As Though Life Mattered: Leo Kennedy's Story 9780773564480

In Montreal in the 1920s and 1930s, a small group of radical young writers Leo Kennedy, Frank Scott, A.M. Klein, and A.J

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As Though Life Mattered: Leo Kennedy's Story

Table of contents :
1 The Myth and the Memories
2 Liverpool, Where It All Began
3 Growing Up Irish, 1912–26
4 The Young Turks: The Mood of the Times, 1925–29
5 The Group, 1925–29
6 Marriage, Money, and Verse, 1929–34
7 Left-Wing Sympathies, 1934–41
8 Chicago, 1942–49
9 Minnesota Waters: Surfaces and Depths, 1952–62
10 The Norwalk Years: Down to the Wire, 1962–76
11 Montreal Again: Running for the Last Train, 1976–86
12 The Californian

Citation preview

As Though Life Mattered

Leo Kennedy, early 1950s.

As Though Life Mattered Leo Kennedy's Story PATRICIA MORLEY

McGill-Queen's University Press Montreal & Kingston • London • Buffalo

© Patricia Morley 1994 ISBN 0-7735-1147-4

Legal deposit first quarter 1994 Bibliotheque nationale du Quebec Printed in Canada on acid-free paper This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Publication has also been supported by the Canada Council through its block grant program.

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data Morley, Patricia, 1929As though life mattered: Leo Kennedy's story Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN O-7735-H47-4 1. Kennedy, Leo, 1907. 2. Poets, Canadian (English) - Biography. 1. Title. PS8521.E55Z75 1994 c8n'.54 C93-090597-0 PR9199.3.K46Z75 1994 Typeset in Palatino 10/12 by Caractera production graphique inc. Quebec City

As man is ever the prime object to man, already it was my favourite employment to read character in speculation, and from the Writing to construe the Writer. Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1834)

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Illustrations following pages xi and 69 Acknowledgments / ix 1 The Myth and the Memories / 3 2 Liverpool, Where It All Began / 11 3 Growing Up Irish, 1912-26 / 26 4 The Young Turks: The Mood of the Times, 1925-29 / 43 5 The Group, 1925-29 / 49 6 Marriage, Money, and Verse, 1929-34 / 70 7 Left-Wing Sympathies, 1934-41 / 91 8 Chicago, 1942-49 /111 9 Minnesota Waters: Surfaces and Depths, 1952-62 / 129 10 The Norwalk Years: Down to the Wire, 1962-76 /149 11 Montreal Again: Running for the Last Train, 1976-86 /173 12 The Californian /195 Notes / 211 Bibliography / 231 Index / 239

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Like most biographers, I am indebted to a great many individuals and institutions for assistance and encouragement. I am grateful to members of the extended Kennedy family, especially to Dr Peter Kennedy and his wife, Anne; Deborah Kennedy Russell; Patricia Thompson Kennedy; Lillian Kennedy Maclean; and Kathleen Bullen and her daughter Pauline of Liverpool. The National Archives of Canada has proven invaluable, as has archivist Anne Goddard; the CBC and Peter Gzowski; the Merseyside Museum of Labour History, and the Maritime Museum of Liverpool. The publisher would have been unable to proceed without a generous grant from the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme of Ottawa. I should add here my thanks to the readers who assisted this program, the Press, and the author with their suggestions. A version of chapter 4 was published as "The Young Turks: A Biographer's Comment," Canadian Poetry, no. 11 (Fall/Winter 1982): 67-77. Among the many individuals who helped me, special thanks are due to D.R. Hulbert and his wife Elaine for their extended correspondence, which helped so much to bring to life the Minnesota period of the 1950s; and to Robert Ayre, Robert Billings, Kenneth Cameron, Usher Caplan, Edgar Andrew Collard, W.E. Collin, Monica Crooks, Eva Czech, Simon Dardick, Dr Thomas DaSilva, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Sandra Djwa, Leon Edel, Michael Gnarowski, Ralph Gustafson, Dorothy Livesay, Louis Melzack, Louis Muhlstock, Solomon Muhlstock, Esther Ross, RR. Scott, Marian Dale Scott, Bess

x Acknowledgments Sniderman, David Staines, Edgar E. Schoaff, G.E Thomas, Germaine Warkentin, and Morris Wayman. Finally, thanks are due to my son Christopher, for word-processing the original typescript; to the many friends who helped me to function on my new personal computer; and to my copy-editor, Susan Kent Davidson. Patricia Morley Manotick, Ontario August 1993

Children's games. Liverpool, early 1900s. Taken very near Leo's old neighbourhood. National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, neg. N 86—1071

Leo at age 3, "transmogrified into a girl-child.'

A day out on the Pier. New Brighton. 1920s. National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, neg. N 86-1070

Uncle George Bullen in front of 28 Kirkdale Vale, 1928.

F.R. Scott

Marian Dale Scott

A.M. Klein, late 1920s, in front of his Montreal home. National Archives of Canada, PA 178057

Dorothy Livesay, ca 1980 - "Syren of Old Nile."

Olier Public School in Montreal, grade 1. Leo is seated at far left, third from back.

Cartoon sketch by Leo, 1926.

As Though Life Mattered

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The Myth and the Memories His heart was brittle, His wits were scattered; He wrote of dying As though life mattered. "Self Epitaph To Be Carved in Salt," The Shrouding (1933)

We met in Montreal in 1977. At that time Leo Kennedy was a short, portly, grey-haired man with an infectious laugh and a most irreverent sense of humour. His conversation sparkled with wit, while his observations were fresh, original, often funny. We quickly became friends. Kennedy knew that I knew his venerable place in Canada's literary history, and he asked if I would write his biography. I agreed. It was his language that snared me - his language, his vitality, and his cheerful defiance of fate. Over the next decade, during the years of his retirement in Montreal, I played Boswell to Kennedy's Dr Johnson. When we talked, even casually, I made notes. When he telephoned, I kept pen and paper handy. We both took pleasure in this friendship, but to Kennedy, who feared that he had become a forgotten man, it meant something special. He once said that if he had not met me, he would have had to invent me. Perhaps he did. In the late twenties in Montreal a group of cheerfully angry young men set out to revolutionize the course of poetry in Canada. Leo Kennedy was one of the self-styled "Four Horsemen." The other poets were A.J.M. Smith, Frank Scott, and A.M. Klein. They knew and admired the radically modern poets in Britain and America, Eliot and Yeats chief among them. These writers had brought radical changes to poetry in Britain after the First World War. The Montrealers saw no reason why Canadian poets should continue to write poetry that smacked of Victorian and Edwardian verse.

4 As Though Life Mattered Kennedy, the least well-known member of the Canadian "Bloomsberries" (Leon Edel's coinage), is perhaps the most interesting as an individual. An Irish Canadian, he had what members of his tribe have called "the gift of the gab." He had emerged from relative poverty with a formal education that ended with grade six. Most of his famous friends, by contrast, had upper-class backgrounds and more than one university degree. To compensate for his lack of formal schooling, Kennedy had intelligence, imagination, and wit - a fair exchange. He had an intense love of learning, of books, and of language. The education he acquired by himself over a lifetime ranged widely across the humanities. Kennedy also had chutzpah, a precious commodity. The yiddish slang for guts is apt, since many of Kennedy's friends were Jews and both his wives were Jewish. The term also catches something of his most striking quality, a quixotic flair, a gift for being outrageous that he cultivated with glee. This aptitude was the natural partner of his genuine love of people, laughter, and life. His "Self Epitaph - To Be Carved in Salt" catches the spirit of his life and work. Life mattered. People mattered. He regarded racial antagonisms as silly or vicious. Catholic or Jew, who cared? "I'll die whatever," he wrote in 1981, "loving everybody ... We'll all meet in wonderment when Gabriel honks that horn." Kennedy regarded the pompous, the dishonest, and the cruel as the enemies of life. Cant was anathema to him; pomposity invited pricking. He was not one to suffer fools gladly, and his lance never lacked targets. Along with a satirist's eye for human folly went a love for incongruity, for the ridiculous and the nonsensical. The human comedy was a show of which he never tired and in which he delighted to share. In his seventies, in retirement in Montreal, Kennedy's satirical flair was at the service of his own myth. His public image gave him pleasure and was nurtured with care. Like any artist, he felt free to shape facts to his own purpose, and he cared far more for a good story than for historical accuracy. He was fond of noting that "the family shoebox" of records held not one but two birth certificates, which showed he had been born in 1902 and 1907. Research has failed to uncover even one, but the latter date is correct. (No boxes, no certificates: what kind of story is that? Story-tellers have more fun.) Kennedy told Peter Gzowski on CBC'S "Morningside" that he had had a Dickensian childhood in Liverpool and Montreal, with a drunken father, a saintly mother, and a grandmother who looked like

5 The Myth and the Memories Mrs Katzenjammer from the cartoon strip The Katzenjammer Kids, popular just before and after the Second World War. Kennedy had dropped out of school at fourteen, served as cabin boy on a ship in the West Indies, and by fifteen was earning his own living by working for his father.1 His intelligence, and the remarkable degree to which he had educated himself, were acknowledged when he was admitted to the University of Montreal a few years later as a parttime special student in English literature. It mattered little to Kennedy if a story put him in a bad light, as long as it was amusing. In old age he unabashedly claimed to have been refused a job by Canada Packers in 1930 because he failed to pass their intelligence test: "That was when I learned I had the IQ of a church mouse."2 This particular church mouse was a published poet at the age of eighteen and was the first of his famous group to publish a book of his own verse. He loved to tell how he pre-sold The Shrouding (1933) in Montreal by knocking on doors. When the Macmillan Company balked at the financial risk involved in publishing a volume of verse in the 1930s, Kennedy offered to raise five hundred dollars through advance sales. He then canvassed the city to sell the required number. Selling poetry is no easy task at the best of times, but in the depressed thirties the feat was extraordinary. Kennedy had no product in hand, just a smile and a silver tongue. Of course he promised that the book would be signed. It retailed at a dollar and fifty cents but sold before publication for one dollar. (As a rare book it currently sells for over two hundred.) Details of the affair varied with the telling (some of his favourite tales require collation), but his pride at selling a promised book to strangers at their front doors was unmistakable. His favourite story from the 1930s shows him as a double agent for the striking workers at the Ford Motor Company's plant at Windsor. At the time Kennedy was managing the Ford account for his advertising agency in Detroit. Since he had friends among the Ford workers, he was party to privileged information on both sides. He helped the workers to bargain more effectively, and managed to talk Ford into donating several vans to Norman Bethune for his work at the front in Spain. At the age of thirty Kennedy chose to exile himself to the United States for nearly forty years as an advertising copywriter. To archivist Robert Taylor he summed up his decision this way: "I left Montreal in 1937 for Toronto with the clothes on my back and a few books under my arm. There I functioned on New Frontier. I left Toronto for Detroit in '39 with the same equipment. From there to Chicago.

6 As Though Life Mattered From there to Minnesota, where I caught loudmouthed bass [sic] for eleven years. I simply haven't retained MSS, letters, tearsheets, whatever."3 The latter claim is fortunately far from accurate. The self-myth ignores or downplays the copywriting career, seen as a necessary evil in the service of supporting a family. It also ignores the writing done during the first two decades of this exile, perhaps because Kennedy came to consider that body of writing unimportant. By relegating forty years to the ashcan, he managed to convey the effect of a resurrection in the late 1970s, one that rivalled anything in The Shrouding. His youthful poetry had drawn heavily on versions of the resurrection myth. His own rebirth on the Canadian literary scene, after forty years in the wilderness of the American copywriting world, seemed something of a miracle to Kennedy. And to his friends. Back in Montreal in 1977 and more outrageous than ever, Kennedy met Mayor Drapeau at a civic reception. The mayor knew something of Kennedy's history, and asked him to write a poem in honour of the city. Kennedy, who had been observing modern Montreal with fascination and distaste, subsequently mailed the following couplet to Drapeau: "Quebec was always corrupt, of course / But even a gelding is still a horse." The mayor declined to answer. The favourite anecdotes in the personal mythology were both true and untrue, as we will see. His father was actually a strong and responsible man with whom Leo had more in common than he cared, in youth, to recognize. Kennedy's basically happy childhood, spent in Victorian and working-class environments, had stimulated his poet's imagination and his human sympathies. Liverpool before the First World War, and Montreal before the Second, were fascinating cities where lifestyles that were fast disappearing caressed the senses and challenged the mind. As for the forty years in the wilderness, namely his career in America with several major advertising agencies and with Reader's Digest, these years were by no means "lost" to literature. During the first two decades of this period Kennedy was writing poetry, some of which was published in magazines, and book reviews by the score, many of them for the Chicago Sun and the Sun Times. These reviews - wide-ranging, intelligent, and witty - show Kennedy to be a superb stylist in the short essay form. Throughout his lifetime he enjoyed writing letters, many of which survive. This form of writing was always a favourite. During the latter half of the expatriate years, family concerns, including a sick wife, preoccupied him. Worry sapped his energy

7 The Myth and the Memories and made him give priority to earning money. Medical insurance in the United States during this period was rare and hopelessly expensive. Kennedy's sense of family responsibility had always been strong. An instinct and an ethic, it had been nourished in two working-class homes where his strongest sympathies lay with women. He told "Morningside Peter" in 1985 that in the early thirties he had "two and one-half families to feed," by which he meant his wife and child, his parents, and his mother-in-law. Actually, his father was working at the time and was fully self-supporting. But by the 1970s Kennedy's mind had fused the financial help his parents needed later, in their retirement years in the 1950s and 1960s, with the financial pressures he and his wife Miriam experienced in the 1930s. It seems evident that Kennedy's sense of financial need, over the course of a long and difficult life, was exaggerated in old age in order to ease a nagging doubt about the course taken, the choices made. Had any other course really been possible for him? The accounting of a lifetime is not done lightly. It must have been very difficult for Kennedy, near the end of the game, to see that his friends had nearly all become well known and he had not. In his shaping myths the emphasis laid on financial need was a shield and a defence as well as a reality. Kennedy began to surface from his self-imposed exile in the mid1970s, when trips back to Montreal became more frequent. This Rip Van Winkle was astonished to find that nearly forty years had sped by and age had crept up like a thief in the night. He was at this point beginning to be feted. His participation was sought by the organizers of various conferences on A.M. Klein, Norman Bethune, the 1930s, and Morley Callaghan. His papers were solicited by the National Archives of Canada. This prompted the reply that he would "love to be embalmed in their files." For someone who feared that he had missed the boat, the attention was sweet. The permanent hospitalization of his wife with premature senility left Kennedy free to retire at seventy and to exchange New England for Montreal. He was happy to settle there once again, this time with his daughter-in-law and two teen-age grandsons. Once back he found himself rampant with memory and eager for an audience. Years earlier his friend A.M. Klein had rescued from the Elizabethans a wonderful phrase to describe old age: anecdotage. Kennedy was now in his anecdotage, as he loved to point out. Anecdotes flowed like the wine that often accompanied them. Arthritic but still mobile, he explored the bistros, the depanneurs or small groceterias, the restaurants and streets of a city that had changed

