UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Lyric West : reading the Vancouver Poetry Society, 1916-1974 Hurley, Grant


The first Canadian society formally devoted to poetry was founded in Vancouver, British Columbia by six local hobby poets on 21 October 1916. Over the course of nearly sixty years, the Vancouver Poetry Society (VPS) matured into a formidable cultural institution, hosting numerous readings, lectures, plays, gala nights, a radio programme and several publishing enterprises. These activities were supported by an exceptional membership of influential Canadian poets: romantics Charles G.D. Roberts and Bliss Carman in the early years of the Society, and later, modernist poets Dorothy Livesay, Al Purdy, and Pat Lowther, among a wide variety of poets, artists, publishers, and playwrights. I argue that the history of the Vancouver Poetry Society is framed by a constant struggle to generate and maintain cultural authority and distinction in the contested spaces of Canadian literature. Produced by the VPS through the mediation of local and national literary publics with its internal politics and aesthetics, its authority functioned only in conjunction with the vibrant, multivocal circulation of varied and often contradictory literary discourses within its ranks. I document Society efforts to establish authority through an examination of its early history and changes in institutional frameworks into the 1930s, including the appropriation of literary celebrities in the persons of Carman and Roberts, and the adherence to the spiritual and critical language of Theosophy as an ultimate guiding authority. Secondly, I narrate the Society’s accommodation and cautious encouragement of modernism. Finally, I briefly trace the Society’s loss of cultural capital after its increasingly consistent disavowal of modernism.

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