Raymond Holmes Souster

Raymond Holmes Souster, poet and editor (born at Toronto 15 Jan 1921, died there 19 Oct 2012). Souster spent his entire life in his native city except for wartime service in the RCAF (See MILITARY AVIATION). In civilian life he was employed by the CANADIAN IMPERIAL BANK OF COMMERCE. Souster's literary activities began with an association with John SUTHERLAND and his First Statement group in Montréal, which led him to launch Direction (1943-46), the first of a series of little magazines which would place him in the forefront of the literary avant-garde in Canada. Souster was represented with 21 poems in Ronald Hambleton's anthology, Unit of Five (1944), and had his first independent collection, When We Are Young (1946), published by the First Statement Press. This was followed by Go to Sleep World (1947). In the early poems, Souster showed himself to be an idealist with a working-class voice, a strong belief in youthful love and a naïve sense of the lyrical quality of nature, to which were opposed the shabbiness of the inner city, the squalor of the industrial landscape and the destruction of war. In 1952 his "friendship-by-letter" with Louis DUDEK crystallized into an active co-operation with Dudek and Irving LAYTON in the activities of CONTACT magazine (1952-54) and Contact Press (1952-67). His Selected Poems (1956), chosen by Dudek, brought Souster serious critical attention.

In the 1960s he entered into a prolific and distinguished period in his writing, the highlight of which was the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for The Colour of the Times (1964). In 1967 he received the Centennial Medal, and from 1967-72 served as president of the LEAGUE OF CANADIAN POETS, which he had been instrumental in founding. He published volumes of new poetry in each decade of his writing life, including Hanging In (1979), which won the 1980 Toronto Book Award, and 2006's Uptown Downtown, which was nominated for the same award. He embarked, as well, on the reworking of some of his earlier poetry with a view to republication, leading up to his multi-volume Collected Poems, which began to appear in 1980, confirming his colloquial voice, the low-strung, city-bred images and the modest nostalgias of a middle-class vision. Souster also tried his hand at fiction, publishing The Winter of Time (1949) and On Target (1972) under the pseudonyms of Raymond Holmes and John Holmes respectively.

Souster brought several young poets, such as Margaret ATWOOD and Michael ONDAATJE, to Contact Press, and gave an important boost to the new poetry with New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Canadian Poetry (1966). As a model, publisher and mentor whose writing career spanned seven decades, he influenced and was respected by generations of poets.

Raymond Souster was named an Officer of the ORDER OF CANADA in 1995, and in January 2012 the League of Canadian Poets established an annual prize in his name.