Margaret Avison reads from The Winter Sun (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960), The Dumbfounding (W.W. Norton & Co, 1966), a poem later published in Sunblue (Lancelot Press, 1978) and many from unknown sources. Most of Avison’s poetry can be found in Always Now (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2003).

Introducer - Roy Kiyooka


[inaudible] In view of the embarrassment of having made such a mess of introducing the last poet, I spent a considerable amount of time setting out what I should say this evening, so hopefully I'll be a little more successful. Well, this is our seventh poetry evening and we welcome you all here this cold and blustery evening. Now, this evening we're having Margaret Avison read poems, and I wanted to say a few things about her. I first listened to Margaret read her poems at the poetry conference, University of British Columbia, during the summer of 1963. Her reading, together with those of the other poets on hand, are among the most memorable occasions I've had in my love affair with poems and poets. Four years later, in early January, we spent an afternoon together. Now I don't want to attribute, what I felt with a thought, on Bloor Street, to our conversation, but the warmth of it was very real. Margaret Avison was born in Guelph, Ontario; some early years were spent in Alberta; she graduated from Victoria College, the University of Toronto, in 1940, with a BA in English Language and Literature. She has been a secretary of all sorts for various firms, individuals, and organizations, and has also been a research assistant and librarian and presently teaches English at Scarborough College, Toronto. 1956-57 she was a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, and during the forties her work appeared in various Canadian magazines, and in the fifties, mainly in American ones. She has published two books of poems; The Winter Sun in 1960 won the Governor General's Award, and in 1966, W.W. Norton in New York issued The Dumbfounding, her latest book. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure in introducing to you Margaret Avison.




Cut/edit made in tape; unknown amount of time elapsed.


Margaret Avison


I don't know about the reading but I do know about the pleasure of meeting Roy again here, and being introduced by him. If this were Monday, or up to a week from tonight, I would be able to join the Angry Art Week. I don't know if anybody else has received these letters, but in New York City initially they're trying this and anybody who gets a letter from them is asked to dedicate any reading or event to what they're trying to do. You can still send them money, too, I'll give you the address if you want it later. What they're going to do is play harps in railroad stations and have...lets see, Bach cantatas in railroad stations, play-ins in various museums and the lobbies of concert halls, recital halls, business buildings--I like that one--dramatic presentations in laundromats and supermarkets [laughter], a paint-in, and fences and billboards throughout Manhattan with their work showing and so on. This is a series. "What we're trying to do is through art to reach the American people as human beings." So....[laughter] if this were Monday I'd dedicate the reading...This is all very orderly, although it doesn't look it, and it starts with other people's poems of various kinds. A little section of C. Bukowski, somebody said that's Charles, an American poet. It's a great long thing that was in a Mimeograph magazine, and the description is of a woman with a bicycle and a baby carriage, high-heeled shoes, white socks, and all her belongings, on hot day in the middle of a road in a city.




Reads section from a poem by Charles Bukowski ["She had gone wrong somewhere..."]


Margaret Avison


That's sad, so on the same page I copied one of Al Fowler's, which was in a magazine called Lines, which is the all-time happiest little poem, and I don't know why. I'm going to stop where the lines stop, not where the sense stops, so you can see the shape of it. There's no capital letters. There's not title.




Reads ["Quote: Are you a root or a tender mint tea?"] by Al Fowler


Margaret Avison


This is one by Gerry Gilbert, called "Zoo."




Reads "Zoo" by Gerry Gilbert


Margaret Avison


I may bring in some more of other people's, but this is just a little, it's a friend of mine in Toronto who's made it to grade seven this year. He calls it "The Delinquent," and he has, in this copy he has said that it's his copyright so if you betray the fact that I read some of it, I'll be in trouble with him.




Reads "The Delinquent" by unknown author. [moments of laughter throughout this reading.]


Margaret Avison


It goes on, a bit, I want to go back to where it gets sad, though. I love "She twisted her pinkies behind her but all the knots held more."




Continues reading "The Delinquent"


Margaret Avison


There's an awful line in the next verse. [laughter]




Continues reading "The Delinquent"


Margaret Avison


It ends up with knotting a burning matchstick into her old man's hair. [Laughter] I think as he goes on he'll be somebody.


Margaret Avison


If I'm not reading mine I'll warn of you. Some of these....the first one is a Toronto poem with footnotes, saying that TTC means Toronto Transit Commission, and the Ditch is an open cut on the Yonge subway between Bloor and Rosedale.




