Jean (Jay) Macpherson

Jean (Jay) Macpherson, poet, professor (born at London, England 13 Jun 1931; died at Toronto, Ont, 21 Mar 2012). Jay Macpherson was brought to Newfoundland as a "war guest" in 1940, then spent her youth in Ottawa. She was educated at CARLETON (BA), MCGILL (BLS) and the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO (MA 1955, PhD 1964), where she was a student of Northrop FRYE. Macpherson began teaching English at Victoria College, University of Toronto, in 1957 and remained a vital part of the English department there even after her retirement in 1996. Known for her kindness and commitment to students, she helped to foster the development of many, including her onetime student and friend Margaret ATWOOD.

Jay Macpherson began publishing POETRY in contemporary verse in 1949, and had her first collection, Nineteen Poems, published in 1952 by English poet Robert Graves' Seizin Press. Her work is highly symbolic, reflecting upon the world through the lens of classical myths, archetypes and patterns, an approach often termed mythopoeic. Macpherson won the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for poetry, Poetry magazine's Levinson Prize, and the University of Western Ontario President's Medal for The Boatman (1957), a cycle of pellucid lyrics unified by symbols of fall and redemption. An advocate and editor of other Canadian poets, from 1954 to 1963 she published works by Dorothy LIVESAY, Alden NOWLAN, Al PURDY and others in a series of eight chapbooks under the imprint Emblem Books. Welcoming Disaster (1974), Macpherson's second volume, is a complex investigation of human encounters with a spiritual underworld, with terror, darkness and redemption. Her collection Poems Twice Told (1981), a compilation of her two major volumes, was included in critic Harold Bloom's The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994).

Jay Macpherson's scholarly work includes The Spirit of Solitude: Conventions and Continuities in Late Romance (1982), an authoritative study of patterns in the late romances of two continents, and Four Ages of Man (1962), an adaptation of classical mythology for secondary schools. She co-authored Biblical and Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework of Western Culture (2004) with Northrop Frye, based on a course they jointly taught.

A beloved figure in Toronto's literary circles, Jay Macpherson was modest and self-effacing. Sandra Martin, reflecting on her life, observes "Instead of celebrity, she had renown; instead of sales, she had respect; instead of power, she had influence and abiding friendships. And for those who seek them out, her poems offer a resurgent pleasure."