Editing Modernism in Canada


November 14, 2012

Jacquelyn Sundberg: Livesay’s Early Lyric Poetry

Jacquelyn’s project intends to examine the historical material context of Dorothy Livesay’s early lyric poetry — the work that was ultimately collected in Green Pitcher (1928) and Signpost (1932). Ultimately, Jacquelyn’s project will take the shape of a research paper for her program at McGill.

By examining publication history, secondary reading on the time period, and Livesay’s own journals and writing from the 1920s, Jacquelyn aims to show the texture and importance of Livesay’s early lyric poetry in and to its own time, to see her poetry as those who first read it would have seen it, and to examine the subsequent marginalization experienced by the poetry of this period. The foundation of Jacquelyn’s research is the primary material she has gathered, which includes the analysis of selections of poetry itself and their periodical published contexts before and after collection in Green Pitcher and Signpost. In addition, Jacquelyn is relying on the Dorothy Livesay papers in the Queen’s University archive, which provide concrete dates of composition for some poems and a greater understanding of Livesay’s own changing opinion of this early poetry. Jacquelyn will also consult selections from the Forum, as well as polemical material from the McGill fortnightly group that gives a sense of the new guard of modernists who emerged during Livesay’s time.

At this point in her project, the main challenge Jacquelyn has faced is one that is familiar to Livesay scholars — the availability of Livesay’s material. Both Green Pitcher and Signpost were limited edition imprints that are now only found in private collections or Rare Books and Special Collections, making these texts relatively inaccessible for casual readers. As of yet, there are no digital editions of these volumes, which means that access is restricted to those who are willing and able to venture into literary vaults. The accessibility of the various periodicals in which Livesay was published during her early years has also presented a challenge for Jacquelyn, who dreams of a digitized database of all of Livesay’s work.

For Jacquelyn, these challenges have raised the question of how to make Livesay’s early poetry more accessible to general readers. Livesay’s early verses have gradually disappeared from her later selections and collections, despite their contributions — in theme, imagery, and technique — to Livesay’s later poetry. Jacquelyn has argued on behalf of the inherent merit of Livesay’s early work, at least in part because it captures the crossover between poetic tradition and innovation that was happening at that time, and now she is looking towards an eventual digital edition of Green Pitcher that incorporates some of the periodical appearances as well.

After having spent the summer reading and researching, Jacquelyn had the opportunity to present a portion of her research in a short paper at the DAGSE conference in August 2012. She is currently writing a first draft of her project.

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