Reads first line "Inside the TTC's fence..." [INDEX: cities, Toronto, transportation, subway]


Margaret Avison


The second subway poem...a little child, it's called "Subway Station Why Not."




Reads "Subway Station Why Not" [INDEX: cities, Toronto, transportation, subway, child]


Margaret Avison


This next one is St. Clair Avenue, where I live on the car tracks. It's called "Insomniac Report."




Reads "Insomniac Report" [INDEX: cities, Toronto, night, streets, sounds, sleep]


Margaret Avison


Feels as if I should be doing something different, but I don't know what.


Margaret Avison


I did a poem to people writing examinations I'm hunting for, but I think I've forgotten it. There's three about this odd experience of teaching and students. This one was written before I had had the experience, but was looking forward to it. And it had the title "Is That You/Me Standing on My/Your Feet?" And it's very full of fine theory and idealism.




Reads "Is That You/Me Standing on My/Your Feet?" [INDEX: school, teaching, work, children student]


Margaret Avison


And I've got two other incomplete ones that should be read with that. I'll just read two stanzas of the first one, it's got one four-line stanza for the students...




Reads first line "No instant morality for us..." [INDEX: school, teaching, work, children, students]


Margaret Avison


The teacher's answer hasn't got written yet. Here's another bit, two stanzas, the student and the teacher, that isn't finished. The student is talking although it doesn't sound like it.




Reads first line "The boy with the brilliant promises" [INDEX: work, school, teaching, children, students]


Margaret Avison


There's a daybreak bus I have to catch and this one is called "October 21, '66, at a bus stop on the way."




Reads "October 21, '66, at a bus stop on the way" [INDEX: nature, time, day]


Margaret Avison


I had planned to get all this organized on the plane, but I was in the middle of the three seats and I kept getting the briefcase out and everything would fall to the floor, and this one would dive for it, or this one, and I finally gave up, so it's upside down. This is dedicated to Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, a book he wrote that's a little mad but very stirring.




Reads first line "A junk truck stopped beside my bus" [INDEX: cities, bus, truck, metal, urban, waste, stone, wreck, yard, grass, gargoyle]


Margaret Avison


There's one here that is just the equivalent to sketching, I guess. I know a poet in Chicago who used to go and sit around in the Art Institute, when it was a fairly quiet room, and stare all morning, and if any words occurred to him, he dashed them down. And sometime he worked up his sketches and some time he didn't, which is a technique that's lots of fun to practice, and occasionally something grows out of it. In this case I don't think I'll ever do anything but it'll show you the kind of thing that I mean, if, as I assume, most of you are writers.




Reads first line "Grey by water..." [INDEX: language, play, process, sketch]


Margaret Avison


Now a poem with syntax and stuff called "The Seven Birds." A corner of Bathurst and College Street in Toronto which is the kind of buildings that have been there since the first world war, where there's often stores on the street level and an apartment or two above.




Reads "The Seven Birds"


Margaret Avison


I think I should read a long, fierce poem. This is not by me except translated. It's the poem of Gyula Illyes, called "Of Tyranny in One Breath." Ilona Duczynska did a literal translation for me and then read it to me for sound and we worked through it that way. Apparently the poem started, or happened, in 1956 in Budapest. Illyes had written it some years before but hadn't been angry enough at the time to risk what it was to bring it out. But he grew angry enough and somebody said the one thing that nobody censors is the magazine which tells you what lectures are going on where and what movies are running where and is just a news sheet, and the middle spread was for advertising, so they printed this in the middle sheet and it was, they tried to stop it as soon as the authorities found it but by then they were storming the radio station or however it started. I can't do it in one breath because it goes on for several pages. In the first part of it, "it," meaning "tyranny" is small "i" and towards the end it's a capital "I."




Reads "Of Tyranny in One Breath" by Gyula Illyes


Margaret Avison


So, after the revolution he was much too well-known to disappear but they said he was insane and he was in an asylum for a while, but he wrote a lot of lovely things there, so I don't think he was, and he's not there now. It's much better, I think. A group of silly things it's embarrassing to read but I will, called "Bestialities."




Reads "Bestialities" [INDEX: play, animals, language, puns]


Margaret Avison


The last one I think is just beautiful, but nobody gets it unless I explain, so I'll explain, it's like you take a piece of 8 by 11 typing paper...


Unknown – Audience member


Don't explain, just say it.


