The St. Thomas Poetry Series: Over 20 years
Poetry readings at St. Thomas’s began in 1988 in connection with the launch of the anthology Christian Poetry in Canada and featured five poets: Robert Finch (his final public reading at age 95), John Reibetanz, Tim Lilburn, Maggie Helwig, and Margo Swiss. Spring and fall readings soon developed and then continued on a regular basis for several years. Many well-known Canadian poets visited during that time and afterwards, including James Reaney, Joy Kogawa, George Johnston, Alice Major, Barry Dempster, Gail Fox, Douglas Lochhead, Richard Outram, Susan McCaslin, and many more.
The publication series began in 1996 and was intended to draw increased attention to Christian poetry, and as a result the readings after that time were often connected with the launch of new books. These new books were not exclusively from our own series, as we were pleased to help launch, for example, some of John Terpstra’s publications with Gaspereau Press of Nova Scotia. Last November, in the 20th year of the series, John Robert Colombo, Barry Dempster, W. J. Keith, and John Terpstra were invited to help launch our twenty-fifth publication, Swim Class and other poems by George Whipple.
The poetry series has always identified itself with St. Thomas’s Church. Both Fr. Hoult and Fr. Andrews have supported the series by allowing it to use the church and the hall for readings and receptions. There have been many loyal parishioners who have supported the series through their volunteer help, including Hugh Anson-Cartwright, Pat Kennedy, Barb Obrai, Willem Hart, the late Bill Martin (who recorded many of the early readings), and John Meadows.
All twenty-five books may be seen in the display case at the rear of the church. If examined, you will see that the books also prominently feature the elegant logo that Alan Fleming designed for the centenary celebrations in 1974.
The St. Thomas’s books are all printed on our neighbour’s presses, Coach House Printing, and its proprietor, Stan Bevington, has worked with Nancy Ruth Jackson (formerly of Toronto, now in New Jersey) to ensure the much admired quality of the books. The series is intended to be a non-profit venture, all proceeds from the sales of one book being used for the publication of the next one in the series. Generating income has been a challenge, since poetry of any kind is not a popular genre and religious poetry is its least popular subset. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that all across Canada among readers of poetry there is now a strong association between St. Thomas’s Church and poetry of high quality.
To visit the website for the St. Thomas Poetry Series, click here.
Left to right: John Terpstra, Barry Dempster, W. J. Keith, and John Robert Colombo