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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reading the field of Canadian poetry in the era of modernity : the Ryerson poetry chap-book series, 1925-1962 Dunks, Gillian


From 1925 to 1962, the Ryerson Press published 200 short, artisanally printed books of poetry by emerging and established Canadian authors. Series editor Lorne Pierce introduced the series alongside other nationalistic projects in the 1920s in order to foster the development of an avowedly Canadian literature. Pierce initially included established Confederation poets in the series, such as Charles G.D. Roberts, and popular late-romantic poets Marjorie Pickthall and Audrey Alexandra Brown. In response to shifting literary trends in the 1940s, Pierce also included the work of modernists such as Anne Marriott, Louis Dudek, and Al Purdy. Following Pierre Bourdieu, I read the Ryerson series as a sub-field of literary production that encapsulates broader trends in the Canadian literary field in the first half of the twentieth century. The struggle between late-romantic and modernist producers to determine literary legitimacy within the series constitutes the history of the field in this period. Pierce’s decision to orient the series towards modernist innovation during the Second World War was due to late romantics’ loss of their dominant cultural position as a result of shifting literary tastes. Modernist poets gained high cultural capital in both the Ryerson series and the broader field of Canadian literary production because of their appeal to an audience of male academics whose approval ensured their legitimacy. Late-romantic poets, by contrast, lost cultural capital due to their inability to captivate an audience of academic “tastemakers” and, in some instances, due to their gender, as editors frequently framed female poets as opposed to emerging modernism to dismiss their work. My examination of Pierce’s editorial policies and the poetry in the series will re-contextualize a now-canonical Canadian modernism in relation to concurrent literary trends and will assert the importance of the chap-book genre for both late-romantic and modernist poets struggling to determine the shape of Canada’s poetry in the early to mid-twentieth century.

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