8 As Though Life Mattered drastically since his youth. His trenchant observations were preserved in letters, conversations, and free verse - a far cry from the careful cadences of his early poetry. In 1977, near the start of his retirement in Montreal, Kennedy acquired a biographer, an accessory that pleased him hugely and served as a source of amusement for the rest of his life. He called the biography-in-progess his obituary, and the biographer "the grave digger." (In truth, the biographer's task is to ungrave the man, not to bury him. No matter.) Kennedy was by turns solicitous for the advancement of the biography and guiltily conscious that it entailed a great deal of work. When the latter mood struck he would urge that the project be abandoned. Alternatively, he would spend great dollops of time writing to his friend the biographer, attempting to exorcise the ghosts of his past. "I realize now that for about two years," he wrote to Morley in July 1979, "I have been keeping a personal diary with you as the recipient... Amusing things happen, since a person is living his/her autobiography til he/she dies, I stick 'em in. If you prefer, hers/his. I don't care. The two sexes are almost identical. A few minor differences. Primary and secondary sex characteristics, that's all. A bagatelle." The Irish origins of his family played a part in Kennedy's selfimage that was acknowledged largely in old age. In 1988 he admitted to having become increasingly "Irish" as the years went by, and to having warm feelings for the Irish. He had always loved the writers of the Irish Renaissance, such as O'Casey, Yeats, and Synge. During his years with Scott and Smith and the McGill group, however, his sense of himself as Irish had been suppressed by a desire to be cosmopolitan or internationally minded. His youthful distaste for what he saw as his father's Philistinism and heavy drinking also fostered the desire to be different. If Jack Kennedy was Irish, then his son would be something else. This phenomenon is not uncommon among immigrants. We could compare Kennedy with the Ukrainian Canadian painter William Kurelek, whose sense of himself as Ukrainian was submerged in youth for rather similar reasons. Later in life Kurelek became proud of his Ukrainian roots, just as Kennedy became more Irish. In maturity the writer came to consider his verbal quickness to be both an Irish and a family characteristic: a family trait. The Irish temperament, in a well-turned phrase of the anglo-Irish writer Cyril Connolly, runs to "an exaggerated use of words."4 The aptness of Connolly's description in Kennedy's case is startling. Reviewing an anthology of Irish verse in the 1940s, Kennedy rebuked the editor for assigning so little space to "that well-developed Irish commodity,

9 The Myth and the Memories sarcasm. Colorful invective, that other Irish folk art, does not get the play I would like to see, either." Kennedy's own command of these Irish attributes was superb. Kennedy's emotions also ran to extremes, and anger flared easily. In retirement Kennedy is a lively but very gentle man, with courteous, almost courtly manners. He tends to call women "Madam." The shadow side of this gentleness, the inverse of his kindness and consideration, is a murderous temper that flares up unexpectedly. This rage, the Kennedys agreed, was another family trait: "All the Kennedy men were like that."5 In both father and son the ferocity sat oddly with the gentleness, raising puzzling questions. One of Kennedy's cherished possessions, an antique sword- cane, catches the dichotomy of sweetness and rage rather neatly. It gave the aged writer great pleasure to carry the innocuous-looking cane in Montreal and, later, in Pasadena, California. These modern Babylons sometimes erupted in violence, and Kennedy had no intention of being a victim if he could prevent it. To Morley he wrote in June 1987, after a severe bout of arthritis: "I have learned to walk again, with the assistance of a sword-cane, which nobody knows is a sword. I carry the cane to intimidate the ferocious Pasadena traffic which pours like a flood at intersections, and I also carry the cane in the event that I shall need it. I did on one occasion whip the thing out when I was solicited by a rather burly young man who wanted my wallet - there were four dollars in the wallet - and the flash of the steel startled him so that he took off." Like the Elizabethan dramatists beloved of Kennedy in his youth, exaggeration was meat and drink to this Irishman. As Connolly would have understood. Connolly's life (1903-74) has certain intriguing parallels with Kennedy's. The British essayist and critic is best known for his fine collection of essays entitled Enemies of Promise (1983), a volume Kennedy knew and admired. Connolly was a brilliant but undisciplined literary critic, an eccentric whose frankly outrageous behaviour and barbed conversation attracted some acquaintances and repelled others. The brilliant promise of his early days at university was never fulfilled, at least not in books. Revisionist critics of his career are coming to the conclusion that the man's masterpiece was himself. His colourful personality outshone his work. The analogy with Kennedy is worth considering. The "enemies" (or at least the dangers) to the promise shown in Kennedy's early volume of verse were his love of life, his lack of discipline, and the relentless sense of family loyalty bred into him in youth. He was by no means lazy in the normal sense of the word; indeed, few men have worked harder. What he lacked - and for fame the factor is

TO As Though Life Mattered critical - was ambition, at least until old age offered other perspectives. Kennedy told Peter Gzowski and others that in youth he had had an ambition "to write a book of poetry, get it published, be content with it and then to hell with it. And that's precisely what I did." The rather flip explanation ignores the fact that he never lost his love of language. Words gave him tremendous joy. Despite this enduring bond with words, the publication of The Shrouding meant that Everest had been conquered, and at the age of twenty-six. Prose, and witty one-liners for business clients, brought financial returns that poetry did not. Kennedy continued to write poetry throughout much of his life, but his first energies went elsewhere. Like Connolly, he devoted large chunks of time to reviewing books, especially in Chicago in the 1940s. Mercifully, many of these reviews have survived, despite Kennedy's habitual disregard for papers. His reviews are witty, humane, and very self-revealing. They provide a partial autobiography of mind and spirit. In an earlier age, in easier financial circumstances, Kennedy would have become a man of letters. His prose is as valuable as his verse, but much of it remains relatively inaccessible. The imagination circles back, hypnotically, to the single book, published when Kennedy was very young. Had he died soon after 1933, he would have been celebrated as a poet of tremendous promise. By critical consensus, he played an important part in Canada's poetic revival in the 1920s and 1930s. Kennedy, however, did not die young. This sturdy romantic remains, in 1993, a stubborn survivor. Eagerness and intensity mark the elderly Kennedy, just as they marked the young man. In the end, the poet and the man are inseparable. The man who loved words is the man who loved people, the man whose zest for the human comedy has never faltered. "He wrote of dying / As though life mattered." Kennedy's own life mattered, and it clamoured insistently to be written.


Liverpool, Where It All Began

Old fathers, arrogant and stern, the chalk pressed tight against your temples, the live root slurring the moist, stained bone as seasons further the issue of your loins to later spasm; ancients placid under turf, dulled to the movement of seed swelling, sprout lifting, rain slithering over the gnarled husk, the fiercely crowding humus; ... ancestors remembered, though not known, proudly aloof from time and weeping, quick again in me and my children; progenitors walking the pavement with me, observing sumach in the close Ontario woods, thinking in a new country that breath is breath anywhere, that sons grow tall and disregard example There was John, a baler on Birkenhead docks, and Walter, the strong teamster who sang chanties learned of his father the whaler in '73, whose father pressed cider in the apple country; and Peter, the master-moulder with his own shop, who hated England and remembered the Rebellion; and old John Kennedy, the smith from Leith, whom Kerry Meg endowed with three brass farthings. "First Will and Testament" (1934)

12 As Though Life Mattered

John Leo Kennedy was born in Liverpool in 1907, northeast of the Pier Head and not far from the docks that line the entrance to the Mersey River on its northern flank. On a clear day the sound of the bells of St Nicholas, the waterfront parish church, would have reached Kirkdale Vale. To live within the sound of these bells meant that Kennedy qualified, in the lively local dialect, as a genuine Dickey Sam. Scousers, Liverpudlians, Dicky Sams: it was Liverpool slang that

first tuned Kennedy's ears to language as a source of pleasure. The old port city at the turn of the century was a crowded, sprawling maze, deplorably dirty and unhygenic yet endlessly fascinating. History oozed from its pores. The slave trade had ended in 1807, but the slack had been taken up by a flourishing trade in emigrants. A writer, a poet, could not have found a better place to nourish his five senses or observe human nature in the rough. Kennedy knew the city first as a small child, and then again for some months in his early teen years: "I loved those streets," he recalled in 1977, speaking of the Everton/Kirkdale areas of his childhood and the dockside where he prowled in 1921. There were so many Irish immigrants in Liverpool that it was jokingly called "the capital of Ireland." The failure of Ireland's potato crop in 1845 and 1846 had led to widespread famine and disease, the death of approximately one million Irish, and the emigration of nearly two million more over the next fifteen years. Most headed for Liverpool, the major port of transit. Once there, some stayed, whether through a failure of nerve or a lack of financial resources. The Kennedys were among those who stayed. The facts that underlie Kennedy's genealogical poem "First Will and Testament" were never accurate historically, and their origins are now lost.1 "John" (Augustus Kennedy) and "Walter" (Bullen), the writer's father and maternal grandfather, are well documented. His father's father, another John, was also a longshoreman. "Peter, the master-moulder," his father's older brother, was an iron-worker, and Jack Kennedy may have helped him in the forge as a youth.2 Walter Bullen was known to have come from the southwest of England ("the apple country"), and the folksongs he favoured in his cups reflected that area. "Old John ... from Leith" was reputed to have served as a coachman in a great house in Scotland; he married a Margaret Kennedy from the town of Kerry in Ireland, whose dowry consisted of nothing but three farthings. There were Scots, Irish, and English among the Bullen ancestors. Details in the stanza that begins "There was John . . . " came down through family traditions and were transmuted by Kennedy's imagination.

13 Liverpool, Where It All Began "Testament" catches the central theme of The Shrouding, the certainty of resurrection in some form, along with Kennedy's vitality and reverence for life. Little did he know in 1934 how his Kennedy grandsons would indeed "Grow tall and disregard example," how they would enrage him, and eventually find their own proud ways. Passing on the forefather's gift, Kennedy would leave to his heirs "the life unravelled" and, best of all, "the wits sharpened by past want," phrases that occur later in the long poem. The poet's parents were both born in Liverpool in 1885. The family accent was so purely "scouse," or Liverpudlian, to the Irish ears of his mother's sister-in-law Kathleen Bullen that she concluded in 1927 that the Bullens had been in Liverpool for at least several generations.3 "I was born into a house of Bullens, though I was Lil Kennedy's boy," Kennedy wrote to her in 1977. Both of his parents were born on Kirkdale Vale off Everton Valley near Scotland Road. They grew up as friends, sharing the same school, the same classroom, and, as teenagers, the same house. Short and cocky, John Kennedy was well known in the area and was commonly identified as "Jack Kennedy of Kirkdale Vale." The Dickensian flavour set in when Jack Kennedy was nine. His mother died, his father remarried, and his new stepmother proved a cruel taskmistress. The neighbours disliked the woman and felt sorry for the boy. Margaret Bullen's pity went further than most. When Jack (as he was always called) was thirteen, she asked if he would like to live with her family. The matter was settled between the two families, and Jack Kennedy moved into number 24 Kirkdale Vale with the Bullens. Thus it came about that the writer's parents lived in the same house between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, when, in 1903, they were married. Curiously, these childhood sweethearts had been born within a month of each other (John in April, Lillian in May) and would die within three months of one another, in the spring of 1967.4 After marriage the couple continued to live in the Bullen household until, with their not quite five-year-old son John Leo, they emigrated to Canada in the spring of 1912. The writer's sister remembers that her father dearly loved two lines from Robert Browning's Rabbi ben Ezra: "Grow old along with me, / The best is yet to be." Jack frequently wrote the couplet on cards to his wife at Christmas and birthdays: "We kids got sick of it!" Over the years Jack Kennedy might roar at his wife when he was drunk, but he cared for her tenderly when senility had broken Lillian's health in her last years: "My father loved her but was hard on her."5 Like his son Leo, Jack Kennedy was a complex man.

