The St. Thomas Poetry Series: Now over 25 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, Richard Greene, George Johnston, Alice Major, Barry Dempster, Gail Fox, Douglas Lochhead, Richard Outram, Susan McCaslin, and many more. By the time we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the series in November 2013, over 40 different writers had read, a number of them several times.
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. In May 2014, in the 26th year of the series, two new books will be launched: Susan McCaslin’s The Disarmed Heart and Lee Johnson’s Poetria Nova.
The poetry series has always identified itself with St. Thomas’s Church. Both incumbents, Fr. Hoult and Fr. Andrews, together with the changing “corporation” of wardens, have supported the series by allowing it to use the church and, latterly, the hall for readings and receptions. There have been many loyal parishioners who have supported the series through their volunteer help, including Hugh and Betty Anne Anson-Cartwright, Pat Kennedy, Barb Obrai, Willem Hart, the late Bill Martin (who recorded many of the early readings), and John Meadows.
The books may be seen in the display case adjoining the narthex. Each publication features the elegant logo that Alan Fleming designed for the parish’s centenary celebrations in 1974. The St. Thomas’s books are all printed on the presses of our neighbour, Coach House Books, and its proprietor, Stan Bevington, has worked with Nancy Ruth Jackson (formerly of Toronto, now in Montreal) to ensure the 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.
At the 25th anniversary reading, 13 November 2013. From left: Bernadette Rule, Philip Gardner, John Terpstra, David Kent, Margo Swiss, Richard Greene, John Reibetanz, and, seated, Sue Collins.