Follow by Email

Friday, November 23, 2012


The David Macdonald Lounge
Resting by the fire in a high back chair
     drinking in the peaceful atmosphere
          enjoying quiet time away from home
Queen Elizabeth, in regal robes
     gazes serenely over the lounge
          fire blazes cheerily in the hearth 
Leather sofas with matching chairs skirt the walls
     and a pair of striped high backs, like sentinels       
          guard the portrait of the Queen
Scenic paintings, tastefully displayed
     grace the golden walls on which they hang      
          lamps and hanging lanterns gently glow
Navy blue carpet, yellow flowers peeking through
     muted soft light streams through high windows
          add notes of sunny warmth to my lovely stay


Originally published by the Hamilton Club magazine 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012


Dear Mommy,
I answered the phone and it was you
it was so good to hear your voice
we chatted for a long time
at the end you thanked me for calling you.
I cried for hours, tears wetting my pillow
I knew my suspicions were well founded
that all was not right with you.
My happiness shattered into little slivers
as I realized the demon dementia had set in
to rob me of the only mother I ever knew.
Years passed, letters flew back and forth from Dad
your input only shown by a shaky signature at the bottom
my telephone calls never reached you personally.
On that fall day, forever stamped in my mind
I tore open a letter from ”home” and learned of your death and burial.
For twenty-five years you’ve been gone
it’s time I wrote this letter poem for you, dear Mommy
to show the world how much you meant to me.
Your kindness and sweetness were my shield
against the arrows shot by fate  
you taught me, by example, to keep on going.
You are still within my mind, guiding me
your womanly grace, all wrapped up in a small frame.
I thank you for your wisdom and your love
which has stood the test of time.
Copyright©Wilma Seville2012

Editor's note:  When I was in my early thirities, I sent a letter to my parents telling them how much I appreciated their good care and told them what a good job they had done.  I have always been so grateful that I did that as life can take some strange turns.  As one ages, ones reflects back on one's life and appreciates all the good people who have influenced one's life.











Wednesday, November 14, 2012



Speaking Out
Raising the voice to speak against injustice
puts the speaker on a path of collision
from those who vehemently oppose their ideas.

One young blogger, Malala, dared to do so
speaking out about life in the Swat Valley
the need for girls to be educated.

Pakistan and the world has taken note
of the attempted murder of this girl
yet where was the outcry when many Malalas
Ayeshas, Ahmads and Bilals were killed by drones?

Who spoke up for them on the world stage?

People like you and me, living out their lives
their existence snuffed out by unpiloted drones
hope of their families, cut down where they stood. 

Injustice is a blight upon humankind
those who perpetrate it will be judged harshly
in the history books of future generations.
People who want harmony and peace
mothers, father, sons and daughters
young and old, let us work together
to eradicate injustices.

Originally published by Conrad Diodato and also by The Ambition Newspaper.

Thursday, November 1, 2012



Big Smoke Blues


new poems by Raymond Souster




An Introduction



         No one has written more lovingly, nor more honestly, about Toronto than Raymond Souster. Over the past 65 years in book after book, Toronto has been a major theme in Souster’s work. Now in his 90th year, this work continues with Big Smoke Blues.


         Souster is the last active member of Canada’s great Modernist poets, a group born between 1916 and 1926. As always, his life and work are sustained by three pillars: his love for his wife Rosalia, his Christian faith, and his confidence in the power of sharp and decisive poetry. In Big Smoke Blues, Souster explores the role of memory in deepening his understanding of the world and of his place within it. The collection closes with the lines:


                                     for the rest of my days

                                     past memories like this

                                     will continue

                                     to wash over

                                     the shores of memory.


And indeed, these poems reflect on the people, neighbourhoods, and places of old Toronto.


         Literary and historical figures abound — Milton Acorn, Margaret Avison, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Robert Weaver mingle with figures like William J. Stewart, Archibald Lampman, John Graves Simcoe, and the United Empire Loyalists. All are treated with sympathy and honesty. Much has been made of Souster’s “ironic vision” by Robert Billings and others. I prefer to talk about humour and affirmation. There is little bitterness in Souster’s poetry — instead one finds compassion. This is especially true when the poet deals with troubled friends such as Acorn or MacEwen. He remembers Milton Acorn leaving his cheque on the floor of Grossman’s Tavern following the ceremony in which he received the title “The Peoples’ Poet” and he expresses a deep sense of loss at the untimely death of Gwen MacEwen.


         In general, the tone of these poems is one of quiet meditation. Food is remembered fondly, its sensuousness vividly portrayed in his mother’s baked apples with brown sugar, his mother-in-law’s polenta in chicken gravy, or his wife’s chili. Even bread pudding assumes a simple nobility.