14 As Though Life Mattered The Liverpool that had formed Jack was a harsh environment for most of its native sons. Walter Bullen, Leo's maternal grandfather, was a carter. Jack Kennedy seems to have been a docker and a seaman who could turn his hand to many tasks. Family opinion differs on his profession as a young man. His children believed that he worked on the wharves and on ships before emigrating to Canada, whereas Leo's aunt by marriage, Kathleen Bullen, always understood that Jack had worked in a pub. (Kathleen never met Jack, since he had left for Canada before she met and married his brother-in-law, George Bullen.) One simple explanation for the apparent confusion is that Jack was versatile. Dock work was casual, the dockers being hired on a daily basis. Since there were far more men seeking work than there were jobs on the docks, earning a living was precarious, and a wise man would have more than one string to his bow. The variety of jobs Jack Kennedy probably held prefigures the entreprenurial skill he later exhibited in Montreal. For carters and dockers the hours were long, the work hard, the accident rate high. Before the First World War over 27,000 men regularly sought work at the docks. Then, and for many years to come, handling cargo was dirty, dangerous work.6 The hazards were compounded by fatigue, since dockers who were lucky enough to get hired for the day commonly worked ten- to fourteen-hour shifts. Common accidents included death or injury from falling crates and other mishaps.7 A docker's day began before dawn as men formed in long lines at the many dockside stands, waiting for the early morning "call." The first unions had been organized by 1900. They remained weak, yet union men were usually hired first. Each docker held a "tally," a metal coin with a hole and a number. Tally-holders whose numbers were called by the foreman stepped forward to work. The city's prosperity was not shared with its dockers, most of whom lived in poverty, as exhibits in the Merseyside Museum of Labour History make clear. Up until the 1930s the foreman was all powerful. One's chances of work were improved by wearing the traditional worker's cap, since sporting a bowler might be taken as evidence of insubordination. A former docker had this to say in 1988: "If your face didn't fit, or if you didn't buy the foreman a drink in the company pub, you didn't get work. It was common knowledge that many a man desperate for work gave the foreman the key to his house so that he could sleep with the docker's wife." Despite the casual or daily basis of employment on the wharves, moving cargo was actually skilled work. Many men specialized in handling one particular type of cargo, such as fruit. The workers

15 Liverpool, Where It All Began supplied their own basic tool, the docker's hook, which acted as an extension of the arm and enabled the docker to move great weights. The hook had to fit an individual's hand and height, else the moving of weights up to one hundred tons of cargo per day would leave the hands raw and blistered. What strikes the modern researcher are the physical difficulties and the radical financial insecurity faced by the dockers and their families. Why would anyone continue to seek such work? Why did many men actually enjoy it? A former docker confessed to having "loved" the work. For many men working at wharfside meant excitement, the thrill of dangerous activity, and male bonding or camaraderie. The latter was formed on the job and confirmed by off-duty relaxation in the pub. Jack Kennedy doubtless enjoyed these aspects of his trade. He was, however, sufficiently shrewd to see that the work held no prospect of advancement and that his margin of security, if he stayed in Liverpool, was close to non-existent. His plans to emigrate were taking shape for several years before he took the plunge. The poet remembers his maternal grandfather, Walter Bullen, as a minor figure, shorter than his wife and, to the child, a great deal less impressive. Kennedy's papers include a short undated manuscript headed "Tales of a Grandmother," with the annotation "File in Plot Pot." The memoir covers both Bullen grandparents. Walter gets more than half the space but no billing, despite the treats he brought to his grandson. Other relatives remember "Maggie" Bullen as a little old woman, but to her small grandson she was "tall, soldierly, dignified, magnificent." The child perceived the two as being very different. Grandmother was "Black Irish," a believer in ghosts and witches: My Grandfather Bullen was by contrast a little Englishman with sandily grey hair, and a ragged waterfall of a white moustache stained yellow with tobacco and beer. As a labouring youth, Grandfather had lost some toes from his left foot, so that he walked with a small limp. He was employed as a teamster by the Liverpool Railroad, and the joy of his year was to drive his gleaming, flower-decked drays in the great May Day Parade. Grandfather was a wellbeloved but minor member of the household. He brought his wages home faithfully, the envelope unopened. For his grandson he was a skilful petty thief, bringing home Brazil nuts, raisins, and like delicacies pilfered from wharfed cargo. Sometimes the pocket of his greatcoat bulged with a golden orange from Jaffa. To a Liverpool working-class child in 1911 an orange from anywhere was fabulous as manna. Grandfather Bullen fetched miracles with awesome regularity.

16 As Though Life Mattered The regularity is suspect, since Leo also recalled an orange at Christmas as a rare treat. However, pilferage from the cargo was a way of life on the docks: a crate of oranges could be "accidently" dropped, so that fruit from the smashed crate would later delight the dockers' children, and Walter doubtless came in for his share of the loot. A street directory for the city gives Walter Bullen's occupation as carter year after year, until the last year of his life (1926), when he is termed labourer.8 In 1900 some five thousand men were employed in carting goods; by 1916 the number had risen to over ten thousand. Walter drove a team of huge black percherons for the railway company and was a minor organizer for the dockers in the great strike of 1917. In youth he had served with the British Army in India, an activity so little to his taste that he had shot off one of his toes in order to obtain a discharge. This was the accident that Leo connected with his grandfather's "labouring youth." The Indian experience had at least left Walter Bullen with a love for curry, a taste that his grandson inherited. Horse-drawn carts were common in Liverpool till the end of the 1950s. The trade occupied many thousands of men who were employed, like the dockers, on a casual basis. Wages for the fifteenor sixteen-hour day, circa 1916, might be twenty-six shillings with one horse, or twenty-nine shillings with two. Young apprentices called "nippers" or "lorry boys" earned one-quarter or one-third of that amount. Part of the city's flavour came from the great shirehorses, which were capable, with their massive broad feet, of pulling enormous weights. A carter's day started at 4:30 a.m., when he would feed his horse and head for the quay. It commonly ended at 8:00 p.m., when the carter would bed down his horses and head for the pub. Walter's influence ran deeper than Leo recognized as a child or would acknowledge as an adult. His heavy drinking, his conviviality, and his love of music all marked the Bullen home and were destined to become patterns in the life of his famous grandson. Heavy drinking was common among Liverpool men, and teetotallers were rare. Given the strains of the working day, it is easy to understand the popularity of the pubs. They dotted large areas of the city like dandelions, one to a corner and two to a block. Coffee-houses, often sparsely decorated and uncomfortable by comparison, provided a relatively cheerless alternative. The temperance movement, established in the 1820s, made little impression on Liverpool's male workers. Pubs were communal living-rooms. A pub was the place to hear the news, to buy the foreman a drink in hope of work, even to get

17 Liverpool, Where It All Began

paid. It was common practice in the nineteenth century for dockers to be paid at a pub, especially one owned by the shipping company that employed them. There were entertainers in the pubs, some of them children. Women, of course, were excluded. They could drink in "wine lodges," or segregated sections of the pubs called "snugs." Margaret Bullen did not drink, nor allow liquor to be kept in the house. The long hours of the working day and the exclusively male patterns of relaxation meant that the sexes lived largely separate lives. Music was one of the pleasures they shared. Walter's daughter-inlaw Kathleen, who knew him only by reputation, could imagine him coming home late from the pub, perhaps finding himself locked out, and defiantly singing a ditty whose lyrics suggested that if he were not welcome there, then he would just take off for Philadelphia. Judging from the prim disdain expressed by Kathleen Bullen and her daughter Pauline, the women in the family considered that singing in pubs (Walter's specialty) was not in the best taste. Walter had evidently been known as a great singer whose repertoire included sea shanties, Irish songs, and "puss music": K.B. Puss music is singing in your own style without an accompaniment. It's an Irish tradition. If I didn't know the words I'd just start doodleleeing - deedledee deedledee deedledee dum\ P.B. Like an Irish step[-dance]. K.B. Walter was very jolly, the opposite to her [Leo's grandmother]. She was more of the lady, a gentle person. George could play by ear, he bought us a piano. P.M. So there's musical tradition in the family. K.B. Yes, When they drink, you see, it brings all the music out of them.9

Kathleen Bullen was herself the liveliest proof of the family's feeling for music. While she talked of her father-in-law she kept breaking into Irish songs impromptu and tapping her foot. Leo's musical inheritance included "puss music" and Christmas pantomimes. He remembered seeing one in 1911 sparkling with singing and dancing and uproarious farce, illusions calculated to make any audience forget the soot-blackened city outside the theatre walls. The area where the Bullens and Kennedys lived has been demolished and rebuilt, under the self-righteous rubric of "slum clearance." Many of the old terraces that survive in nearby streets in the area known as Everton give the lie to the phrase. Most of the two-storey attached houses, in red or yellow brick, have bow windows and rounded tops on the doors: little Dublin. They are distinguished by these patterns and by the colours of the gaily painted doors and

18 As Though Life Mattered window frames. The houses were commonly described as "two up and two down" or, in the case of the slightly larger houses with a third bedroom, "three up and two down." Granted, the courts were narrow and the long streets treeless. To the modern eye, however, the terraced streets have a charm that is utterly lacking in the highrise council flats that were built to replace them. In the mid-nineteenth century, without water or proper heat, the damp terraces were indeed slums that bred cholera, typhus, typhoid, and disease of every description. Attached houses were built at that time in the shape of a narrow u on either side of a pinched courtyard. The cul-de-sac featured a water pump and ended in two communal lavatories, each meant to serve some fifty individuals on the court. There was a fee for using the water, and it was available only at certain hours. Water was also sold on the streets, and public baths and wash-houses were available. The courts were densely populated, and without drains. These appalling conditions would have prevailed within the memories of Walter and Margaret Bullen and were probably experienced by them as children. By the turn of the century, conditions for the working poor had improved considerably but were still harsh. We are able to see into number 24 Kirkdale Vale circa 1910-12 through the eyes of Kathleen Bullen. It is important to remember the time-lag of sixteen years, since conditions were obviously easier for Leo's grandmother by 1928. Kathleen and her husband, Leo's maternal uncle George Bullen, spent the first year of their marriage living with Margaret Bullen on Kirkdale Vale. Kathleen remembers the house as small but pleasant. By 1928 Margaret's other children were long since independent, her husband Walter had died, and her enterprising son George, aged thirty-six, was supporting her.10 The interiors of these workers' terraces were identical. Thus number 24, where Leo was born, was like the one two doors away where the Bullens moved after 1912 and where Leo would visit in 1921. The Bullen houses were "three up and two down," with a parlour and kitchen downstairs. The main bedroom held a wardrobe along with a chest of drawers and a double bed, while in the two smaller rooms there was space only for a bed and a chest. The floors were finished with linoleum. The toilet (a flush one in Kathleen's day, not in Leo's) was outside in a hut in the garden. This tiny house had been home to Leo's grandparents, his parents and himself, two redhaired aunts, and one tall uncle. Leo's happy memories of the family living "snug as mice" speak well for his grandmother's benign rule. In memory and imagination, Leo was never poor.

19 Liverpool, Where It All Began

Kathleen vividly remembered the parlour furnishings of her time, and described them as "nice." There was a round mahogany table and a rocking chair, along with a small Victorian sofa or chaise longue and two armchairs, all covered in red plush velvet. A pair of antique horses and large marble clock decorated the mantel. A cabinet held a tea set of fine china never once used during the year that Kathleen spent at number 28 Kirkdale Vale. For that matter, the entire parlour was never used. Kathleen observed that one did not have to be wealthy in order to own such things - they could be purchased relatively cheaply at auctions. It seems clear, however, that the Bullens had come up in the world and were comfortably situated by the 1920s. Not surprisingly, there were still no books. Leo remembers his grandmother, sixteen years earlier, as statuesque. She was built "exactly like Mrs Katzenjammer in the cartoon. She had a bottom like a sofa and a bosom like an over-stuffed chair, and her hair was coiled round and round about six inches high, ending with a little ribbon. That was a woman! She never saw the comic The Katzenjammer Kids, but she modelled for it. She was the most remarkable woman I ever saw in my life. Mind you, I was at an impressionable age!"11 During Leo's childhood in Liverpool his mother worked in a factory, leaving him each day in the care of his beloved grandmother. "She baked her own bread. She'd bake an enormous loaf and hold it to her big bosom this way, and carve off slices: that's for you, that's for you, and that's for you. She was a marvellous person."12 It is hardly surprising that the memories of various informants covering a twenty-five-year period (1910-35) should vary. Kathleen recalls that there were "always" custards, jellies, and tarts, especially apple tarts. By contrast, Leo remembers that his between-meal snacks were cold cooked potatoes from a large pottery crock. These he would share with friends: "All the little kids were perched like sparrows on the front step, with a potato in one hand and a salt shaker in the other."13 Potatoes were the "fast food" of that day and age. Fruit was a rarity before 1912, save for the Christmas orange and Grandfather's pilferings. In Leo's childhood there was no stove. Grandmother Bullen cooked over an open fire, and in a small oven built into the brick fireplace. Leo delights in the story that he was put into it at birth to keep warm: "I was greased all over and put into the oven like a pie!"14 One suspects that, although the Bullens may have been poor at the turn of the century by contemporary North American standards, they were probably better off than many of Liverpool's workers. The

20 As Though Life Mattered

imagination is drawn back to the rather striking decision to invite a neighbourhood child to share their crowded home and to take on his support. One of the Bullens' first acts on this occasion was to buy the thirteen-year-old Jack his first suit. The dreams and ambition that would lead Jack Kennedy to emigrate to the New World at the age of twenty-seven began to take shape in the Bullen household in the next few years. That household, despite the presence of Jack, George, and Walter, was dominated by its women: "My father was everywhere, he was a sailor. I'll tell you where he wasn't, he wasn't at home. It was a female household, and they all wanted a little girl."15 Like many a small Victorian and Edwardian male before him, Leo had long curly hair. He played with a home-made doll. For a formal photograph taken around the age of three he wore petticoats and a pinafore. This was all very well until his father came home from an extended trip and was shocked to find his son with curls: "He had my hair cut, and breeched me at once! I wailed in the barbershop at the loss of those curls and the broad flat cap that was two sizes too big for me and kept falling into my eyes."16 Over the years the incident was embroidered and became a favourite. Kennedy loved to describe the time when he had been "transmogrified into a girl child" and suffered a "sex change." The photograph of Leo as a little gentleman with long curls and one of his sister Lillian at the same age in Montreal in a fur coat and matching muff represent not daily life but family aspirations. They hint at fantasies and hopes - a passionate cry against the daily hardships and privations of a life that was never easy. As a rebellious teenager Kennedy believed that his aspirations were very different from his father's, yet in both men the family instinct, and the ambition to see their children succeed, was very strong. In the rough and tumble of Everton streets Leo doubtless fared better without his curls. Most Merseyside children of his day were growing up in hardship and poverty. Boys wore ragged cut-offs and the workmen's caps that Leo remembered being two sizes too big. Many children went barefoot. Their parents could not afford to buy toys, so the children made their own. Because their homes were overcrowded, the streets were their playgrounds, and the most precious possession was an imagination. Some of the games of 1900, such as skipping, hopscotch, marbles, rugby, football, and cricket, are still played today. Cricket was played in the streets with a beer bottle as a wicket and a piece of board as a bat. A beautifully hand-carved pair of handles for a skipping rope survives in the Merseyside Museum of Labour History. Other toys