Margaret Avison


Alright, you can tell me then, eh?




Reads "Said the mite on the single page of a sad letter: Eureka."


Margaret Avison


Now, come on... [laughter] Hmm? Does anybody want the explanation? Well I've read it. It's just a crumpled-up letter, you know, you get it and you read it and you cry and you crumble it up and you throw it down and the mite goes I'll read it again.




Rereads "Said the mite on the single page of a sad letter: Eureka."


Margaret Avison


"Be Absorbed." This is one of the very cold days, I guess about ten below, enough. It's inside the pane of glass separating inside from outside comes into it, a certain kind of sky that goes with that which is like glass again.




Reads "Be Absorbed." [INDEX: nature, weather, glass, window, cold, winter, ice]




Reads "The Thaw" [INDEX: city, children, weather, winter, spring, streets, dog, sparrows, pigeons, boy]


Margaret Avison


I would like to read two other weather ones and then I'll give you a break. This is two May Day selves.




Reads "The grackle shining in long grass" [INDEX: colours, birds, grackle, city, streets, winter, day, breath]


Margaret Avison


And the last one is late spring, early summer. Jet-plane and terminuses, called "Black-White Under Green," May 18th, 1965.




Reads "Black-White Under Green," May 18th, 1965 [INDEX: nature, flowers, tulips, birds, plane, flight, leaves, snow, sky, sea, music, ice]




Tape ends suddenly --cut/edit made in tape.




Tape recommences with another poem; unknown amount of time elapsed in edit.


Margaret Avison


I've been asked to read "The Valiant Vacationist." It was written so many years ago....I think I would be quite right in saying thirty years ago, and probably a little more. And I couldn't write this well now but in a way when you're very young you've got the whole world in one lump without any lump, and you only get bits later on.




Reads "The Valiant Vacationist" [INDEX: vacation, travel, walking, picnic, park, city, landing, steps, trees, bridge, tourist, stranger]


Margaret Avison


Then the one "To Professor X, Year Y"




Reads "To Professor X, Year Y" [INDEX: November, waiting, uniformity, crowd, downtown, history, historian, death, snow]


Margaret Avison


I'd like to read one introductory poem to the long one, "The Earth that Falls Away," and that one, and two short ones, if you'll bear with me that long. This is called "The Absolute, the Day."




Reads "The Absolute, the Day" [INDEX: power, rabbi, Judaism, good, morality, love]


Margaret Avison


This one is "The Earth that Falls Away." There's an epigraph from Beddoe's Death's Jest Book: "Can a man die? Aye, as the sun doth set, it is the earth that falls away from light." There are a number of human situations, some into the past, through the present generation, the rest various city people, myself, and the stories come interleaving so that as I name a new section it'll be a new group of people, and by request I'm going to stop at the line-ends here.




Reads "The Earth that Falls Away" [INDEX: long poem, Romans, history, Bible, silence, breaking, marriage, illness, winter, summer, city, Dawson City, gold rush, books, Canadiana, photographs, remembrance, scholar, value, cloth, fabric, textiles, production, operation, cancer, treasure, children, blind, snow, farm, emptiness, isolation, solitude, sight, sound]




Reads "He chose a street where he wouldn't be safe" [INDEX: city, street, party, Bible, safety, saviour, Jesus]


Margaret Avison


There's one more and I'll stop with this one.




Reads "Sir, you have nothing" [INDEX: emptiness, nothing, snow, heart, cup, fullness, joy]




Recording ends suddenly; unknown if poem has concluded on recording.


Works Cited

Anderson, Mia. “Avison, Margaret (1918-)”. Routledge Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. Benson, Eugene; Connoly, L.W. (eds). London: Routledge, 1994. 2 vols. November 11, 2009. <>.

Avison, Margaret. Always Now: The Collected Poems, Vols 1-3. Erin, Ontario: The Porcupine’s Quill, 2003.

---. The Dumbfounding. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1966.

---. The Winter Sun. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1960.

Davey, Frank. From There to Here: A Guide to English-Canadian Literature Since 1960. Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic, 1974.

Geddes, Gary (ed). Fifteen Canadian Poets Times Two. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Redekop, Ernest. Margaret Avison: Studies in Canadian Literature. Toronto: The Copp Clark Publishing Company, 1970.

“Poetry Series Coming Up At University”. The Gazette. Saturday, December 31, 1966: page 39.             <,6182119&dq=sir+george+williams+poetry&hl=en>.


