The Canadian Poetry Press Editions

In May, 1986, the Academic Development Fund of the University of Western Ontario awarded R.J. Shroyer and myself a generous grant to establish a Centre for the purposes of editing early Canadian long poems.  In our application to the A.D.F., Shroyer and I undertook to complete editions of five eighteenth- and nineteenth-century long poems, Thomas Cary's Abram's Plains (1789), Oliver Goldsmith's The Rising Village (1825, 1834), Adam Kidd's The Huron Chief (1830), Isabella Valancy Crawford's Malcolm's Katie (1884), and Archibald Lampman's The Story of an Affinity (1900).  Since the A.D.F. allows the carry-forward of unused funds over a certain period, we were able in 1986-1990 to expand our initial proposal to include five more early Canadian long poems: J. Mackay's Quebec Hill (1797), Cornwall Bayley's Canada (1806), Standish O'Grady's The Emigrant (1842), Charles Sangster's The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay (1856), and Joseph Howe's Acadia (1874).  With the exceptions of The Rising Village, The Emigrant, and Acadia, which were edited by, respectively, Gerald Lynch (Ottawa), Brian Trehearne (McGill), and M.G. Parks (Dalhousie), all ten books were edited by Shroyer (Associate Editor) and myself.  On the assumption that the problems encountered and the lessons learned during the production of ten editions might be of interest to scholars, my aim here is briefly to describe the early Canadian poetry editing project, paying some attention, not merely to its origins and techniques, but also on its theoretical assumptions and practical achievements.  I shall then turn even more briefly to outline the present activities of the Centre for Canadian Poetry — the editions that are now underway and those that are planned.

     In a quite obvious way, the editions in the Canadian Poetry Press Series are an extension of the "Documents" section of Canadian Poetry, which has, since its inception in 1977 under the co-editorship of Michael Gnarowski and myself, sought to publish items of a documentary nature such as letters, interviews, essays, and poems that are relatively inaccessible and deserve to be better known.  A.C. Stewart's "The Poetical Review" in the first issue of Canadian Poetry is one example; others are Charles G.D. Roberts' essay on "Canadian Poetry in its Relation to the Poetry of England and America" in the third issue and Frederick Philip Grove's "Poems" (excepting "The Dirge") in the tenth.  Clearly such items, though useful in their different ways to scholars and critics of Canadian literature, have limited "reach" and pedagogical value: they might find their way into graduate seminars but would seldom, if ever, impinge upon the consciousness of undergraduate students at the honours level or lower.  If the richness of early Canadian poetry was to be brought home to its potential audience, the poetry itself would have to be made readily accessible, and in a manner which gave readers the "documents" necessary to make it come alive in its literary, historical, and critical contexts.

     In the early 'eighties, there occurred two events that made the production of the Canadian Poetry Press Series of self-contained editions of early Canadian poems almost inevitable.   The first of these was the disappearance from print of David Sinclair's Nineteenth-Century Narrative Poems (1972), a very well edited anthology that had become almost indispensable for the teaching of early Canadian poetry at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  The second was the commencement by Mary Jane Edwards and her collaborators at Carleton and elsewhere of the project to edit early Canadian fiction that has so far produced scholarly editions of six works, most recently Rosanna Leprohon's Antoinette De Mirecourt.  With such a project in progress on the early fiction, could and should something along similar or parallel lines not be undertaken on early Canadian poetry?  It was about six years ago that Shroyer began goading me with this possibility, and in the fall of 1985 that — after repeated discussions which included an increasing awareness of the unique academic and financial opportunities present for such a project at the University of Western Ontario — we duly submitted our application to the Academic Development Fund.  I stress the role of my colleague and my University in the foundation of the Centre for Canadian Poetry, not merely to flatter a friend or to praise Western, but to point towards two features of the Canadian Poetry Press editions that may not be readily apparent: their basis in a community of scholars — Shroyer, myself, several helpful colleagues, and the many students who have worked with us — and their basis, too, in a strong, local tradition of interest in and support for the study of early Canadian writing.  I would not like it to be forgotten either that the first history of Canada's early literature was written by a graduate of Western (A History of English-Canadian Literature to the Confederation [1920] by Ray Palmer Baker) or that Western's English Department was host to the Literary History of Canada (1965) under the general editorship of Carl F. Klinck.  It is not for nothing that The Huron Chief is dedicated to Klinck over the epigraph "The young men gather round the old warriors, and listen to their stories with all the delight of a proud enthusiasm." Charles R. Steele, who contributed Explanatory Notes and Appendices to The Huron Chief, wrote his doctoral dissertation on early Canadian poetry under Klinck, who was from the start an enthusiastic supporter of the Canadian Poetry Press Series — as, indeed, were all the other Canadianists at Western, not least E.J. Devereux, the project's bibliographical advisor.