21 Liverpool, Where It All Began

included tops, whips, cigarette cards, and games played with cherry stones. Racing live crabs was a popular diversion that Leo, who always loved fishing and anything associated with it, might have played or watched on Kirkdale Vale. Marbles or alleys, called "olleys," were made of clear, greenish glass, like the lemonade bottles of the day. Three-foot hoops, handmade of light wood, could be driven along the streets at high speed with a stick. Ceramic jacks the size of dice were beloved by small children, and this game could even be played with small stones. One ingenious game involving cherry stones was called "cherry wobs up the spout." The stones or wobs were thrown up a drainspout to roll down into the narrow gutter. If one's stone hit one of the wobs already in the gutter, one claimed the lot. Also preserved in the Labour History Museum is a part of one of the jumping poles popular in Leo's time, a finely crafted carved wooden stick figure with moving limbs, set on a long pole.17 Cigarette cards in sets of fifty featured various topics such as flowers or sporting heroes. They were collected as small treasures and used in various games of skill and chance. Merseyside children never lacked for entertainment between their cold-potato snacks. Leo's memories of taking the ferry across the Mersey to New Brighton seem to run together the pleasures experienced as a small child with adventures pursued independently at thirteen, when he returned by himself to visit his grandmother. He could hardly have taken the ferry alone at the age of four. To his Aunt Kathleen he wrote: "I trust there is still a ferry across the Mersey. As a small boy I would take it and go crabbing on the Birkenhead and New Brighton side. I remember the penny pony rides on the sand. Is all this gone? And slides with a little mat between a child's backside and the slide. I used to make these trips by myself. They were high adventure. The crabbing was done with a string and morsel of mussel."18 In Helen Forrester's autobiographical novel Liverpool Miss, a story of being young and poor in Liverpool in the early 1930s, the family loves to escape the city's heavily polluted air with a day at New Brighton's crowded beach. She recalls the odours of beer and fish and chips, the dripping cornets, the sand-impregnated sandwiches, the fun fair: "It was remarkable that nobody caught any deadly disease from the sewage and chemical-filled stream."19 Leo's failure to notice pollution in 1921 represents innocence, or a sharp increase in pollution over the next decade - probably both. We are dealing, it should be remembered, with a romantic. Outings to New Brighton were rare treats. The busy hub of the Bullen household was its kitchen, where Victorian technology created

22 As Though Life Mattered

endless work for the women. In Leo's memories, if women were not cooking or shopping, they were scrubbing. At least there was running water from a tap over a long pottery sink in the scullery. This area next to the kitchen also held a great wooden safe for food, screened against flies, and a tremendous boiler for washing clothes and household linens. Eggshells were added for bleaching; along with lumps of washing soda. Leo remembers working-class homes in Liverpool as immaculate, and called his Montreal flat a "midden" by comparison. In the 1920s there were starched linen cloths for every meal, and starched lace curtains on all the long windows. Busy as the women were, they still made time to keep an eye on the affairs of their neighbours. When young Leo discovered a small hole in the stiffly starched lace curtains, a little higher than his head, he called his grandmother's attention to it: "From her great height, and from under the plaited bun of her coal black hair, Grandmother regarded me. I know now that her expression said, Are we raising an idiot boy? 'It's for watching the neighbours, child,' she said." It is common to speak of the parlour, the room for funerals and special visitors, as never having been used, but it obviously served one useful daily purpose - as the base for surveillance. Margaret Bullen's imagination was quite as lively as her grandson's. She believed in ghosts, and enjoyed frequent visits from the dear departed. The kitchen at number 24 had a unique blue window of stained glass: "Grandmother was forever calling to me, Little Leo, come and see. She believed she'd seen the face of her nephew in the blue glass." The nephew, a stoker on a British naval vessel, had been drowned in the Mediterranean. Working as he did at the bottom of the vessel, he was, in Kennedy's phrase, "a gone goose" when the ship went down, but he continued to frequent Kirkdale Vale: "One day I saw the rocking chair in the front parlour rocking itself. I ran to tell Grandmother but she wasn't surprised, she said it was a short visit from one of my uncles."20 Leo later decided that the chair had been set in motion by the cat. The great iron stove, added after 1912, and the front doorstep required regular attention and plenty of elbow-grease. The doorstep was visible evidence to every passerby of a well-kept house. Kathleen recalls her mother-in-law's determination, at the age of seventy, to maintain a proper doorstep: "She whitened it every day with a sort of stone powder. You scrubbed the dirt off first, let it dry, then rubbed it with a block of whitener. She wouldn't let me do it. I think she felt it was her house."21 The enormous stove, which burnt coal, had to be polished frequently with blacklead paste and a brush: "You had to sand the stove with emery paper, then polish where there'd been

23 Liverpool, Where It All Began

spills, else it would rust. Oh, it was a lot of work!" Leo remembered a stove like this in the Kennedy kitchen on Roy or Duluth Street in the immigrant ghetto of Montreal where he lived after leaving Liverpool. Few tables today, even of rare woods, receive the care these matriarchs lavished on their stoves. "Holidays for Tired Mothers" was a popular charity at the turn of the century in the Liverpool area, but the Bullen women much preferred to look after themselves.22 The kitchen was inconvenient by current standards, but it was cosy, warm, and attractive. Clothes aired on a copper rod that hung from the long mantlepiece. There was a sideboard, a big table, two chairs, and two benches that could be pushed under the table when not in use. The big dresser, as tall as the ceiling, held china, glasses, and cutlery. Food was stored in the pantry, and dinner might feature "scouse," the local term for stew as well as talk. It was here at the kitchen hearth that Leo learned that family was important and women need support - lessons he would carry with him for a lifetime. Here where the family gathered and talked he also learned that people were odd, and daily life a source of endless amusement. This too formed part of the essential baggage the boy carried with him to Canada. Meanwhile, Jack Kennedy was branching out. His ventures during Leo's childhood were taking him increasingly far afield. He spent several years in Canada, checking out prospects with a view to emigrating, and saving money for the passage. Emigration was in the air, a topic of daily conversation in the homes and pubs of Liverpool workers from the last years of the nineteenth century to the First World War. When the Kennedys sailed to Canada in 1912, they were part of a vast migration that had begun a century earlier and made Liverpool the international centre for emigration to the brave new worlds of Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Between 1830 and 1930 some nine million people set sail from Liverpool for these promised lands. The movement was stopped during the First World War, and in the 1920s both Canada and the United States began to place restrictions on entry. The Kennedys had caught the crest of the wave. No one who walked the streets of the old port town could ignore the relentless reality of the process of emigration. Would-be immigrants crowded the streets and rode on the horse-drawn drays. They filled the boarding-houses; they crowded the quaysides. They stood on street corners listening to ships' brokers hustle their wares and tout the virtues of the New World. They attempted, as best they could, to deal with the street "runners," some of whom were

24 As Though Life Mattered confidence men who stole baggage under the pretext of delivering it and would return it only for an exorbitant fee. Emigrants came not only from all over the British Isles but from Europe, crossing by railway and sea to the port of Hull on England's northeastern coast and thence by rail to Liverpool, the gateway to their new life. Emigration meant big business for Liverpool. It reached into every corner of its economy, touching everyone from shipowners to local merchants, from craftsmen to carters. Nine million: the imagination lurches at the thought. Emigration was the great adventure of that age, as it has been for many in our own, an adventure for the bold or the desperate. People imagined the new worlds as uncrowded, in sharp contrast to the pressing throngs on "Scottie" Road or the thousands of dockers who competed for the morning "call." Wages overseas were about five times higher than they were in Europe. The three reasons commonly given for emigration are poverty, persecution, and ambition.23 Poverty, or something close to it, must have been one factor for Jack Kennedy.24 It appears, however, that he was moved primarily by ambition: the confident hope of a better life, and the conviction that he and his family deserved better things. Time proved him right. Within two generations the Kennedys would move from poverty through middle-class respectability to comparative wealth. The time-worn dream of every immigrant would be largely fulfilled for Jack Kennedy, his children, and his grandchildren. Steamships had begun to transport thousands in the 1870s, and by the first decade of the 1900s conditions of passage were much improved. Third-class cabins, with two to six berths per cabin, were functional if not luxurious. They had spring mattresses and washbasins. Dining service compared well with middle-class restaurants. The horrors of steerage a generation earlier were now a thing of the past. A new generation of superliners came into service just in time for the Kennedy crossing. The Cunard and the White Star lines were the ocean greyhounds of the day. The Lusitania and Mauretania began crossing in 1907. Both had elegant first-class quarters, but all the liners by this date were carrying large numbers of third-class passengers. The emigrants, caught between the hazards of the Old World and the unknown dangers of the new, turned their faces west. The Kennedy family travelled to Canada in the spring of 1912, and Leo remembers hearing news of the sinking of the Titanic.25 They landed at Quebec City on Corpus Christi Day, just in time to be slightly awed by an elaborate religious parade. Leo was impressed by the sight of a small boy in a long golden wig who represented

25 Liverpool, Where It All began

St John the Baptist. Quebecers knelt as the parade passsed by. The Kennedys knelt too. In his first five years Kennedy had had no luxuries save the essential ones: love, security, and the stimulation of his imagination. Small wonder that he would remember with fond nostalgia, three-quarters of a century later, the sights and sounds of the Liverpool streets. The oddities and joys of that old port city he would re-experience briefly at the start of his teen years, thus reviving the early memories and reinforcing them. His parents, however, had experienced radical insecurity and many hardships, and would continue to struggle in Montreal for at least the first half-dozen years of their life in Canada. Consciously and subconsciously, Kennedy could hardly have avoided learning that life was hard and supporting a family was serious business. His future choices were being shaped long before he thought of them as such. His writing would come out of two cultures, one Victorian, working class, and Anglo-Irish, and one modern, bourgeois, Canadian, and North American. Kennedy's imagination fused the disparate elements involved, and built upon both.


Growing Up Irish, 1912-26 This bird that beats clipped wings and grieves Within the prison of my breast, Bewildered that its timid rage Should prove indifferent protest, May yet acquire such timid voice That all who hear will pause and stare, And think it strange that vocal skill Should flourish so in prison air. "The Captive," The Shrouding (1933)

For the next twenty-five years, from his arrival in Canada at the age of five, Leo belonged to Montreal. He came to love the city, and hate it too. He would always consider it home. With its Victorian.ghosts, its vivid mixture of peoples, its dirt and poverty and vitality, Montreal was a port city not unlike the one where his life had begun. In Montreal as in Liverpool, the Irish were making their mark. By the time the writer left for the United States in the late 1930s, the Kennedy family had occupied more than a half-dozen residences. In retrospect Leo suspected that some of the early moves might have been triggered by an inability to pay the rent. The two major periods in his development from 1912 to 1929 were spent at yj Pontiac Street, at the corner of Bienville (1917-21), and 3020 Rushbrooke Street in Verdun.1 The latter move took place around the time that Leo went back to Liverpool to spend some four or five months with his grandmother. In the Pontiac years, from the age of ten Leo was roaming the city streets with his friend Jack McAsey, discovering the used bookstores, the historical landmarks, and all the vivid life of the old city. It was common for the two youths to walk ten or fifteen miles on a Saturday or Sunday. Leo was endlessly curious, and fascinated by the older sections of the city. In the Rushbrooke years, while working for his father, Leo's education continued apace. He had been writing since the age of ten or eleven. In Verdun this activity became increasingly important to him. His early precocity was stimulated by reading and by the circle of intellectuals whose friendships have passed into literary history Leo

27 Growing Up Irish lived in the family home on Rushbrooke Street until within a few months of his marriage in the fall of 1929. Jack Kennedy was a short man, heavy-set and assertive. In Montreal, both before and after he brought over his wife and son in 1912, he worked as a wharfsman, a stevedore handling cargo. During several winters when work on the Montreal docks slowed or ceased, he was employed as a checker by the Canadian Pacific Railways. The Kennedys spent at least part of their first two Canadian winters in St John, New Brunswick, where Jack had work with the CPR. Leo and his mother may have stayed alone in Montreal in a boardinghouse during the winter of 1912-13. Summers saw the family back in Montreal. Eventually Jack obtained a secure job as purchasing agent with the Canada Sugar Refining Company in Point St Charles. By the early 1920s Kennedy senior had established himself in his own chandlery and supply company, with an office in Old Montreal near the docks. The impressive letterhead on which Leo wrote to his friend Leon Edel on 19 August 1929 read as follows: "John A. Kennedy and Sons / Steamship and Mill Supplies / Industrial Paints / Steam Packings / Boiler Gaskets etc. / Sole Representatives in Eastern Canada for France / Metal Packings / 489 St. Paul Street West / Montreal, Canada." The handsome "K and S" logo may have been designed by Leo, who did some illustrations for his "Oliver" column in the Montreal Star in 1925-26. Since his brother George, born in 1917, was still a child when the letterhead was printed, their father's ambition to found a business dynasty was clear. Leo's refusal to work for him after his marriage in 1929 must have been a bitter blow. Neither son wanted the family business: "I wanted to be a writer, George wanted to be a musician, and Dad wanted to raise an empire. A small empire."2 "I didn't stay with Dad long enough to be victimized. I got out. I wouldn't take the bullying, the domineering."3 Leo had no intention of staying on with a man whom he heartily disliked long before he was out of his teens. "I hated my father," he recalled in 1986. "We both had a ferocious temper! And I adored my mother, I did housework for her for years." Hostility towards his father began when he saw him deal roughly with his mother after drinking, or begrudge her money for housekeeping. Jack Kennedy could be generous when drinking with male friends, but he had a mean streak about domestic expenses. Leo once saw his mother on her knees begging her husband for money - and being refused: "That was one of the things that soured me on him." Leo's mother, by all accounts, was a patient, sweet-tempered woman. She loved her children, and they knew it. A loving spirit, "Lily" Kennedy was widely respected and loved. Her daughter Lillian

28 As Though Life Mattered

believed that her father loved his wife, despite his mistreatment of her: "He'd roar at her when he was drunk. He was a nasty drunk, with an ugly temper. He was mean to Leo."4 The family understood that Jack Kennedy's own life had been far from easy. Leo's hostility deepened when he was forced, in all the idealism of youth, to confront business practices that stank in his nostrils. It made no difference that many of these practices were common in Montreal at the time: Leo flatly rebelled against making money in dishonest ways. Jack Kennedy dealt largely with engineers who represented his clients, the managers of ships, hotels, and large companies. The entire system was heavily dependent upon bribery and kickbacks. George Kennedy's witticism, years later, summed it up perfectly: "Dad never made a dollar he didn't pay for," Leo remembered his brother saying. It would take years before Leo could admit that, although his father was dishonest, he was no worse than the competition. Bribery and business went hand in hand in Montreal in those years. With the passage of time and a number of miles placed between father and son, the relationship gradually improved. "In the end," Leo proudly recalled, "I loved him till his death."5 In 1922, while Leo was willing to be clerk, bookkeeper, messenger boy, and general factotum for Kennedy and Sons, dishonesties such as short weights went against his grain. He made no objection, however, to the packages of meat that arrived from Canada Packers, one of his father's clients. The Kennedys were becoming established: "We did well while I lived at home and worked for my father." His sister's unhappy memory of a large debt at the corner store during a period when their father was unemployed belonged to times that would not recur after 1922. The brevity of Leo's formal schooling - six grades - sounds harsh to modern ears. Dickensian indeed. Deprived. Schooling that ended at the primary level, however, was common for working-class children. Had the family stayed in England, Leo's education would have been similar. Fourteen was the legal age for leaving school in Liverpool until after the Second World War. Leo's pattern of self-directed study was one that had been followed by many Lancastrians who became great scholars by their own efforts - witness John Butterworth, geometrician, and James Crowther and Richard Buxton, botanists: all poor, all self-taught, all celebrated.6 Class was not the only factor at work. Leo was handicapped as a child by frail health, which gave him a very late start in school. For two years, at the ages of six and seven, illness kept him at home with his mother. In retrospect he wondered if illness had been the sole factor, or if the lonely woman had craved the company of her small

