of copies of Poems New and Collected, with the miserable binding on that paperback edition.  Darling's opinion is only as helpful as any other, unauthoritative as it is.

     The individual bibliographical entries are accurate in detail and correct in form, reflecting care where perhaps a bibliography most requires it.  Few errors are apparent: entry C161 ought to read, "A Poem [Take in your long arms. . . . ]" to reflect an early version of "For Healing."  But, whereas each entry is satisfactorily presented, the material not entered throws up more difficulties.  One item appears merely to be an omission: Smith's "A Note on Metaphysical Poetry," The Canadian Mercury, I, No. 3 (Feb. 1929), 61-2, noted by G.P. Schultz in his Master's thesis, p. 221 (F49).   But other matters are the consequences of some of Darling's methodological decisions: there is no record for those of Smith's poems which never appeared in periodicals.  Since the contents of each of the volumes of poetry are not listed, the reader must deduce the publishing history of the four poems which appeared first in A Sort of Ecstasy, the seven which appeared first in Collected Poems, and the three which appeared first in Poems New and Collected.  Furthermore, those poems (eighteen, including the ones mentioned above) which were published only in Smith's volumes and in other books of poetry and anthologies, but not in periodicals, are very difficult to track down: for such an important poem as "The Wisdom of Old Jelly Roll," which appeared only in Gustafson's The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse (and there, was entitled "Sonnet") before its publication in Collected Poems, this shortcoming is acute.  Further omissions include Smith's graduate work: space ought to have been made available for the mention of his two theses, on Yeats and on Metaphysical Poetry, for the bearing they may or may not have on his poetics and critical views.

     Finally, then, the reader of this bibliography is struck predominantly by two things: the amount of little-known material brought together by Darling; and the great effort that will be expended by those who consult this much-needed resource to get out of it what a bibliography is meant to offer up readily.

I.S. MacLaren