Editing Modernism in Canada


Archive for June, 2011

June 3, 2011

Congress 2011

This past Congress in Fredericton was not only the first conference I have attended, it was also my first time presenting, and so I hope you can imagine both my intimidation and amazement. Because of this half-agape state the entire weekend, I can hardly count on making an academic, eloquent and original, let alone coherent, argument on the importance of attending conferences like these (especially, for me, one so close to Halifax). Moreover, I don’t think the argument needs to made, since it’s pretty self-evident. So I’ll have to resign myself to giving an impressionistic version of what I remember as the important features of Congress.

First of all, although mine was an informal presentation, I was a nervous wreck – and yet Katherine Shwetz, my colleague, and I, were surrounded by friends and familiar faces during our panel. I felt welcomed and encouraged, and I can’t tell you how important that was for me. Moreover, the other presentations given during the panel were varied and vastly interesting, from our own work with Le Nigog to website design. Besides the goings-on in my own periphery, ACQL, who hosted our panel, also supported a myriad of other interesting presentations, both from my colleagues and people new to me. Matt Huculak and Emily Ballantyne presented on their own work with Le Nigog, while Vanessa Lent presented on John Glassco, and I was impressed with each one.

After my presentation, I was free to explore Congress, and I took every advantage of that. From keynotes speakers, to the Gothic, Pop Culture, and more Canadian panels and even an interactive viewing of Macbeth in the park, it had everything for every taste. Overall, Congress 2011 was an experience I hope to have again.

June 2, 2011

Hugh Garner

I really appreciated having the opportunity to discuss my editorial work during the EMiC roundtable last week–and especially all the helpful feedback both from those who attended, and fellow roundtable participants. Here’s a short run-down of what I discussed, for those who couldn’t be there.

With Jonathan Eburne, I’m currently working on a critical edition of the Toronto author Hugh Garner’s short stories. A few elements originally drew us to this project: first of all, the stories themselves, which cover a huge range of topics and experiences, united by Garner’s sensitivity to the plight of the underdog. We were also interested in the timeline of Garner’s short fiction, from his earliest writings in the late 1930s into the 1960s and 1970s (he died in 1979), especially as he seems to have edited and revised earlier published works throughout his career. Finally, the diverse publication histories of the stories is particularly fascinating to our research. Garner’s stories have been published in magazines and journals, broadcast as radio plays, performed as plays, and reprinted and translated in anthologies around the world. In our edition we want, as best we can, to reflect the varied media in which many of his stories have appeared.

The reason behind the wide-ranging publication history of his stories is that Garner was a shrewd businessman, who saw writing first and foremost as a job. He brags in his autobiography, One Damn Thing After Another, about trying to publish each story in as many formats as he could so as to make the most money from each one. Many of the writings that he claims to have done strictly for the money are also among his most famous, including “A Trip for Mrs. Taylor,” a story which went on to be repeatedly broadcast over the CBC, anthologized across Canada and the United States, published in Braille, and turned into a play–Garner claims it was published at least 36 times.

Garner’s outspoken position that writing was, for him, a job—a craft, not a higher calling—has made it easy for some to discount his work as proletarian, sentimental, lowbrow, whatever (and depending on the story, I wouldn’t always disagree!). I would argue, though, that this position was a carefully crafted public persona–and an important one to consider. Garner often emphasized not only how quickly he wrote, but also how proud he was of his working class roots. He frequently commented that he was perhaps the only Canadian author to set his stories in factories. In one instance he explains, “Some time ago an actor who has read many of my short stories on CBC radio wondered aloud to someone how Garner knew so much about gauges, calipers and parts-inspection procedures in a story about a farm implement factory, called ‘E Equals MC Squared.’ There’s no secret about it; I worked once as an inspector in the punch-press department of the Massey-Harris company. I’ve also been asked where I learned about ‘priming’ tobacco leaves, working in a carnival, crossing the ice of a Quebec river, life on a wartime Canadian corvette, selling products door-to-door, or whatever. My answer has been, ‘By doing these things,’ and sometimes adding, ‘from sheer necessity’.”