29 Growing Up Irish son. He was eight when he entered grade one at Olier Public School, and ten when he began to take the tram to St Patrick's Boys' Academy on La Gauchetiere Street. The latter was proudly dubbed a "proper" boys' school. Instructors belonged to the Christian Brothers, a Catholic teaching order. By this time Leo was big brother to a small sister (born February 1915) and a baby brother (born July 1917). Health problems once again cut short his year in grade six in the spring of 1921, when he was sent before the end of term to stay with his grandmother in Liverpool. The winter of 1921-22 was spent repeating that incompleted grade. He was fourteen when he left St Patrick's. That summer he would celebrate his fifteenth birthday at sea in the Gulf of St Lawrence as a cabin-boy aboard a CPR tramp steamer homeward bound from the Caribbean. Similar experience has inspired many a modern writer, from Joseph Conrad to Malcolm Lowry. Leo was now considered adult and was proud of it. From the age of eleven he had held part-time jobs such as delivering groceries: 'At fifteen I earned five dollars week, and gave my mother three seventyfive. Properly. Everybody did."7 His early jobs, and his contribution to family support at the age of fifteen, became an important part of his self-image. Sixty years later he found it nearly impossible to be reconciled with grandsons who remained in school, financially dependent on their mother, long after the ripe maturity of fifteen. Most significant learning is done by oneself. A look at the curriculum common in Catholic primary schools at the time suggests that Leo may have lost little by leaving early. There were no texts, and no literature was taught at St Patrick's Boys' Academy. Pupils learned to read, to write, and to cipher. There was a smattering of history. Classes in catechism took up a substantial portion of the school day. Discipline was strict, and Leo blamed a permanent hearing impairment on a box on the ear administered by one of the Christian Brothers. With the benefit of hindsight, he recognized that the Brothers were not well-educated men. There were also a few lay teachers at the academy. One, a Percy Knowles, encouraged Leo to write compositions and praised his efforts highly. When the praise was bestowed openly in front of the other boys, it earned him beatings in the schoolyard. Despite the limitations of such a curriculum, and within four years of leaving sixth grade, Leo would become part of a group destined to transform Canadian poetry. Such is the power of reading, and talent. He had been an avid reader from childhood. He soon discovered that lunch money could be exchanged for used books at Diamond's Bookstore, located on Bleury above Craig, just around the

30 As Though Life Mattered

corner from St Patrick's. Later, the Classic Bookshop opened nearby. Both Harry Diamond and Joseph Melzack were kind to Leo and served, in effect, as early mentors: There were no books in my father's house. I ate huge breakfasts and dinners to save my lunch money. At noon, I'd go with my quarter to the bookstores. The two old gentlemen took a shine to the goy kid who was crazy about books. They started giving me books, and telling me things to read - H.G. Wells, Conan Doyle - Mr. Diamond let me into a back room where the books were not sorted. I discovered an old leather-bound book by Daniel Defoe. I asked Mr. Diamond, How much? He said, Leo, you'll never earn enough money to buy it.8 In fact there was only one old gentleman to be kind to the child who loved books, but two to favour the young adult bibliophile. Louis Melzack, Joseph's son, writes that his father opened his first secondhand bookstore in 1928, on Bleury Street: "Leo Kennedy was a constant visitor with little money, but what he had he spent on books. I still remember his intense excitement when we bought the Norman Bethune collection from his wife Frances. He must have mortgaged himself for the next few years!" In 1928 Leo was twenty-one. Clearly, he had fused his book-buying memories from a ten-year period, just as he had conflated memories of the beach at New Brighton and the Liverpool ferry experienced in 1911 and 1921. (Melzack's mention of Bethune's books presumably refers to the late 1930s.) The remembered affection and encouragement was real enough. Years later Harry Diamond visited Leo in Chicago for an emotional reunion. Book purchases were supplemented by library loans. The Fraser Institute was a public library near St Patrick's. In his first year at the school Leo diligently read his way through a three-foot shelf of G.H. Henty adventure tales that stood near the front desk. He then asked for the return of his three-dollar deposit, saying sadly that he had read all the books. The startled librarian gave him the money without comment: "The silly girl didn't tell me they had other books." In time he discovered his error. He vaguely remembers being laid up with a broken leg in childhood and reading Moby Dick and War and Peace at the time. This story may be apocryphal, but the Henty affair has the smell of truth. Leo was an omnivorous reader, and his love for books was a permanent affair. He loved them as objects, not only for the words they contained. Exiled to sunny California in his eighties, with his substantial library left behind in Montreal, he began (once again) to

3i Growing Up Irish buy used books. In no time, and with surprisingly little money, there were hundreds of good books in his small quarters: "Erasmus said, 'When there's a little money I buy books, and if there's a little left over, I buy food.' I'm a great admirer of Erasmus."9 More than half a century after the event he recalled his delight in buying The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius from Douglas Adam, a student at McGill: "He took that dollar like a big-mouthed bass grabs a worm."10 Leo had spotted the treasure because whenever he entered a room he always looked first at the books. Books, then, belonged to Leo's childhood. So too did the cultural and ethnic diversity of this city of immigrants. In Liverpool hostilities ran deep between Catholics and Protestants, and there were relatively few Jews. In Montreal, Jews and things Jewish became important to the "goy kid" from an Irish family. For most of the decade between their arrival in Canada and the purchase of a house in Verdun ("that other ghetto," in Edel's phrase), the Kennedys lived in the immigrant ghetto of Montreal near St Denis, just north and east of the city's centre. Leo remembers living on Roy and Duluth streets, before Henri Julien and Pontiac. Many of the neighbours were Irish, and many were Jews. There was relatively little contact with francophone Montrealers, and Leo did not learn French. As a child of seven and eight Leo served as a "sabbath goy," turning on lights and stoves in the homes of orthodox Jews whose religion forbade such work on the sabbath. This activity earned him a penny, and much joy. He acquired a store of Yiddish as part of his permanent vocabulary, and would later call it his second language, "learned on Roy Street over a stable full of rats."11 Humanity's infinite variety, first observed on the streets of Liverpool and in his grandmother's kitchen, was confirmed. To Leo's young eyes, Jews and their customs must have represented an exotic Other that attracted his curiosity and piqued his mind. The warmth of their family feelings, especially evident on the sabbath, would have attracted him. From childhood on, Jewish friends formed part of his life. Another factor was added as he grew older. Observing racist attitudes in both parents, the rebellious youth moved firmly in the opposite direction. Both his wives were Jewish, which is either a statement on the extent of his rebellion or testimony to the beauty of Jewish women. In the spring and summer of 1921, before the completion of his school year, Leo was sent to spend four or five months with his maternal grandparents. The rationale for the trip he remembered as a lung condition, and doctor's orders: "My parents were instructed to send me to a very dry climate, so they sent me to Liverpool, where it rains all the time."12 Leo cheerfully admitted the ridiculous aspect

32 As Though Life Mattered of the affair, while insisting that his grandmother was better than all the good weather in the world: "She could cure anything." It is possible, even probable, that the youth (now turning fourteen) was something of a nuisance to his parents, who seized an opportunity for a few months of relative peace.13 Merseyside in 1921 was a revelation as well as a spring of childhood memories, a kingdom of delight. For one enchanted summer Leo enjoyed a child's freedom along with the growing insights of a young adult. Of course the kingdom was not free of conflicts. It never is. That summer Leo received from his grandmother a suit for his fourteenth birthday, "a tweedy thing." He was foolish enough to walk through an Ulster Protestant section of the city on the first day he wore this suit, and received a tomato in the face. The lessons of Montreal's streets were different, and the same. Thirty years later Jack Kennedy would write to his niece Pauline Bullen (George's daughter), on the occasion of her twenty-first birthday, that he could remember turning twenty-one "in the same old town of Liverpool where the Orange and the Irish, both from the same forebears, used to fight on the 17th of March, and the 12th of July. In the meantime they drank together and apart, destruction to one another. Thousands of people become twenty-one every day, but the divided Irish still fight, and so the world goes on." His reference here to the age-old problem of "man's inhumanity to his brother" reveals a philosophic streak that his son had forgotten by the 1970s (or perhaps, in his rebellious years, had never remarked). Jack Kennedy's generosity in sending food parcels to Liverpool during the Second World War was remembered by grateful Bullen relatives, but Leo had lived through the 1940s in Chicago in a radically different world and most probably never even knew of this kindness on the part of his father. Leo also failed to credit his father with the humour and sensitivity that Jack's letters reveal. In Liverpool, Leo's love of melodrama and romance would have been nourished by the variety theatres, the music-halls, and the street entertainers. Across the Mersey, New Brighton provided a beach and a large amusement centre. "How the Liverpudlians do love their New Brighton!" an old stager recalled. On fine days Leo would take the ferry to Birkenhead and walk to New Brighton with its glittering amusement arcade on the pier, and the pony and donkey rides remembered from childhood. Liverpool has traditionally been a city full of music and entertainment. Family-style shows were cheap and easily available to the city's hard-pressed workers. Variety theatres offered musicals, with minstrels whose faces were blackened with cork, popular singers, and

33 Growing Up Irish vaudeville acts. Melodramas had sensational titles like Greed, Dolls of Intrigue, and Enslaved by a Mormon. The latter play was billed "weird and sensational, with a villainous Mormon hypnotist and an heiress."14 The silver screen, also known as the picture palace, was flourishing. Street corners abounded in concertina or penny-whistle players, blind fiddlers, pavement artists, tumblers, and barrel-organ men.15 Leo would doubtless have seen Punch and Judy shows, put on by four generations of the Codman family between 1868 and 1949. Punch and Judy shows are still performed occasionally at Liverpool's Albert Docks. From the 1890s on, company outings for workers were arranged in the hopes of a more contented work-force. Favourite destinations were New Brighton and the seaside towns of Southport and Blackpool. These day-trips featured heavy drinking, with numerous stops in pubs along the way. As one researcher has wryly observed, women and children did not appear to have been welcome on such trips.16 Walter Bullen may have enjoyed such an outing sponsored by the railway company in the summer of 1921. Leo, of course, would have observed his grandfather's heavy drinking and his Uncle George's abstinence. The ends of Grandfather's long white walrus moustache were yellowed from frequent immersion in beer. Leo greatly admired his uncle and rarely mentioned his grandfather. As we know, he already disliked his father. In general his sympathies as a child and young man lay strongly with the women in the family. It is ironic but not uncommon that in later life he took up the heavy drinking he had despised in youth. George Bullen was different. To" his widow, Kathleen, in 1977 Leo wrote: "I remember Uncle George only as a tall handsome man who was kind to a thirteen-year-old boy. He took me everywhere he went on his Wednesday night off, and bought me books. I also shared his fried flounder when he came home hungry from the grocery co-op at night. He was an ideal uncle." George had been a prisoner of war in Germany during the First World War, and was something of a local hero. He was unmarried at the time of Leo's visit, and some of his women friends gave his nephew books to curry favour with his handsome uncle. George and Kathleen were married in 1928, by which time George (born in 1892) was well established in a career with the government. Kathleen's memories of an ample diet in the Bullen household that year cannot be taken as an indication of the diet in that same kitchen twenty years earlier. For Leo as a small child the typical diet would likely have been bread, toast, dripping, potatoes, and tea, supplemented by sausage, mutton, cheese, and cabbage when money

34 As Though Life Mattered permitted.17 Vitamin deficiency might well have been the reason Lillian Kennedy lost her teeth in 1913 and probably contributed to the general ill health that caused Leo his late start in school. We can safely assume that, by 1921, with the energetic George in charge of his mother's household, arrangements in the Bullen kitchen were adequate or better. Leo's lifelong love of seafood probably dates from this summer in Liverpool. And certainly the holiday reinforced the influences of his childhood and nourished the romantic strain that marked his character and his writing. Back in Montreal in the early 1920s, Jack Kennedy settled his family at 3020 Rushbrooke Street. The choice of Verdun symbolized his ambitious upward mobility within the Irish community's social and business hierarchies. The area lay in the southwest corner of the island, defined by the St Lawrence River on the south and the Montreal aqueduct to the north and east. It lay just west of the working-class Irish district known as Griffintown. In youth Leo knew every block of the territory on both sides of the May Street division. In the 1920s both Verdun and Griffintown were solidly anglophone. Edgar Andrew Collard, writing on Montreal's history, called Griffintown "a little world within itself."18 The district was dominated by the Church of St Ann, with its attendant school. Graduates of St Ann's were assured of a good start in their careers. The church itself became the setting for Leo's best, and best-known story, "A Priest in the Family." Obviously, Irish contacts in Griffintown would have been useful to Jack Kennedy in his business. His own office, at 489 St Paul Street West, was at the far side of Griffintown, on its eastern flank. Driving to work from the eastern corner of Verdun, Jack would have passed by Liverpool Street, with its constant reminder of his origins. By settling in Verdun, just west of May Avenue, he announced his social superiority. Collard calls the area "definitely a cut above Griffintown."19 Jack was able to acquire a solid, high-ceilinged old house on a pleasant street. At roughly the same time he purchased a spare lot adjacent to the house, and his first automobile, a Briscoe. The residence at 3020 Rushbrooke Avenue was known locally as "the Captain Coleman house" and was one of the more prestigious on the street. The company letterhead suggests how rapidly in the early 1920s Jack's ambitions were being fulfilled while he was still a relatively young man. However, he was far from satisfied. His daughter remembered her father as a man who was disappointed in the way that life had treated him.20