     A crucial aspect of the application to the A.D.F. that Shroyer and I submitted in 1985 was a commitment to use the University's computing facilities and laser printer for the production of our editions.  To date, all the books in the Canadian Poetry Press Series have been prepared and typeset by means of microcomputers (two of which were purchased with A.D.F. funds in the early summer of 1986) and Western's mainframe-linked laser printers.  The raw materials for the editions were entered into the microcomputers in the course of the academic year by students in Ontario's Work Study Bursary programme and in the course of the summer by students hired by the Centre for Canadian Poetry.  Students in both categories — especially the latter — also undertook research, proofreading, and other tasks associated with the project.   All were supervised in their computing activities by Shroyer, whose own considerable skills in the black-and-white magic of the computer grew in time to become truly awe-inspiring.  And since it was our aim to involve students in our work as much as possible, one of the Canadian Poetry Press editions — Malcolm's Katie — was largely produced, under Shroyer's supervision, by Michael Williams, an outstanding member of the project who went on to do a Western M.A. thesis in the form of an edition — one of three such editorial theses completed to date1 — and is now writing a Ph.D. thesis on early Canadian literature at the University of Edinburgh.  (Other students who were associated with the project as undergraduates also proceeded to M.A. and Ph.D. programmes, and yet others used their computer training to start a communications firm [Carolyn Quick] and an alternative newspaper [Denise Heffron].)  As well as being an education in capability for the students involved (and a constant test of Shroyer's stamina and patience), our hands-on approach to the creation of books has enabled us to produce each Canadian Poetry Press edition at a cost to the project of about five thousand dollars,2 a figure that includes the printing and binding of a thousand copies of each book by the Alger Press, Oshawa.

     In suggesting a moment ago that we have been able to make improvements in our production methods and products, I also implied, of course, that we have encountered problems and made mistakes.  These local errors, inconsistencies of format, and the like are regrettable, and perhaps the almost inevitable consequence of the transference of duties and responsibilities traditionally undertaken by professional publishers to a group of relatively inexperienced academics and students operating on a restricted budget.   But we have learned a great deal and, partly as a result of earlier and continuing experience with Canadian Poetry, have come to realize the importance of tempering the tendency to take advantage of the computer's facilitation of endless revision and modification en route to camera-ready copy with a version of the traditional publishers' stages of book and journal production: galleys, page-proofs, Van Dykes, and, finally, bound product.  And, again, I think that the process of involving students, colleagues at Western, and assessors at other universities in the various stages of the production of a book is exciting, stimulating, and valuable enough easily to outweigh the disadvantages of the computer-and-laser-centred system that the project is using.  The Huron Chief, for example, was sent for comments to A.E. Bailey, Mary Lu MacDonald, and Bruce Trigger at an early equivalent of the page-proof stage, and — thanks to the computer — the generous suggestions of these scholars were easily incorporated into the text that went to the Alger Press.  The result, obviously, was a better book.

     The initial and most important editorial issues confronted at the inception of the Canadian Poetry Press Series were those of audience and format.  For whom were the editions intended and, with this audience in view, what shape should each edition assume?   To the first part of this question, the answer was and is that the editions in the Canadian Poetry Press Series should attempt to address the perceived critical, scholarly, and pedagogical needs of students, researchers, and instructors involved in the study of Canadian literature at the university level, both graduate and undergraduate.  The ideal edition for these purposes would surround an authoritative text of the poem itself with the material necessary to make it both intelligible and interesting to an academic audience ranging across the spectrum from undergraduate student to research scholar.   On the basis of this decision, a model began to take shape around the first of the five poems to be edited, Lampman's The Story of an Affinity.  The text of the poem would be preceded by a lengthy "Introduction" that would be essentially critical in nature rather than, as is traditionally the case in scholarly editions, biographical and historical in emphasis.3   Without ignoring the illuminating contexts supplied by biography and history, the Introductions to The Story of an Affinity and its successors would provide the assumed audience with a point of entry and a series of co-ordinates for the poems by offering an interpretation of some of their main themes and characteristics, and by placing on view patterns and qualities that could be construed as culturally significant and, therefore, likely to be of enduring interest and importance.  Following the poems would be annotations of a primarily scholarly nature which, when consulted, would assist readers according to their needs by explaining obscurities, identifying allusions, and documenting debts to other texts.  (To establish the "needs" of undergraduates, students working on the project were asked to go through poems marking words and references whose meaning they found obscure.  The result of this exercise is the relatively high level of annotation of single words and short phrases in Canadian Poetry Press editions.).  Also surrounding the poems would be the paraphernalia of a modern scholarly edition: an account of their first (and, where applicable, subsequent) publication; a rationale for the current edition; a list of Editorial Emendations; and such Appendices as might be necessary to provide a full picture of the poem's original circumstances and bibliographical history.  The aim was and is to produce editions that would neither intimidate the undergraduate student nor patronize the established scholar, but, rather, provide the means for both (and anyone in between) to arrive at an enriched understanding of the texts and contexts of early Canadian poetry.

