Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Memoriam: Raymond Souster, 1921-2012

                              Fiorito: Raymond Souster, 1921-2012

Raymond Souster         Photo by Rene Johnson, Toronto Star
By Joe Fiorito, Toronto Star, October 24, 2012 The poet Raymond Souster died on Friday. He was 91 years old and famously shy; he did not want an obituary. That may be so, but when a man dies he belongs no longer to himself, but to history, and in Ray’s case he belongs to this city. Souster was born in Toronto on Jan. 15, 1921. He won the Governor-General’s Award for poetry in 1964, and the City of Toronto Book Award in 1979.
He was a founding member and first president of the League of Canadian Poets; he was also a crackerjack amateur baseball player who followed the game all his life, which makes me wonder if that’s why the League is called a league.
He served in the RCAF during WWII, edited the most important poetry magazines of his time, promoted other poets, loved jazz, and worked for the CIBC.
He was virtually blind in his later years, yet continued to write every day, in longhand, his famously small poems about moments in the city.

Here is a sampling of some of his poems, all of them moving to those of us who could care less about the "critics" and the "critiques" of the scholars.
From Canadian  Anthology, Carl F. Klinck and Reginald E. Watters editors, W.J. Gage, Toronto, pp.464-5-6-7

In  Praise of Loneliness

Loneliness of men makes poets.
The great poem is a hymn to loneliness,
a crying out in the night with no ear bent to.

This is a breedin-ground for poets.
Here the spawning, glittering rivers of poetry.
Here is loneliness to live with, sleep with, eat with,
Loneliness of streets, of the coyote.

O Mistress Loneliness, heed your worshipper.
Give his the voice to be heard in this land
Loud with the luch of thenen and the croak of the frog.

Downtown Corner News Stand

It will take all of  death to take you from this corner.
It has become your world, and you its unshaved
bleary-eyed, foot-stamping king. In winter
you curse the cold, huddles in your coat from the wind,
you fry in summer like an egg hopping on a griddle;
and always the whining voice, the nervous-flinging arms,
the red face, shifting eyes watching, waiting
under the grimy cap for God knows what
to happen. (But nothing ever does, downtown Toronto
goes to sleep and wakes the next morning
always the same, except a little dirtier.)
And you stand with your armful of Stars and Telys*
the peak of your cap well down against the sun,
and all the city's restlessseething river
surges beside you, but not one do you plunge
into its flood, are carried or tossed away:
but reappear always, beard longer than ever, nose running,
to catch the noon editions at King and Bay.

* Toronto Telegram published at the time of the writing of this poem

Roller Skate Man

A freak of the city,
little man with big head,
shrivelled body, stumps of legs
clamped to a block of wood
running on roller-skate wheels.

On his hands gloves
because the Queen Street pavements
are rough when your hands are paddles
and you speed between
silk-stockinged legs
and extravagant pleats,

steering through familiar waters
of spit, old butts, chewed gum,
flotsam among the jetsam of your world.

The Man who finds his Son has become a Thief

Coming into the store at first angry
at the accusation, believing
the word of his boy who has told him,
I didn't steal anything, honest.---

Then becoming calmer, seeing that anger
won't help in the business, listening patiently
as the other's evidence unfolds, so painfully slow.

Then seeing gradually that evidence
almost as if slowly tightening around the neck
of his son, at first circumstantial, then gathering damage,
until there's present guilt's sure odor seeping
into the min, laying its poison.
                                                Suddenly feeling
sick and along and afraid, as if
an unseen hand had slapped him in the face
for no reason whatsoever; wanting to get out
into the street, the night, the darkness, anywhere to hide
the pain that must show to these strangers, the fear.

It must be like this.
It could not be otherwise.


Young boy
With your kite down the wind
Dipping and twisting as the breeze
Plays with it, sending it up and up
Into the sun, then as suddenly
Pitching earthward, almost
Touching the ground, then dashing it up again,

Watch well how your kite
Flies on this bright afternoon in the park
In the golden morning of your life:
Some day when you are older you'll remember
The kite in the wind ---your life
Played with by the world, sending your heart
Up to the sky in passion, in the great happiness,
And the next the air-pocket, the fall to earth
Or almost earth--but the both of them are hell.

Some day you'll remember this--
But today
Today only the sun among the trees
And your kite at the end of your cord
Dancing in the playtime air.

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