35 Growing Up Irish As one would expect, some of the neighbours in Verdun were more socially acceptable than others. Wellington Street houses, a block to the south, were generally superior. On the block west of Rushbrooke, now a continuation of Boulevard La Salle, Lillian remembers women nursing their babies on front porches in warm weather. Such behaviour was unacceptable to her mother: "She was horrified at the class of people nearby, she called them 'cheap English.' She was a snob in her own way, but kind."21 In general Verdun was a quiet, orderly neighbourhood that prided itself on its superiority to the rowdy inhabitants of Griffintown. Curiously, Jack Kennedy was fond of claiming to be English. He would insult the Irish as a bigoted people. "Dirty Irish!" he would say when provoked. His wife readily acknowledged that the family was Irish, while his son hooted with laughter at the thought of the denial: "My father was as Irish as Paddy's pig!" Jack's ambivalent attitude towards his own ancestry was perfectly expressed in his choosing to live a few hundred yards west of Griffintown, beyond the tumbling waters of the tail-race. Sixty years later, the area where Leo spent seven crucial years has weathered with considerable grace. In the 1990s it lies just west of a raised freeway (Autoroute Ten) that leads to the Champlain Bridge and the South Shore. The autoroute covers and conceals the tail-race, a portion of the old Montreal aqueduct. The Lachine Canal lies a short distance to the north. Turning north from Wellington on to May Street, immediately west of the underpass, one enters an attractive area of red and yellow houses with ornamental ironwork. Many have outside iron stairways; some, balconies; others, iron fences marking off tiny patches of lawn. Rushbrooke, running east-west off May, is bounded by HenriDuhamel to the west and backs on to Wellington Street. Wooden verandas and "gingerbread" fretwork add to the charm of the area. The steep embankment, now covered with cement, was a grassy slope in the 1920s, a pleasant place to play. In 1980, when the current occupant permitted the poet, his sister, and me to view the interior of number 3020, Leo headed for the basement, where he remembered fighting a duel at sixteen over a girl. The affair had resulted in a small scar. He advised the owner not to get old. Leo had returned from his summer at sea in 1922 to begin working for his father full time. He reputedly brought back a parrot, but the fate of the creature is not known. His sexual initiation had been accomplished on Pontiac Street at the age of twelve or thirteen with

2,6 As Though Life Mattered a sixteen-year-old temptress. His reaction to that initiation, entirely unhappy, had been the terrified conviction that he and the girl, both Catholics, were headed straight for hell. "I sat on the floor and cried." It seems likely that his few months as a sailor added more to his colourful store of words than to his sexual expertise, since he always claimed to have been naive in the 1920s, inexperienced and even prudish. The Kennedys' house on Rushbrooke was larger than their previous one. Leo's room, on the front east corner, had the balcony, while a bow window (reminiscent of Liverpool) graced the front parlour of the six-room house. Leo surveyed his kingdom with joy. His father had built a tennis court on the lot next to the house, and Leo enjoyed the game. The Victoria Rink, a large indoor skating arena on Wellington, provided skating to organ music for a small entrance fee. Leo went often. He could cut through the back garden past the funeral chapel and be there in two minutes. The funeral parlour on Wellington Street resembled a small chapel. Its double front doors, now boarded, form a Gothic arch. In the 1980s the adjacent house ("Salon Seduction") had become a hairdressing establishment, a fate suffered by many old residences, including the Halifax home of Hugh MacLennan. In the 1920s Leo became friendly with the mortician and helped him, on a few occasions, to lay out and prepare bodies for burial. The idea for a story set in a funeral parlour had already occurred to him, and he sought authenticity. The mortuary experience also underlies a 1930 story, "We All Got To Die," where our universal fate is defiantly turned into a joke, albeit black, and the poorly prepared corpse winks in his coffin.22 The smell of poverty for the hard-pressed immigrants in Griffintown is vividly caught. Despite the controlling irony (a quality much admired by the Fortnightly group), the tone in this story is genuinely sympathetic. It has sentiment, without sentimentality. Leo was fond of animals and could be enraged by the sight of cruelty towards them. Throughout Lillian's childhood the family had both a cat and a dog. Like most neighbourhoods, Rushbrooke had its eccentrics, and worse. Two doors west of the Kennedy house lived a man who preyed on cats, and hanged any he caught by their necks in his garage. Leo hated the man with a passion. One day he came upon a cat corpse, hanging. Furious at the discovery, he took the shotgun his father used for deer hunting and announced his intention to kill the neighbour. He was restrained with difficulty: "He always had a wild temper, he had that streak in him."23 Lillian sometimes served as go-between for her brother and his teen-age sweethearts. She remembers carrying poems down the

37 Growing Up Irish street, memorizing them as she walked, to slip under the door of Marjorie Brennan, whom Leo called his first sweetheart: "I was madly in love with her for years." The Rushbrooke house had a pleasant garden with one large tree. Its branches became one of Leo's special haunts. Here he declaimed poetry aloud. Here he could read and write in solitude. The latter commodity was difficult to come by inside the house. On one occasion the youthful writer was reported to the police as a "Peeping Tom" and was forced to explain that he simply wanted privacy. He delighted in the conclusion reached by the officers: "After all, it's his tree." Jack Kennedy hated to see Leo writing, especially poetry. If he were caught writing at the office, his father would tear up the offending sheet: "That's not what you're paid to do." When Leo's literary friends stopped by the office, those who were without paying jobs were called "wastrels" and were unceremoniously requested to leave. Oddly, Jack was fond of nineteenth-century British poets, especially Browning ("Grow old along with me ..."). However, his ambition included his sons, whom he hoped to see extend the business he had founded. Poetry was no route to business success; rather, it marked the sissy. To add insult to injury, Jack found himself unable to understand the poetry that his son was writing in the 1920s and 1930s. The Shrouding was incomprehensible to the poet's father, who found the verses "weird." It was inevitable that the rift between father and son would widen before it could be healed. Jack Kennedy may have been insensitive to modern literature, but he loved music. The Kennedy household was full of music. This early exposure not only introduced Leo to a source of lifelong pleasure but also made it possible for him, decades later, to end his copywriting career as the music specialist for the giant Reader's Digest Company in New York. "Everyone" in Liverpool played the piano and sang, the Kennedys told their children. Jack had a fine tenor voice, and was proud of it. He sang at every opportunity, including concerts at the Verdun Boat Club and the Moose Club, favourite drinking spots. Popular Irish songs such as "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," "Kathleen Mavourneen," and "Macushla" were among his favourites. "He loved sentimental Irish songs even though he hated the Irish," Lillian recalled.24 The family also collected classical records. (Leo's record collection would later become immense.) Jack played the piano, as did his wife and his two younger children. The affluence such an instrument in the home represented came too late for Leo to learn to play. However, he sang in the choir at

38 As Though Life Mattered St Patrick's until his voice broke at thirteen. For a few more years he continued as an altar boy. His years of church attendance deepened his knowledge and love of music. Obviously music was not the only lasting influence of his church on Leo. He was never a practising Catholic after he left school, but the beauty of ceremony and ritual had been deeply imprinted. More importantly, Christian faith shaped his idealism and his view of humanity. Individuals mattered. Christianity had also established the concept of resurrection. Over the years his belief in the latter might take protean forms, but it was never abandoned. It was Christianity, further, that led Leo to the work of British essayist and novelist G.K. Chesterton. In his teens Leo and his friend Jack McAsey founded the Chesterton Club, with themselves as the sole members. Leo was president, McAsey vice-president. Chesterton (1874-1936) did not become Catholic until 1922, but he had always revered tradition. He admired the Victorians, romanticized the Middle Ages, and attacked George Bernard Shaw. He wrote witty essays, comic poems, and fantastic novels. His novels include the detective series that features Father Brown as sleuth. Kennedy particularly admired what he called Chesterton's philosophy of laughter. His enthusiasm for Chesterton was definitely not shared by the others in the Fortnightly group, yet a volume of Chesterton, ironically, would serve as his entrance to this circle of writers.25 When he was ten or eleven, another club, one of his father's watering-holes, inadvertently provided Leo's introduction to poetry. The Moose Club, a fraternal organization on St Denis, existed largely to provide its members with a place to drink, especially on Sundays, when public taverns were closed. The club had pool tables, and Jack originally took Leo there in hopes of teaching him to play pool. Since the club was not celebrated for its interest in the arts, the irony of its serving as a place where a future poet first discovered poetry is rather fine. The outing got off to a bad start. Leo remembers running into the club eagerly, ahead of his father, and receiving a blow on the face for this impertinence. Inside, when Jack's will to instruct began to flag and his attention was given over to his cronies, Leo made friends with the club's janitor, an educated British immigrant who had found some security in his old age in this fashion. Liking Leo, and seeing his interest in literature, this charming old gentleman lent him a volume of poetry by Charles Stuart Calverley. Leo found the nineteenth-century British poet exciting, and very much to his taste - a fact that tells us a great deal about the literary taste of a small boy from the immigrant ghetto with little schooling but a deep love for language, humour, and ideas. Calverley wrote light verse and

39 Growing Up Irish parodies, a form that always delighted Leo, and had translated some of the classical poets into English. Leo's first exposure to poetry was either Verses and Translations (1862) or Fly Leaves (1872). The chance meeting was pure serendipity. The janitor's name is lost but his photograph remains, revealing a man of taste and sensibility. Within a year of this encounter Leo made his first sale of poetry to the Montreal Star, for one dollar. The blow on the face in the Moose Club speaks volumes. Jack Kennedy had a violent temper, as did his oldest son. The two were at odds from Leo's childhood until Jack's old age. Leo's love of reading and gift for writing irked his father and ran counter to his ambitions. At the age of twelve Leo had announced that he was going to be a writer. Drawing himself up, his father replied coldly, "There are no writers in our family." As a child Leo had been pained by his father's bullying of his mother; as an employee he disapproved of the firm's business practices, while his father increasingly disapproved of Leo's friends. Jews and writers were Jack's favourite targets. In short, each condemned the other's lifestyle. Love and hate ran deep between father and son. Theirs was a stormy relationship with a smooth harbour at the end. At twelve Leo had plotted with his little sister to kill their father with a B-B gun, and went so far as to fire a pellet into a wall. The shot had a remarkably sobering effect upon Jack. Despite such macabre incidents, Leo maintained that his father was essentially a good man, and he proudly insisted that he had kept him in Jamieson whisky and Cuban cigars in his old age.26 By the age of seventeen Leo had found an outlet for his writing, one that served him well for twenty months, from the start of January 1925 to the end of August 1926. It brought him no pay, although it led to a relatively well-paying part-time job as a night proof-reader. It also brought public attention and personal satisfaction. His "Oliver" column in the Montreal Star was the catalyst that brought Leo into contact with the Fortnightly group in 1926. These sketches were his proving ground until the McGill periodical provided a more prestigious audience. The newspaper's managing editor was married to Margaret Currie, a woman Leo remembers as large and aggressive. Her impression of Leo was presumably more favourable. Currie managed a Lonely Hearts feature, along with several other sections of interest largely to women. Leo was not above contributing the occasional poem to Currie's columns under the pseudonym of "Helen Lawrence." It was not to the lonely hearts but to Currie's popular column composed of readers' letters that Leo began to write with surprising frequency. His whimsical, longish sketches, signed "Oliver," were

40 As Though Life Mattered

definitely anomalous in "Margaret Currie's Mail." They took the form of a dialogue between Oliver and his little dog, a talented creature who talked like a philosopher and was happy to play straight man to his master. In a sketch entitled "The Crooked Street," Leo introduced his fantastic pair as follows: "My little dog is radical. Indeed, yes, you know him as a philosopher, a moralist, and a critic; but, as I say, he is also a radical, and as I am his historian I shall tell you all about it."27 The Oliver columns reflect Leo's love of literature, the breadth of his interests, and his fascination with human idiosyncrasies. The style, while basically Victorian, is often unexpected. It ranges freely between unpretentious charm and elegant sophistication. Within a single piece, it can be lyric, prophetic, philosophic, funny, and impudent. The dialogue form, an excellent device, served this writer well. Many of the sketches read like stories but are also clearly the work of a poet. A short piece entitled "John Smith" turns on Leo's hatred of cant and pomposity. Egotism was always a sworn foe; Irving Layton would later attract his wrath on that score. On this occasion the dog speaks in praise of humility: "Next to dreaming forever before a red fire," I one night asked my little dog, "What would you like to be?" He yawned rudely and said that he should choose to sit on the stars and laugh at the world spinning beneath him. He said that once in a hundred years a man is born who is humble enough for this position and that these men never die, but sit on through the ages and laugh together. I asked him if humble was the correct word, and he said emphatically, yes, it was the humility of these men that made them giants. For his part, he added, he was not worthy. When he said this his mien was very edifying.28

However, his admiration for humility did not prevent Little Dog from aspiring, a few months later, to "plant the stars in strange patterns, and write my name with them across the sky."29 The image catches, with delicacy and power, the aspiration of any artist. The models for Leo's early writing style were G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, and other Victorian and Edwardian giants. Some of the Oliver sketches are modelled after Dickens' Sketches by Boz and its successor, Pickwick Papers.™ In one called "Pickwickian," Leo refers to Dickens' character Samuel Pickwick as "mightier than Jupiter or Jove" because the stout little man in gaiters spoke with Dickens' voice. The sketch ends with a strong tribute to the legacy of Dickens, one that allows us to see something of what the Victorian novelist meant to the Montrealer:

41 Growing Up Irish That, I think, is what Dickens did for us. Little things of daily life were gathered in a gigantic heap and their splendour dazzled our sight; their magnitude numbed our understanding. Door knobs, and coat buttons, beggars, and cheese. Clerks, and clocks, and love, and poor people. Sacrifice, and colors, and humility. These things were with us, but we did not see them till he showed us. So I stirred the fire into laughing life, and went back to my Pickwick."

