Arthur James Marshall Smith

(8 November 1902 – 21 November 1980 / Montreal)

Biography of Arthur James Marshall Smith

Arthur James Marshall Smith poet

Arthur James Marshall Smith was a Canadian poet and anthologist. He "was a prominent member of a group of Montreal poets" -- the Montreal Group, which included Leon Edel, Leo Kennedy, A.M. Klein, and F.R. Scott -- "who distinguished themselves by their modernism in a culture still rigidly rooted in Victorianism.

Life and Writing

Smith was born in Montreal, but lived in England from 1918 to 1920, where he "studied for the Cambridge Local Examinations, ‘and failed everything except English and history’ (he later wrote)." In England he became aware of contemporary poetry: "he frequented Harold Monroe's bookshop, then the citadel of Georgian poetry, and read much in the recent war poets and the Imagists."

Montreal Group

Returning to Montreal, Smith entered McGill University in 1921. While an undergraduate there in 1924 he wrote for and co-edited the McGill Daily Literary Supplement; in 1925, as a graduate student, he and F.R. Scott founded the McGill Fortnightly Review, which billed itself as a "an independent journal of literature, the arts, and student affairs edited and published by a group of undergraduates at McGill University." The Review was "the first journal to publish modernist poetry and critical opinion in Canada."

"The McGill Fortnightly drew to it other young writers — among them A.M. Klein, Leo Kennedy, and Leon Edel — on whom, as well as on Scott, Smith had an enduring influence."

"While still at McGill," Scott later noted, "Smith had poems accepted by the Dial, then in the last days of its glory as an expounder of new aesthetic values, and which only a few years previously had printed Elliot's Waste Land. Such an honour was a stimulus to our whole group."

Smith received his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in 1931.

New Provinces

In various editorial roles, Smith significantly contributed to promoting the poetry of others. With Scott and Kennedy he co-edited the "milestone selection of modernist verse," New Provinces, which was published in 1936 (although Smith's Preface was "rejected by the publisher as being too impatient with traditional Canadian poetry. The 'Rejected Preface' was resurrected in 1964, and was made an important feature of the new edition of New Provinces published in 1976.")

Critical Success

In 1936 Smith became a professor at Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) and taught there until his retirement in 1972. "He became a naturalized American, but spent all his summers in his country place near Magog, Quebec.' He became well known as both a scholar and an author of poetry, with many of his best known works focusing on Canadian themes (for example his 1929 poem "The Lonely Land," which was inspired by a 1926 Group of Seven exhibition).

As early as 1939, Smith applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to support the preparation of an anthology of Canadian poetry. In 1943 his first anthology was published: The Book of Canadian Poetry, in which he argued that there was a distinctive Canadian voice. The book was praised by literary critic Northrop Frye, who called its publication "an important event in Canadian literature. For instead of confining his reading to previous compilations, as most anthologists do, he has made a first-hand study of the whole English field with unflagging industry and unfaltering taste." The Encyclopædia Britannica says that The Book of Canadian Poetry, and Smith's later anthologies, "contributed greatly to the modernization of literary standards in Canada."

Recognition

Smith won the 1943 Governor General's Award for poetry or drama for his own first collection of poetry, News of the Phoenix and Other Poems.

In 1966 the Royal Society of Canada awarded him its Lorne Pierce Medal.

On Smith's retirement in 1972, Michigan State University established the A.J.M. Smith Award, given annually to a noteworthy volume by a Canadian poet.

Smith's poem "The Lonely Land" was set to music by Violet Archer in 1978.

Arthur James Marshall Smith's Works:

Poetry

News of the Phoenix and Other Poems (1943)
A Sort of Ecstasy (1954)
Collected Poems (1962 )
Poems New and Collected (1967)
The Classic Shade: Selected Poems (1978)
Complete Poems of A.J.M. Smith (2006)
Non-Fiction
"Our Poets." A Sketch of Poetry in the Nineteenth Century (1942)
The Poetic Process. (1964)
Essays for College Writing (1965)
Towards a View of Canadian Letters (1973)
On Poetry and Poets. Selected Essays of A.J.M. Smith (1977)
Selected Writings (2006)

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