Saturday, November 03, 2012

Raymond Souster (1912-2012)

I was very saddened by the news of the passing of Raymond Souster. As well as being an inspiring figure in both his writing and his publishing ventures, Souster's lifelong home in West Toronto (High Park/ Baby Point) has also been my locale for the last decade. I frequently walk past such streets as Armadale Avenue, and never fail to think of Souster and his poem below:

Armadale Avenue Revisted

Street of my boyhood
(I lived right around the corner),
quiet, leaf-heavy street
of West Toronto.
behind that house, in the lane,
from garage roofs we ambushed
the Nelles Street gang,
pinned them down with catapults,
then, out of acorns,
forgot all our strategy
and ran like hell.
                        Out this door,
on Christmas Day
of all days, that queer girl
came sleep-walking, nightgown and all,
and even the snow underfoot
couldn't waken her.
                            At this number lived
the grease-monkey boys,
(their Stutz Touring shined
to a blinding dazzle),
who sometimes took me
as heart-pounding passenger
out the Queen Elizabeth,
to run her, gun her
past eighty on a straight stretch,
with the extra spice
of maybe a speed-cop
coming out of nowhere.
                                  On this lawn
I pounded and bloodied
my next-to-worst enemy,
and curiously found
it wasn't fun anymore.

But tonight it's only
ghosts I see around these houses,
the old gang gone,
every one of them;
some killed in war,
some from natural causes,
the rest, I can guess,
growing fat and middle-aged
like me.
           But not one of them
comes back here, I know,
they've got better sense:

just the crazy poet
well hooked on the past,
a sucker for memories.

There have been a number of tributes to Souster in the last few weeks (including a rather back-handed one by Russell Smith in the Globe). One of the best has been Cameron Anstee's consideration of Souster's Contact magazine and press which can be found here. I was also grateful to see that rob mclennan's tribute to Souster mentions an essay I wrote about Souster and Toronto which was originally published in The Canadian Modernists Meet (U of Ottawa, 2005) and edited by Dean Irvine.

In honour of Souster, I'd like to make "Mapping Raymond Souster's Toronto" available to read here.