The boy from Liverpool's waterfront and Montreal's ghetto could empathize with the Londoner whose father went to debtor's prison and who was sent to work in a blacking factory at the age of twelve. Both writers became workaholics; both were humorists and humanitarians. Leo's personal experience of poverty, while never as grinding as Dickens', was sufficiently rigorous to make him knowledgeable on the subject, and sympathetic. An Oliver sketch entitled "Public Love Making" shows this clearly: Suppose a great number of the teeming multitude has no privacy? Suppose she has no home to take him to; suppose he is in a similar predicament? There is no supposition about this at all as I can assure you with grim certainty, it is unfortunately the case with a great percentage. And are these children playing at love to forego all the pleasures of flirtation and the delightful adventure of stolen kisses simply because it does not appear proper? I would suggest that our superior critics have a little more sympathy and patient tolerance with the vagaries of human nature, and if a man-made rule does not see eye to eye with a God-made emotion, then there is something wrong somewhere, and certainly it is not the instinct that is wrong.32

Leo wrote scores of Oliver sketches in 1925 and was still a frequent contributor in the first eight months of 1926. He was, in effect, an unpaid newspaper columnist read by thousands of Montrealers. "Currie's Mail" provided a useful sounding-board for a youth who loved polemic and parody yet who could be deeply moved by a sunset or the wind in the trees. In "O Canada" he sang the praises of his own dear land; all other countries were alien, "peopled with barbarians." (The spirit of internationalism espoused by A.J.M. Smith would have only a passing influence on Leo.) In "Our Literature," Little Dog attacked the popular literature of the day as contemptible. It was inevitable that Leo's iconoclastic columns would bring him to the notice of the young men at McGill who wanted change. Louis Schwartz, a student of economics, was a columnist for the McGill Daily. He was fascinated by typography and the little magazines of the time, and would eventually become head of a large

42 As Though Life Mattered

publishing company in New York. Like Leo, Schwartz had contributed to "Margaret Currie's Mail" under a pseudonym. The newspaper supplied Schwartz with Leo's name and address, and the two arranged to meet in the Traymore, a basement cafeteria on St Catherine near Peel. As in many such historic encounters, they planned to recognize one another by the books they carried. Leo's badge was a volume of Chesterton. The year was 1926.


The Young Turks: The Mood of the Times, 1925-29

The period of Kennedy's friendship with the young McGill intellectuals and his contribution to the periodicals of the time have been well documented by literary historians. However, the lack of a biographical perspective has led many literary critics to accept at face value the Montrealers' attacks on the Canadian poets who preceded them. The blunt truth of the matter is this: the young men at McGill knew next to nothing of Canada's late nineteenth-century poets or of the Canadian literary tradition they dubbed "Victorian." The dregs of that tradition, read in contemporary anthologies, convinced the group that change was long overdue. Moreover, the aging Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and his cousin, Bliss Carman, were still on the lecture circuit. It would be difficult to decide which the group disliked more, the anthologies or the greybeards. The young radicals were right on the need for change, but wrong on many other points. In general their attacks on the earlier Canadian poets and on contemporary writers in the Canadian Authors Association had far more wit than substance.1 These Montrealers seemed to need the conviction that, with them, everything was starting anew. This feeling fuelled their verse and criticism, supplying energy and a cutting edge. The accuracy of the criticism was not their concern. In the 1920s Arthur Smith, Frank Scott, and Leo Kennedy were Canada's angry young men. If they knew little of their predecessors, they cared less, as they would confess half a century later: "We despised them unbeknownst, and you can quote me," was Kennedy's unrepentant comment.2 The group disliked, with all the enthusiasm

44 As Though Life Mattered and intolerance of youth, contemporary imitators of nineteenthcentury traditions. They were avid, intellectual, ambitious, eager to carve out their own place in the sun. The literary criticism they wrote between 1925 and 1930 should be read as the work of young radicals who were reacting to a poetic tradition they perceived as outmoded, and who were plotting a coup d'etat against the Philistines-under the banners of T.S. Eliot and modernity. One look at a contemporary photograph of Charles G.D. Roberts, then in his mid-sixties, goes far to explain their opposition to the poetic ideals he embodied. Picture a dark three-piece suit, a monocle complete with black ribbon, a haughty expression, and an establishment air. Any young intellectual would hate him on sight. Their uniform offered a nice contrast. To quote Kennedy, "We all dressed alike, the young bucks of those days - corduroy-collared yellow slickers, right to your heels. Everyone wrote on everyone's slicker, like casts today. They were very cheap, about two dollars."3 Kennedy added that affluent students wore racoon coats; the rest, yellow slickers. A pork-pie hat, with the front brim turned down, went with the coat, but it was a point of pride to be hatless with a slicker, rain or shine. A copy of the American Mercury sticking out of one's pocket was a sign of the intellectual and completed the uniform.4 The magazine had been founded in 1924 by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, and was edited by Mencken until 1933. Mencken's iconoclastic style suited the Young Turks perfectly and was a major influence on their prose style in the twenties.5 Publisher Louis Schwartz, in the only piece he contributed to the McGill Fortnightly Review, called Mencken "the creator of a new sort of writing ... Americanese of a racy bumptiousness so vivacious and interesting that he is eagerly followed by a large number of people ... Mencken is essentially a young man's critic, violent and destructive."6 It is unfortunate that some of the wittier attacks on Canadian literature by Smith, Kennedy, et al. have been received, one and two generations later, for their content rather than their style. Such remarks would include Smith's slam at Canadian poets "whose works are to be bought from the same patriotic motive that prompts the purchaser of Eddy's matches or a Massey Harris farm implement and read along with Ralph Connor and Eaton's catalogue";7 and the following diatribe from Kennedy: In our gum-shoeing among the possible causes of the great Canadian calamity - the dearth of inspired and intelligent authorship - we are brought back again and again, by one path or another, to the Canadian Authors Association. They have foisted themselves on the local public, creating a

45 The Young Turks market at home for their product, and from their Philistine entrenchment direct their Canadian Book Weeks - one with Fish Week, Music Week and Mother's Day - their afternoon Teas, their Inspired Committees formed for the reception of lecturing English and United States literati, and similar happy diversions. All to their profit and self-gratification, no doubt, but scarcely likely to benefit our purely hypothetical literature.8

In the same article Kennedy notes that action must be taken against the Philistines and proclaims, "that action is ridicule." The Montrealers had learned their lesson well from the "half-fabulist Antichrist of Baltimore."9 Schwartz's description of Mencken as a young man's critic is significant. Kennedy, in a Canadian Mercury article of 1929, makes frequent references to youth that might remind those of us who survived the sixties of a maxim then current: Don't trust anyone over thirty. Despite the ironic fact that Mencken himself was then in his late forties, the Montrealers saw the opposition as greybeards. Kennedy calls the Canadian Authors Association "that pillar of flim-flam, a stumbling block over which the aspiring younger Canadian writer must first climb before approaching his local Parnassus."10 Rather Victorian language and imagery, that. Kennedy sees "restless, dissatisfied and on the whole, sceptical young people" as the hope for Canadian literature. And a paragraph on influences begins, "Having as yet no worthwhile tradition of their own, the young men are inclined, and wisely, to look abroad for that which will influence them."11 Influences acknowledged by Kennedy include Sherwood Anderson, D.H. Lawrence, and Willa Cather, on style; Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and Henri Barbusse on thought. There is no reference here to Mencken, yet every paragraph betrays his impact on the Montrealer's prose style. Chesterton is also omitted from this list, yet his philosophy of laughter was a major influence on Kennedy. "There is so little sanity in solemnity," he wrote elsewhere in praise of Chesterton, "only God can be solemn."12 A famous piece of A.J.M. Smith's in the Canadian Forum is good debating rhetoric in the manner of Mencken. Thrust and parry, ridicule rather than the intellectual analysis he pretends to favour, are the critic's chosen weapons. Smith is the young general, skilfully deploying his troops after a few unsuccessful encounters: "So far, it is true, literature as an art has fought a losing battle with commerce, but the campaign has barely begun. Reinforcements are on the way."13 Smith acknowledges the recurrence of "little skirmishes, heroic single stands, but no concerted action." The military metaphor runs through the piece, with Smith as the "critic-militant" or "crusader." In this

46 As Though Life Mattered "fight for freedom" Smith's opponents are represented by the members of the Canadian Authors Association and by those who confuse patriotism and the cliches of a national geography with good writing. Smith's comical put-downs of "the far north and the wild west and the picturesque east" ignore the very real political, economic, and demographic forces in Canada that have hampered the development of our literary culture. In his last paragraph Smith suggests that the "philosophic" critic (implicitly, himself) will have to examine the fundamental position of the artist in a new community, and the influence upon the Canadian writer of his position in time and space. The latter requirement, curiously, is immediately refuted by the charge that Canadian poetry is far too self-conscious about its position in space "and scarcely conscious at all of its position in time." Some of Smith's literary criticism is keenly analytical, but he never outgrew his early training in the New Critical gospel of Art as divorced from place and time, supposedly international in themes and standards. Such goals and standards are illusory. As Margaret Laurence writes, "'international' art ... means the cultural forms of the dominant imperial cultures of the times."14 Kennedy, unlike Smith, was aware of the significance of regional forces in literature. His 1929 call to arms concludes with the hope that younger Canadian critics will each write "of the soul and scene of his own community ... Only a Canadian Whitman, and by that I mean a man of his genius and spiritual breadth, will correctly interpret the whole Canadian consciousness."15 Smith's "Rejected Preface to New Provinces (1936)" sounds the New Critical call for "pure poetry," a phantasm presumed to exist as "a thing in itself," and reiterates the Archibald MacLeish dictum, "A poem should not mean but be."16 Smith's famous separation of literature into cosmopolitan and provincial stems, of course, from the same roots. He concludes an article on contemporary poetry in the McGill Fortnightly Review (15 December 1926) with the mock-rueful lament, "We are become, God help us! - by natural right, a member of that despised sect the Aesthetes." Victorian was a dirty word to the Young Turks, and a favorite target. It conjured up visions of their antagonists in three-piece suits, with dictionaries of Greek mythologies under their arms, hopelessly mired in sexual and cultural taboos. Kennedy speaks of the least attractive aspects of Victorianism holding Canadian writers by the gullet: "There was nothing particularly wrong with Victorian English beyond that it took literary giants to write it enduringly, but even the English have put it by for good. The Victorian tradition was

47 The Young Turks transplanted here in the flower of its youth, and has now outgrown its usefulness. This is a reality of which the majority of Canadian Authors of any merit are tragically unaware."17 Leon Edel recalls the group's delight "in needling the stuffed shirts, the Victorians." Smith contrasts the vagueness and verbosity he sees in most poetry of the Victorian period with the simplicity and sincerity of his ideal moderns.18 Actually, one would look far to find a greater simplicity and sincerity than is found in many of the sonnets written by Lampman and Roberts in the nineteenth century. But the Young Turks judged by what they saw in anthologies such as J.W. Garvin's Canadian Poets and Poetry (1916) in its 1926 revised edition. A look into some of Garvin's bathetic selections quickly moves one into the Young Turks' camp. At least temporarily. Philistine was their favorite pejorative after Victorian and was synonymous with the efforts of their dear enemy, the Canadian Authors Association. The editorial of the second issue of their radical new journal, the McGill Fortnightly Review, declares: "It is impossible to view the excesses of 'Canadian Book Week' in a favorable light. Publicity, advertising and the methods of big business are not what is required to foster the art and literature of a young country such as Canada, while the commercial boosting of mediocre Canadian books not only reduces the Authors Association to the level of an advertising agency but does considerable harm to good literature."19 Smith's appeal in the Canadian Forum in 1928 for an exacting Canadian criticism attacks reviewers for favouring Canadian literature from the angle of "Buy Made in Canada Goods." Kennedy, in a passage already quoted, finds Canadian Book Weeks "Philistine entrenchment" aimed at profit and self-gratification. The Young Turks saw themselves as idealistic defenders of art against a materialism that neither valued nor understood the finer aspects of culture. Skirmishes. Forays into enemy territory. Two-thirds of a century later the polemics are amusing. They were conducted with evangelical zeal at the time. Throughout the twenties Art Smith was the group's acknowledged leader. Smith was recalled by Leon Edel, managing editor of the Fortnightly: He possessed a fund of civility, which meant he said all the polite things; but he was a tempest of poetry and revolt against establishment hypocrisies ... Smith first taught me the meaning of literature, how words could be made expressive and shaped into a poem. He made me feel the modern idiom, the use of words as this year's language shorn of old accretions of meaning. He had a sense of all this: I can't say where it came from, but ER.

48 As Though Life Mattered Scott has testified that he too found Smith inspiring in his accurate feeling for modern literature as vivid and life-giving expression.20 In the early 1990s only Kennedy and Edel survived, and only Edel continued to write. Klein died in 1972, Smith and Buffy Glassco in 1980, Scott in 1985. They had long since become members of the establishment they once hotly contested. Their work belongs to the Canadian literary tradition whose existence they denied: a nice irony. It is amusing to remember these men in their youth, clothed in yellow slickers, racoon coats, and the fiery rectitude of knights, charging at establishment windmills under the banner of Art. The Young Turks.

5 The Group, 1925-29

Sand shifts with every tide, and gravel Slurs against the rock, Weeds and a little lifted silt remain Marking the reach of water, the long shock Of an absent tide. Here is no stencilled track of tern, no trace Of the slight feet of curlews, here no lace Of foam for the braided webs of gulls to press Into the falling bosom of the sea ... But silt left by the receded tide, a ravel Of weeds thrown high by the wash of water, a crest Of wave, distant, beyond the cove. "Shore," The Dial (1929)

They were halcyon years, the late twenties, perhaps the happiest of Leo's life. Impudent, carefree years, when the world was his oyster and everything seemed possible. After marriage in 1929 and the financial crash that followed hard on this commitment, reality closed in on the young man and pressure became a way of life. Half a century would pass before that relentless grip would be loosened. Working for his father left Leo with plenty of time and energy to write and to further his education. The Oliver sketches provide solid evidence that he was proceeding rapidly on both fronts. He applied at the Montreal branch of Laval Universitv, now the Universite de

50 As Though Life Mattered Montreal, to Dr W.H. Atherton, then chairman of the Department of English. Atherton was so impressed with the young man that he helped to convince the authorities that Leo had completed high school. This was fraud, pure and simple, but fraud in a good cause. The two became friends. Leo attended university for one or two years studying English literature as an extension or part-time student. In this he was following (as indeed he had done since he first learned to read) in the tradition of independent study that flourished in his native Liverpool.1 The pleasant interlude ended abruptly when Leo quarrelled with Atherton over Wordsworth. The professor admired the British poet, and Leo, at that rebellious period of his life, did not. Leo knew that the young Wordsworth had sympathized with revolutionary ideas and been attracted by the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau and William Godwin. During the French Revolution, Wordsworth's ideas changed. He became conservative and orthodox. Leo felt that, intellectually, the poet had died young. The difference of opinion with Atherton over Wordsworth was aggravated by Leo's growing dislike of the strongly anti-Semitic atmosphere at the university. Racist graffiti decorated the walls of the urinals, and parades down St Catherine Street with anti-Semitic posters were common. Racist feelings were not limited to posters; students would walk, eight abreast, screaming abuse at Jews. Law enforcement officers did little to interrupt them, since anti-Semitism was also strong among the police. ("It's a miserable chapter, and not much has changed," Leo remarked in 1980.) This situation appeared to distress the young Irish Catholic more than it bothered his Jewish friends Abe Klein and Louis Schwartz. Both took undergraduate degrees in law at the Universite de Montreal. We are drawn back repeatedly to the "sabbath goy" anecdote that Leo told, with variations, throughout his long life. In this version it is linked to a joint sense of poverty and community: a shared poverty, made tolerable and even happy by Jewish neighbours: "You see I was, to a considerable extent, raised by Jews on Roy Street. Jews were very kind to me. We lived in a barn of a place over a stable that was full of rats. I remember a rat jumping over my mother's shoulder as she opened a cupboard. Roy Street was then a Jewish workingclass neighbourhood. Now it's Greek. Jews were very kind to me. I was a shabbas goy."2