         The Junction District, Kensington Market, Toronto Islands, and Gerrard Street East are brought into focus, and readers see that in these neighbourhoods the past still lives today. Certainly the ethnic composition of Kensington has greatly changed, but it remains a microcosm of Toronto, a city in which a hundred tongues speak out as one.


         Following William Carlos Williams, Souster realizes the power of a poetry rooted in place. Some of these places are gone: the Bohemian Embassy, the Village Bookstore, Pages Books, and Robert Simpson’s Department Store. But others are still vital parts of Toronto: Christie Pits, the C.N.E., Grenadier Pond, Wards Island, and Vesuvio’s Pizzeria & Spaghetti House.


         Souster is no Pollyanna. He sings no song of innocence in which his youth was only delightful days when Mr. Peanut would visit Runnymede Public School. He also remembers the Depression when Chinese restaurants would offer a full-course meal for a quarter. Like Carl Sandburg writing of his beloved Chicago, Souster tells the whole story, and with affection.


         Souster’s Toronto often starts in his backyard on Baby Point Road. Here his aged mulberry tree plays host to crows, juncos, starlings, and squirrels. Here also are his walks along the nearby Humber River, with its parks, opossums, and the occasional urbanized red fox. The Humber River valley is the setting for one of a handful of love poems to Rosalia, “Humber Afternoon”. Another poem that displays his unfading love is “For a 62nd Anniversary”.


         Social issues are in no way lacking. There are poems dealing with homelessness and the need for proper social housing, the trap of current welfare laws, and the ever-increasing level of crime, especially youth and street gang violence. So the poet writes:



                                     and shooting-ups

                                     feed the continuous

                                     nervous pulse

                                     of the city’s heartland.



There are many poems in Big Smoke Blues lamenting the prevalence of American-style street crime in what was once Toronto the Good, a problem neither the politicians nor the police seem competent to address.


         Despite the decay of civil society, something of value endures. While old Tory Ontario is lost in the past, neighbourhoods survive. Although The Boat Portuguese restaurant has closed, other restaurants (some Portuguese) have opened in Kensington Market. And Wards Island is still a charming village for poets just as it was at the time when Milton Acorn and Gwendolyn MacEwen lived there.


         Unlike his prior collections, Souster now offers five poems concerning his Christian faith. In “This Man of April” he affirms the presence of Jesus within our lives in this Easter meditation:


                                     This Man of April

                                     lives here

                                     with us still


The poet states in “At Peace” that he has found solace in the arms of Jesus:


                                     he’s found peace

                                     nestled in

                                     to his saviour’s

                                     all compassionate grace.


In this poem, and throughout the book as a whole, Souster habitually refers to himself in the third person.


         Souster is a member of Runnymede United Church. One of the few politicians he admires, William J. Stewart, was also in Runnymede’s congregation. In fact, Souster attended Sunday School with Stewart’s son. Stewart served as Toronto’s mayor during the Depression, and the poet praises his co-religionist for displaying “good common sense”.


            Readers will notice a distinct paucity of visual images. There is nothing like


                                     Rain-whipped leaf-ruin,

                                     dying green-yellows,

                                     already dead-crackling browns


in Big Smoke Blues. This is because Souster has gone blind and can no longer see the subjects of his poems. But his lack of vision is compensated for by the vitality and redemptive quality of his memory.


         While most of these poems are set in the Toronto Souster has personally known for nine decades, history does appear in the form of John Graves Simcoe and the United Empire Loyalists. The Loyalists were the English-speaking founders of what we know today as Ontario. Souster observes that while they were the “cursed traitors” of the United States, they were Canada’s “steadfast, unsung heroes.” Governor Simcoe (1752-1806) and his wife left behind


                                     such goodwill

                                     that a lake,

                                     a town, and a street

                                     still bear their name.


Simcoe’s vision of a common sense alternative to the United States has not worked out as planned. The present Americanization of our culture is, perhaps, an unintended consequence of the consumption of American culture, such as the poetry of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Olson. No one person is to blame, of course. Canada had the unfortunate fate to share a continent with a nation ten times as powerful and ten times as committed to the notion of progress. Progress was the flavour of the 20th century. But, as Souster suggests, Archibald Lampman would have grown to curse the 20th century


                                     with every fibre

                                     of his fragile body

                                     had our great poet

                                     been destined

                                     to survive.



         Big Smoke Blues closes with a section dealing with old age, illness, and mortality. Few poets take up these concerns, as common as they unfortunately are. Raymond Souster, however, is a brave poet who ducks no topic, not even pain and his own frail and failing body. While some people speak of “dying with dignity”, all too few speak of living with dignity. These final poems, humane and with a seriousness softened by humour, written while in hospital and rehab centre, are a most welcome addition to Canadian literature. Our culture and our lives are enriched by this book.



                                                                                                       James Deahl


                                                                                                       September, 2010