Chapter 3: Case Study

Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books

The Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books are a series of 200 short books of poetry published by the Ryerson Press between 1925 and 1960, with a final outlier in 1962. In their day, they constituted an unprecedented initiative to publish Canadian poetry in a sustained manner on a national scale. Important poets number among the contributors, such as Charles G.D. Roberts, Dorothy Livesay, Louis Dudek, Elizabeth Brewster, Al Purdy, and Leonard Cohen. Dozens of lesser-known writers were also included. The high number of contributors – 144 – and the persistence of the series across three-and-a-half decades, including some of the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century, make the Chap-Books an important record of the culture of Canadian poetry – of both its aesthetic principles and its material situation and practices – as it existed before government funding of the arts became the norm.

The Sweet o’ the Year and Other Poems, Ryerson Poetry Chap-Book no. 1

The goal of the editor, Lorne Pierce, was at once to promote and develop the tradition of Canadian poetry. In 1925, this tradition rested squarely with the Confederation Poets, whose prime mover was Roberts, and for this reason the inaugural number, The Sweet o’ the Year and Other Poems (1925), was solicited from him. It was not an original book of new poems but a selection of his prior work. Roberts’s influence drew the series in its early years toward the late-nineteenth-century poetics that had formed him. Many of the Chap-Books through the 1940s consist of poems with full metrical lines, rhyming stanzas, images of nature and local landscapes, and an idealism that offers consolation and dignity in the face of the suffering. Lilian Leveridge’s A Breath of the Woods (1926) is one example of an active inheritance of the Confederation Poets, presenting finely crafted lyrics that strive to uplift and ennoble the average reader through accessible sentiments and recognizable verse forms; Nathaniel A. Benson’s romantic elegy, Twenty and After (1927), is another.

Even with Roberts’s gravity, however, the series also drew into its orbit poems written in response to the two World Wars and the Great Depression, city poems, and formally experimental poems. Free verse on the model of Walt Whitman manifested itself as early as the second Chap-Book, W.H.F. Tenny’s Companionship and the Crowd and Other Poems (1925). Anne Marriott’s The Wind Our Enemy (1939) was partly inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Louis Dudek’s The Searching Image (1952) clearly announces his admiration for Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound. Fred Cogswell’s The Testament of Cresseid (1957) is a modern translation of Robert Henryson’s fifteenth-century poem of the same title – a translation remarkable for its ornament and learned impersonality. Consequently, the Chap-Books are a rich and varied illustration, too, of the gradual suffusion of modernist aesthetics through Canadian poetry, especially after 1940.

The overall character of the series is not easily reducible because Pierce was an ecumenical editor. His primary goal was to edit a series that was broad enough in scope and representation to be defensibly national. He strove to reflect the Canada he knew from his childhood, from his student days at Queen’s University, from his formative experiences as a Methodist probationer on the Prairies, and from his cross-country train trips. The Chap-Books thus drew in writers such as Alexander Louis Fraser from Nova Scotia, Dorothy Roberts from New Brunswick, Leo Cox from Quebec, Kathryn Munro from Ontario, Elaine M. Catley from Alberta, and Ernest Fewster from British Columbia. Over half of the contributors were women, a predominance that accurately reflected their majority membership in the branches of the Canadian Authors’ Association. Disabled writers were welcomed into the series, such as Annie Charlotte Dalton, who was deaf. Children were the intended audience of May P. Judge’s The Way to Fairyland and Other Rhymes (1931). Some contributors took as their theme historic injustice against minorities. Livesay, for example, described the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War in her Call My People Home (1950). Susan Frances Harrison portrayed rural, francophone Quebec sympathetically in Later Poems and New Villanelles (1928). In his long poem, Paul Pero (1928), R.D. Cumming narrated a Lillooet (St’át’imc) chief’s tragic struggle for justice after the death of his wife at the hands of a white man. Pierce was open to all kinds of poetry, so long as it reflected some aspect of Canadian experience – even emigration to the United States, as in Arthur Stringer’s New York Nocturnes (1948). Overall, the editorial vision for the series was inclusive.