     In the course of deciding upon a format for the Canadian Poetry Press editions, a number of models were closely examined and weighed.  Prominent among these were the model developed by the Centre for Editions of American Authors (later, the Centre for Scholarly Editions), which provided the basis for the Carleton project, and the more modest model of the Augustan Reprint Series, which seems to lie behind the reprint series of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, the Golden Dog Press, and the Loyal Colonies Press.   For reasons that have already been mentioned — a preference for critical as opposed to merely biographical and historical introductions and for an edited rather than a facsimile text — neither of these models was chosen outright (nor, almost needless to say, was that of the Literature of Canada: Poetry and Prose in Reprint Series); rather, a middle way was charted between them.  Many components of a CEAA (or CSE or CEECT) text are present in a Canadian Poetry Press edition, but less prominence is given to such matters as title-page descriptions, collations, and so on.  Since format is to an extent meaning — The Huron Chief, to use the same example again, is a decentred work both in its content and in its appearance on the page — the poems in the Canadian Poetry Press editions, though not produced in facsimile, retain as much as possible of the appearance and spatial dynamics of the original.  In the same conservative spirit, the spelling in the Canadian Poetry Press editions has not been made consistent either way with what are now considered British and American usages, but allowed, like Eph Wheeler's pocket in The Imperialist and like Canada itself, to contain "twenty-five cents, an' a English sixpence, an' a Yankee nickel."   If nothing else, this decision precluded endless arguments between Shroyer and myself about whether or not there is an "e" in "Acknowledgements."   In the Canadian Poetry Press editions, there is — mostly.

     As part of the process of publishing, not naked (or uninterpreted) texts, nor even scantily-dressed ones, but poems clad, as it were, in a voluminous parka of criticism and scholarship, research at the Centre for Canadian Poetry has unearthed, not only a wealth of fascinating information about individual works and authors, but also a number of significant common denominators among the long poems of the Colonial and Confederation periods.  Obviously, even a smattering of our specific finds in the former category would be out of place in the present context; suffice it to say that research around the ten poems so far published has uncovered hitherto unknown facts about their press-runs, the sources and types of paper upon which they were printed, the identities and activities of their authors, the historical bases of the characters and events that they describe, and, above all (at least in terms of the verbal universe of which early Canadian poetry is a part) their sources in previous poetry and prose from both sides of the Atlantic.   With the accumulation of isolated discoveries on individual poems, there began to emerge the common denominators mentioned earlier and, with them, the outlines of a fresh, if not entirely new, history of early Canadian poetry.  I suspect that at least two of these common denominators will be interesting enough to readers of Canadian Poetry to warrant brief description here.