Transcript and part of print catalogue: Rachel Kyne
Print Catalogue, Research, Introduction and Edits: Celyn Harding-Jones

Margaret Avison at SGWU, 1967

Catalog numberI086-11-002
Labelsone 5”, two track, reel; @ 3 ¾; lasting one hour and 20 mins. [Data Input sheet for I006-SR82 lists source info as 1 reel, 60 mins, ¼”/7” reel, 3 ¾ ips.]
Sound qualityVery Good
SpeakersMargaret Avison, introduced by Roy Kiyooka
VenueHall Building, Basement Theatre, 9 pm
DateJan. 27, 1967

Supplemental Material


00:00- Roy Kiyooka introduces Margaret Avison.

02:59- Avison introduces poem by Charles Bukowski, first line “She had gone wrong somewhere...”

05:28- Reads section from a poem by Charles Bukowski “She had gone wrong somewhere...”

06:30- Introduces poem by Al Fowler first line “Quote: Are you a root or a tender mint tea?”.

07:01- Reads poem by Al Fowler, first line “Quote: Are you a root or a tender mint tea?”.

07:30- Introduces poem by Gerry Gilbert called “Zoo”.

07:39- Reads poem by Gerry Gilbert, called  “Zoo”.

08:00- Introduces poem called “The Delinquent” by unknown child.

08:33- Reads “The Delinquent”.

10:20- Interjects comment about poem.

10:30- Continues reading “The Delinquent”.

11:33- Interjects comment about poem.

11:41- Continues reading “The Delinquent”.

12:43- Explains “The Delinquent”, Introduces poem, first line “Inside the TTC’s fence...”.

13:38- Reads first line “Inside the TTC’s fence...”.

14:37- Introduces “Subway Station Why Not”.

14:53- Reads “Subway Station Why Not”.

15:56- Introduces “Insomniac Report”.

16:11- Reads “Insomniac Report”.

17:07- Introduces “Is that You/Me Standing on My/Your Feet?”.

18:18- Reads “Is that You/Me Standing on My/Your Feet?”.

19:21- Introduces incomplete poems, first line “No instant morality for us...”.

19:36- Reads first line “No instant morality for us...”.

20:36- Introduces incomplete poem, first line “The boy with the brilliant promises...”.

21:01- Reads first line “The boy with the brilliant promises...”.

21:51- Introduces "October 21, '66, at a bus stop on the way.".

22:03- Reads "October 21, '66, at a bus stop on the way.".

23:07- Introduces unknown poem first line “A junk truck stopped beside my bus...”.

23:55- Reads first line “A junk truck stopped beside my bus...”.

26:39- Introduces first line, “Grey by water...”.

27:38- Reads first line “Grey by water...”.

28:25- Introduces “The Seven Birds”.

29:01- Reads “The Seven Birds”.

30:15- Introduces poem Avison translated, called “Of Tyranny in One Breath” by Gyula Illyes.

32:27- Reads “Of Tyranny in One Breath” by Gyula Illyes.

39:26- Explains “Of Tyranny in One Breath”, introduces “Bestialities”.

40:19- Reads “Bestialities”.

41:14- Introduces first line “Said the mite on the single page of a sad letter: Eureka...”.

41:26- Audience member interjects, asks her to read it without explanation.

41:28- Avison reads first line “Said the mite on the single page of a sad letter: Eureka...”.

41:40- Explains “Said the mite on the single page of a sad letter: Eureka...”.

42:17- Re-reads “Said the mite on the single page of a sad letter: Eureka...”.

42:35- Introduces “Be Absorbed”.

43:09- Reads “Be Absorbed”.

45:50- Reads “The Thaw”.

47:37- Introduces poem, first line “The grackle shining in long grass...”.

47:54- Reads “The grackle shining in long grass...”.

49:42- Introduces “Black-White Under Green”.

50:06- Reads “Black-White Under Green”.

52:53- Avison introduces “The Valiant Vacationist”.

53:34- Reads “The Valiant Vacationist”.

56:53- Reads “To Professor X, Year Y”.

59:57- Introduces “The Absolute, the Day”.

01:00:21- Reads “The Absolute, the Day”.

01:01:39- Introduces “The Earth that Falls Away”.

01:02:31- Reads “The Earth that Falls Away”.

01:15:51- Reads first line “He chose a street where he wouldn’t be safe...”

01:16:53- Reads first line “Sir, you have nothing...”.