I’ve loved Garner’s writings ever since Dean first introduced me to Cabbagetown in an undergraduate Canadian modernism class at Dalhousie, and I’m really enjoying this opportunity to do more research on his work.

June 1, 2011

George Whalley

The opportunity to speak about my work on George Whalley at the EMiC roundtable Saturday afternoon was very enjoyable. For those who asked questions and made comments during and after the roundtable, I appreciate your interest and advice. For those who could not attend the session, I thought I would reiterate some of what I shared.

Currently, I am working on scholarly editions of Whalley’s poetry and wartime letters. The longer-term projects are to make a new collection of his essays and write a biography drawing on the rich body of materials in the Queen’s University Archives and the private papers kept by Elizabeth Whalley, George’s widow.

Recently, I received three packages from England containing copies of Whalley’s poetry manuscripts. The files include his wartime poems, the smaller number of postwar poems, and an as yet uncounted number of unpublished poems and fragments. His daughter, Emily Whalley, has been very helpful in providing me with the materials I need from the private collection of her mother, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Emily have been very generous in allowing me to see George’s private papers. I’ve received copies of George’s military records, digitized photos from throughout his life, recordings of him reading a selection of his poems, among many other valuable materials. There is much more I must return to England to study in detail. For now, I’m making very good use of some of what I’ve received to construct a website – a kind of introduction to Whalley’s life and writings – by relying on the expertise and assistance of Richard Scott and Robin Isard in the Wishart Library at Algoma University. The website should be ready well before the end of the summer.

Given that Whalley published a relatively small number of poems during his life, most importantly in No Man An Island (1948), and George Johnston’s 1986 posthumous collection contains less than 80 poems, the large volume of manuscript pages is a bit surprising at first. In some instances there are multiple versions of the published poems. Many of the versions are dated at least once, if not twice or more times. A blue book of poems from 1942 to 1944 George made for Elizabeth to keep while he was away at sea is perhaps the first attempt at a collection, and it contains several poems not yet published. Whether or not George Johnston had access to any of Whalley’s manuscripts I have yet to determine, though I feel almost certain that he did not see them. It is, however, clear that Johnston did not include all of Whalley’s published and unpublished poems in The Collected Poems of George Whalley (1986). He may have been unaware of some of the poems Whalley published in magazines and other small journals.

Whalley kept very detailed records in calendars during the war. On one calendar, he keeps a daily record of where he was stationed, the ships on which he served, the operations in which he was involved as a secret intelligence agent, and where he was when on leave. He also notes social engagements with friends and family. On another calendar, he keeps a record of where he was when he drafted and revised his poetry. In seven columns he writes the title, the place and date of the first draft, the places and dates of revisions, the periodicals in which pieces appeared, and makes some other markings, the meanings of which are not clear to me yet. The list of places is remarkable: Alexandria, Malta, Tunis, Algiers, Chelsea, London, and Halifax, among others. Whalley was literally writing wherever he was stationed for naval or secret intelligence operations. The writing and revising also continued immediately after the war when he was teaching at Bishop’s University.

In addition to the manuscripts and the calendars, a large number of Whalley’s wartime letters are extant (along with a calendar of letters sent and received). In some cases, an event is represented in both a letter and a poem, making for some opportunities to reflect on the differences in his prose and verse styles. With all of these materials, I will be able to reconstruct a rich biographical account of Whalley’s life during World War II to include as part of the introduction to the scholarly edition of his poems. Constructing a digital edition to complement the print edition may allow me to present the variations in the different versions of the poems, including cancelled lines and stanzas.

The next couple of months will give me time to systematize the manuscripts, get some insight into Whalley’s writing process, and identify exactly how many wartime and postwar poems remain unpublished.

Michael John DiSanto