     One of the most interesting things to emerge early in research on the ten editions so far published was a realization of the extent to which external reality was mediated for early poets writing about Canada by prose — the prose primarily of early British or American explorers and travellers.  Cary "saw" the Great Lakes through the Travels of Jonathan Carver and Mackay "saw" Niagara Falls through the famous "Account" of them that Peter Kalm sent to Benjamin Franklin (who, in turn, allowed it to be published in John Bartram's Observations).  Similarly, William Burr's Pictorial Voyage to Canada, Catharine Parr Traill's Backwoods of Canada, and other prose accounts dictate much of the content of The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay.  A recognition of this process of mediation led quickly to the formulation of a rule of thumb to guide research at the Centre for Canadian Poetry: assume as a basis of proceeding that behind every passage of early Canadian poetry there is a prose account of the same subject.  Research at the Centre was also quick to reveal the extent to which a relatively small group of works by Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Romantic, and Victorian authors lie centrally in the background of Canada's early long poems — a group that includes Paradise Lost, Thomson's The Seasons, Goldsmith's The Deserted Village and The Traveller, Byron's Childe Harold and Don Juan, and the non-Arthurian long poems of Tennyson.  So extensive are the levies of early Canadian poets on these and a few other poems (Pope's Essay on Man and Longfellow's Hiawatha are further examples) that it is tempting to advance as a second rule of thumb the hypothesis that behind every passage of early Canadian poetry there is not only a prose account of the same subject but also at least one of a small group of British or American long poems.  A third feature of early Canadian poetry to emerge quite quickly from our research will be especially gratifying to critics and scholars who seek evidence of a literary continuity or tradition in Canada: it is that, much more than might have been predicted, early Canadian poets read previous works written in and about this country; Mackay and Bayley may have read Abram's Plains; Lampman probably read Malcolm's Katie; Sangster certainly read The Huron Chief.   Bayley, Goldsmith, and Adam Hood Burwell read Isaac Weld's Travels, as did the Alexander McLachlan of The Emigrant, which, in turn, was probably read by Crawford.  To assert that there is a Canadian poetic tradition that stretches from Thomas Cary to bp. Nichol would obviously be too bold, but research on the Canadian Poetry Press editions has shown that there is a real continuity in early writing about Canada, a continuity that may have escaped the attention that it deserves because of a tendency among Canadian critics to think of literature in Anglo-American terms as a sequence of more-or-less great novels and poets in debate with one another, rather than with such "lesser" things as travel accounts and topographical poems.

     What of the present activities and future plans of the Centre for Canadian Poetry? Thanks to a very generous grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada that began this past summer, work is proceeding on the early Canadian Poetry project in three areas: (1) the production of five more editions (Burwell's Talbot Road, John Richardson's Tecumseh, George Longmore's Tecumthé and The Charivari, and McLachlan's The Emigrant);4 (2) the creation of an anthology of early Canadian long poems for use in university classrooms; and (3) the researching and writing of a book-length study of early long poems on Canada.   An M.A. thesis in the form of an edition of Margaret Blennerhasset's The Widow of the Rock is being written by Susan Bailey, the researcher who worked for the project last summer.  Editions of such poems as The U.E. by William Kirby and Jean Baptiste by Levi Adams are planned for the more distant future.  And then there are the poetic sequences of the poets of the Confederation . . .


This Preface is an updated version of a paper delivered to the Bibliographical Society of Canada in May, 1988.

  1. Susan Kuindersma, "A Scholarly Edition of Kensington Gardens in 1830 by Major John Richardson" (1987); R.J. Michael Williams, "Talbot Road: A Poem by Adam Hood Burwell" (1988); and Michael Cullen, "A Scholarly Edition of The Charivari; or, Canadian Poetics by George Longmore" (1988). [back]

  2. The publication of Bayley's Canada was largely made possible by a supplementary grant from the Office of Research Services of the University of Western Ontario.  Canada was brought to completion in 1989-90 while I held a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  My thanks to both agencies for their financial assistance. [back]

  3. For some mixed responses to this aspect especially of the Canadian Poetry Press editions, see Germaine Warkentin's review of The Huron Chief and Malcolm's Katie, "Letters in Canada," University of Toronto Quarterly, 58 (Fall, 1988), 159-161; L.R. Early's review of The Story of an Affinity in Canadian Literature, 122-123 (Fall-Winter, 1989), pp. 150-152; David Latham's review of Abram's Plains and The Huron Chief in Canadian Literature, 122-123 (Fall-Winter, 1989), pp. 141-143; John Ower's "Bentley's Katie, Bachofen, and Psychology," Canadian Literature, 122-123 (Fall-Winter, 1989), pp.  288-294; and Carl Ballstadt's review of the first five CPP editions in Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, 27 (1989), pp. 119-122.  See also W.J. Keith's "Early Canadian Poetry: New Standards in Editing" (a review of Abram's Plains), Essays on Canadian Writing, 37 (Spring, 1989), pp.  83-85. [back]

  4. The editors of these poems are Michael Williams (Talbot Road), Douglas Daymond and Leslie Monkman (Tecumseh), Mary Lu MacDonald (Tecumté), and myself (The Charivari, The Emigrant). [back]

    D.M.R. Bentley

    * * *

    L.R. Early (Department of English, York University) is preparing a schol arly edition of Isabella Valancy Crawford's poems, and would be grateful for any information that might be helpful.   He is especially interested in knowing whether there exist copies of Old Spookses' Pass, Malcolm's Katie, and Other Poems that have been corrected by Crawford herself.