By the time he left the university, it had served to introduce him to the great body of literature that he acknowledged, in 1975, as an influence on his work: "My thanks for help in writing these early poems are belatedly extended to the men who wrote the Bible,

51 The Group

John Donne, and the Metaphysicals, Andrew Marvell, Christopher Marlowe, John Webster, William Shakespeare, Pierre de Ronsard, Francois Villon, Sir James Frazer, T.S. Eliot, F.R. Scott, A.M. Klein, A.J.M. Smith, Elinor Wylie, Amy Lowell, Emily Dickenson, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Sitwell, William Butler Yeats and that sweet bird of youth, Helen Lawrence."3 The poems in The Shrouding, like most of the verse Leo was writing in his teens and twenties, were written, as he notes, "when the world was more formal and poets thought a lot about scansion and almost as much about rhyme. Like the farm boy who learned to make love by mail order, I had no proper tutor and learned my trade if I learned it at all by imitating every poet I liked in the Oxford Book of English Verse and Louis Untermeyer's Modern American Poetry."4 (In 1981, at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Leo read this passage aloud to a large and enthusiastic audience. Afterwards, to his biographer, he repeated the line about the farm boy learning to make love by mail order, adding, "And that's not easy!") In 1926, significant friendships began to take over where extension courses had left off. A circle of intellectual friends and a close-knit writing community became Leo's graduate school. He writes: Abe Klein noted his poems on cigarette packages and wrote them at his mother's kitchen table in the Montreal ghetto. I said my poems in my head walking alone on windy nights between the Verdun Tailrace and the Asylum and back and two-finger typed them in the attic bedroom of my father's house in what Edel has called the other ghetto. The creative process was lonely but the later comparing of metres was beery fun. We who wrote poetry in the bleak 20s and early 30s throve on friendship as warm as a Quebec heater and the conviction that we would somehow survive to forty years, the age limit for any working poet.5

One such friend was Louis Schwartz, who acted as Leo's mentor for a relatively short time. Atherton had led Leo to the classics of English literature. His new friends opened the doors to the moderns. Leo credited Schwartz with steering him towards contemporary writers such as Eugene O'Neill, Carl Van Vecklen, and Carl Sandburg. Leo later met Sandburg in Chicago in the early forties, and began to frequent the American writer's farm near that city. Sandberg kept goats. Leo remembered him as "skinny and old and mean, with long white hair in his eyes." They had been introduced by Leo's employer, Morris Needham: "Initially I respected Carl very much, he was deep into poetry and I had my toe in it. But when I got to know him, I thoroughly disliked him as a person. He was a greedy vulture in

52 As Though Life Mattered

things pertaining to his trade: letters, memorabilia. He exploited Lincoln ... It's a vocational disorder. God deliver us from all biographers except you."6 And then, "God deliver me to you," Leo added cheerfully. Schwartz, who had business acumen and a fund of good sense, was Wednesday night editor of the McGill Daily at the time he met Leo. He would shortly be requesting the help of his new friend with layout problems. Leo was adept at writing poems to order, poems of a requisite number of lines to fit a prescribed space. Several of the poems written under these conditions were later published in prestigious periodicals. As for Schwartz, he was steadily learning the publishing trade, a business in which he would flourish in years to come. The McGill Daily, the Fortnightly and the Mercury would all be steps in his career.7 By the 1970s Leo was uncertain of the exact date when he met Schwartz in the Traymore Cafeteria. Unlike Frank Scott, Leo never kept a diary. His more sociable substitute would be letters, but in 1926 he had yet to discover the joy of that genre. Circumstantial evidence, however, points very strongly to August or September 1926. His last Oliver sketch appeared on 31 August. He never published another. Soon after this his work began to appear frequently in the McGill Fortnightly Review. From 3 November 1926, the start of the periodical's second year, Leo was a regular contributor to its pages. It seems evident that, during the two-month hiatus, Leo was switching allegiances and beginning to write for a different audience. Initially, the change did not improve his work. His first Fortnightly pieces are less substantial, more ethereal and fantastic than the sketches in the Montreal Star. Some could even be called precious. Perhaps the idea of a university audience and the new friends had gone to his head. In 1929 Leo confided to Leon Edel that the Fortnightly had served as a romantic excursion for him. The self-analysis was sound, since that journal contains some of the worst writing he ever published, although it also has an excellent essay and one fine story by him.8 The writers who would later be known as a group had begun to come together in the fall of 1925. It was then that Smith met Scott and the two, together with A.B. Latham and A.P.R. Coulborn, launched the Fortnightly. The previous year, in the fall of 1924, Smith had established a literary supplement to the McGill Daily. Folded into the Wednesday edition, the supplement contained poems, literary sketches, book reviews, and campus politics. It had no advertising, an extravagance that may have led to its demise. Leon Edel believes differently:

53 The Group The verse was modern, the reviews collegiate-smart, and Smith also used choice quotations. I remember his reprinting Aldous Huxley's poem about a billion spermatozoa, which caused a shudder of delight on the campus, and horror in the offices of the walrus-moustaches ... [The supplement] was unique among college dailies with their inanities of that time, the jazz age of the twenties. So unique indeed that the students' council withdrew the grant the following year - on the grounds of economy. That was the excuse. We knew it was the word spermatozoa that had frightened them.9

Smith's supplement, a four-page tabloid, ran from 8 October 1924 to 11 March 1925.10 Six months later Smith sought out Scott and asked him to join its editorial board.11 Within weeks of this commitment the hopes of funding for the supplement were dashed, and the newly constituted board was left with nothing to edit. This crisis they resolved by founding a new periodical, the McGill Fortnightly Review, which billed itself as an independent journal of literature, the arts, and student affairs. Its boast, that it was edited and published by a group of undergraduates at McGill University, was not strictly accurate, since both Smith and Scott had already received their first degrees. The editorial board was made up of Smith, Scott, Coulborn, and Latham, with Leon Edel as managing editor. The publication ran for only twenty issues, between 5 December 1925 and 27 April 1927, but in years to come it would be credited with introducing modern content and technique to Canadian poetry. If all this sounds like very serious business, it should be remembered that the young men were having the time of their lives. Granted, they were not without an eye on the main chance. Fame and fortune beckoned, especially the strumpet Fame. In later years, however, they all would,stress that fun, sheer fun, was a significant factor in the production of these little magazines. Literary history has enshrined the four Montreal poets whose work appeared in New Provinces (1936) as the group. The actual group that was centred at McGill in the late twenties consisted of a much larger circle of friends. Edel and Schwartz were in at the start. Edel, who had been business manager of the Fortnightly in its first year, moved up to the editorial board in the second year, when Schwartz took over as manager. From 1928 to 1932 Edel was studying at the Sorbonne, but he kept in touch with the group and contributed to the Mercury by mail. He would eventually become an internationally known biographer, and the group's unofficial chronicler. Several group members were the sons of professors at McGill. Felix Walter's father taught German; Latham's, Anglo-Saxon. Walter, who

54 As Though Life Mattered became part of the Mercury's editorial board, went on to study in Paris and to teach at the University of Toronto. "Buffy" John Glassco and his friend Graeme Taylor belonged to the larger group; their months in Paris would later be celebrated in Glassco's half-fictional Memoirs of Montparnasse. Leo had cause to remember a flamboyant Englishman named Lancelot Hogben, an instructor at the university and a lover of parties, and an arts student widely known as "Dougie" Adam. These talented and high-spirited young men all went on to make their mark on the world in one area or another. Arts student Douglas Adam, from Scotland, represents the group's lighter side. The friends were young and could hardly spend all their time writing poetry and polemics. Adam supported himself by proofreading at night for the Montreal Star, which is where Leo met him. Margaret Currie, who had published Leo's Oliver sketches over a twenty-month period, also wrote a gardening column for the paper. One fateful day Currie's line "weeding is good for the hips" emerged in print as "wedding is good for the hips." Adam had been the proofreader responsible for the gaffe, and it cost him his job. "Dougie was a nine-day wonder," Leo recalled, "because everyone believed he'd done it on purpose."12 Adam, like Leo, was a passionate lover of books and frequently boasted of reading three in one night. Scott had grown up in an old established family in Quebec City. His father, the Reverend Frederick George Scott, was also a poet and had served with distinction and flair on the Western Front during the First World War. The Scotts had Canadian roots that went back for more than a century, and the moral and social idealism that a puritan culture had bred in the bone. Scott was older than Smith but very much his junior in knowledge of Eliot, Pound, the Imagists, and other moderns. Smith opened new literary territory for them all. Reminiscing in 1963, Scott emphasized the importance of the Fortnightly in his poetic development. Before meeting Smith, he said, he had been a belated Victorian: "I entered the twentieth century through the doorways of the McGill Fortnightly Review."13

Through Schwartz, Leo met Smith at the Pig and Whistle, the group's favorite tavern. (Leo drank lightly in the Montreal years, and only beer, not whisky.) "Art" was the acknowledged leader. His reputation had of course preceded him, so that Leo initially regarded Smith with reverence, even fear: "I was scared of him, he was so erudite." Leo was already aware of the seventeenth-century Metaphysical poets through his studies with Atherton, but he credits Smith with deepening his understanding of these poets: "We were kindred spirits on the Metaphysicals. I liked Frank better, but I esteemed Arthur more, and thought him a better poet and critic."14

55 The Group Soon after making this remark, Leo's memory shifted ground slightly. Arthur was blamed for being too classical, while Frank was praised for being witty and "much gentler."15 On still another occasion Leo described himself as being "greener than green corn" at the time he met Smith, who proved to be (for a short time) the most exciting experience in Leo's life to that point.16 Leo dubbed Smith a mentor-once-removed, since he received many of Smith's ideas second-hand through Scott. Like the others in the group, Scott freely acknowledged Smith's primacy.17 Oddly, Smith's erudition in the area of modern poetry, in 1924 and 1925, came from his own reading. His first degree had been taken in science, not literature. His British parents had returned to England after the armistice in 1918, and Smith had spent several years in London before returning to Montreal. In London he had discovered Harold Monroe's avant-garde bookstore and the newest volumes of verse on its shelves. Scott (born in 1899) was three years Smith's senior, and had just returned from three years at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, yet he confessed himself "totally unaware" of the new trends in poetry that Arthur had discovered.18 The timing was propitious for the new journals, the Fortnightly and its successor, the Canadian Mercury (1928-29). Scott, just back from Europe, had new eyes for the Canadian scene. Smith, bursting with fresh knowledge that he longed to share, was ripe for disciples. The mood of the decade was one of change and revolt against tradition. Whether we call it serendipity or fate, everything fitted. The Fortnightly proposed to support itself by subscriptions. The editors were already known on campus and had no difficulty collecting five hundred subscriptions at a dollar apiece. Individual copies cost ten cents. Coulborn's basement apartment on Atwater Avenue provided a centre where works were read aloud over coffee and beer, and the paper was put together with great care.19 Since the editors disdained much of the verse contributed by fellow students, they proceeded to write many of the poems themselves, often under pseudonyms. Smith was "Vincent Starr," "S," and "Michael Gard." Leo was "Leonard Bullen" and "William Crowl." Scott used "Brian Tuke," "R.S.," "T.T.," and "Sax." Edel believes that both the poetry and the prose had great distinction: "Coulborn wrote amusing social-historical pieces and Latham was authoritative on trade unionism. Like Bloomsbury - and why not compare ourselves with it? - our main delight was in needling the stuffed shirts, the Victorians."20 During its short life the Fortnightly could pride itself on articles by J.S. Woodsworth (already, in 1927, a member of Parliament) and

56 As Though Life Mattered Eugene Forsey. In general its prose was stronger than its verse, a nice irony, since two of its founding editors were dedicated to modernizing Canadian poetry - single-handedly, if need be. By the time it ceased to publish, in the spring of 1927, several of its principals were about to graduate and spread their wings. Much of the inspiration for the new poetry it espoused had come from an anthology of that name edited by Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin Henderson. Smith's favourite poets - Stevens, Pound, Eliot, H.D. Aiken, and Yeats - were all but one American. In contrast, Scott described himself as being "encrusted" with Victorian poets, especially Tennyson, and ignorant of free verse, which had rid itself of regular scansion and the need for rhyme. The sonnet was the favourite form of both Scott and Kennedy at the time the group came together. The myth of objectivity, in criticism as in history and biography, has little basis in reality. Many factors shape our seeing, and views, moreover, often change with the passing of time. These plain truths help to make sense of some of the varying verdicts on Smith later delivered by those who once sat at his feet. On the one hand, Edel credits Smith with being "a tempest of poetry and revolt against Establishment hypocrisies," despite his own politeness and good breeding, and with teaching Edel and the others the meaning of literature, "how words could be made expressive and shaped into a poem."21 The youthful Smith, Edel felt fifty years later, was acutely sensitive to the modern idiom and was able to convey his literary feelings and perceptions to the group through his person as well as his poetry. Edel's 1980 memoir on Smith, however, written after the poet's death, adopts a harsher view. Here Edel faults Smith's work for its lack of emotion and energy and for an ivory-tower devotion to intellect that "encased his own jailed romanticism."22 An ideal of classicism limited Smith's spontaneity, Edel argues, and encouraged artificiality. The same ideal gave Smith the rigid control that he needed as a critic and anthologist but prevented him from ever publishing more than one hundred of his poems. Since Smith lived in Westmount, he passed at McGill as a patrician, like Scott. Edel skewers this myth with a single phrase, "the touch of cockney in Smith's mother's voice and way of speech." The rigid intellect that marred Smith's work, in Edel's 1980s view, was nurtured in early parsimonies in a middle-class home where "gentility and puritanism prevailed."23 Edel vividly recalled seeing Smith's bedroom dresser, where three drawers held his manuscript poems. New poems began life in the bottom drawer and were promoted upwards by numerous revisions. The top drawer represented finished poems