Salt Marsh, Ryerson Poetry Chap-Book no. 100

Bibliographically, the Chap-Books embody leanness and austerity but also an insistence on the value of poetry. Financing production was a difficulty from the outset, so Pierce developed a policy in which the author contractually promised to reimburse the press for the cost of printing if, after a year, an edition had failed to sell. This guarantee ranged between $55 and $185 and averaged $93. True to their etymology, the Chap-Books are cheap books: most consist of a single printed sheet folded into as few as eight pages, stapled into a coloured paper cover that doubles as the title-page. The typography is compact, with ten lines of type measuring only 35 mm vertically, capital letters being 2.6 mm tall and lowercase ones (x-height) 1.5 mm. Pierce commissioned a woodcut from Group of Seven member J.E.H. MacDonald, which declares the nationalism of the series in a northern scene featuring a rocky river, a glacier-fed lake, mountains, and an arch of the northern lights. In the foreground cluster the provincial flowers of Nova Scotia (trailing arbutus), Quebec (lilies), Ontario (trilliums), Alberta (wild roses), and British Columbia (Pacific dogwoods). At the centre, pine branches emanate from a lyre, symbolizing the importance of poetry in the building of a nation. Pierce maintained this design, and the series itself, through the 1930s, when production plummeted from a high of thirteen new titles a year (1927) to only one (1933). Most Chap-Books were printed in a run of 250 copies and sold for between fifty cents and one dollar, depending on the outlay of paper. Occasionally, an ambitious author would raise the total to as many as 500 copies. Such authors made work for themselves, however, in so far as the responsibility for selling copies was often left to them.

The Crafte So Longe to Lerne, Ryerson Poetry Chap-Book no. 186

Thoreau MacDonald renewed his father’s design in 1942 for Mary Elizabeth Colman’s For This Freedom Too and subsequent numbers. By this time authors were no longer being asked to guarantee the press against loss. After an experiment in paying authors a royalty of ten per cent, Pierce settled on terms that offered the author sixty, thirty, and finally only eighteen complimentary copies in lieu of all royalty. The MacDonald woodcut was dropped with Arthur Bourinot’s The Treasures of the Snow (1950) but reinstated with William Sherwood Fox’s On Friendship (1953), which was also the first to have a hardcover binding (still paper, not cloth) and a proper title page. Myrtle Reynolds Adams’s Remember Together (1955), neatly stating title, author, city, and publisher, defined the look of the Chap-Books through the flurry of activity that characterized their last years, when as many as ten new titles again appeared annually (1959). Only the very last numbers had their titles printed on the spine, making them visible on a shelf, and right to the end paper was conserved through the printing of more than one poem per page. The type remained as small as before, but the leading (the spacing between the lines) became more generous, with ten lines of type now measuring 43 mm vertically.

All of these details indicate parsimony in physical production, but also the will to persevere as a publisher of poetry no matter the odds. In Pierce’s own words, from the series advertisement on the inside back cover of the first numbers, “The Ryerson Press believes that lovers of poetry care more for poetry of high quality than for costly bindings … A chap-book necessitates careful discrimination by the poet, and hence the presentation of small and choice selections.” It was Pierce’s desire to hold to a modicum of elegance in even the most adverse times, and he did so.1


List of the Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books

Note on the numbering: The first Chap-Book to have a series number printed on the inside front cover was Lilian Leveridge’s The Blossom Trail (1932) (no. 57). The Ryerson Press made a retrospective effort to number the prior Chap-Books, and that numbering is given below in parentheses, but some errors occurred in the process. (For example, H.T.J. Coleman’s Cockle Shell and Sandal Shoon was published in 1927, not 1928.) The series has been re-ordered by observing the publication year in the copyright statement of each Chap-Book and by collating the series advertisements inside the back cover. The revised numbering is given in square brackets.



[1] (RP 1)  Charles G.D. Roberts, The Sweet o’ the Year and Other Poems

[2] (RP 2)  W.H.F. Tenny, Companionship and the Crowd and Other Poems


[3] (RP 3)  Kathryn Munro, Forfeit and Other Poems

[4] (RP 4)  Constance Davies-Woodrow, The Captive Gypsy

[5] (RP 5)  Annie C. Dalton, The Ear Trumpet

[6] (RP 6)  W.V. Newson, The Vale of Luxor

[7] (RP 7)  Theodore Goodridge Roberts, The Lost Shipmate

[8] (RP 9)  Lionel Stevenson, A Pool of Stars

[9] (RP 10)  Alice Brewer, Spring in Savary

[10] (RP 12)  Leo Cox, Sheep-Fold

[11] (RP 8)  Geoffrey B. Riddehough, The Prophet’s Man

[12] (RP 13)  Agnes Joynes, The Shepherd of the Hills

[13] (RP 18)  Lilian Leveridge, A Breath of the Woods


[14] (RP 14)  Frederick B. Watt, Vagrant

[15] (RP 11)  John Hanlon [Mitchell], Songs

[16] (RP 15)  Geoffrey Warburton Cox, What-Nots

[17] (RP 26)  Nathaniel A. Benson, Twenty and After

[18] (RP 17)  Alexander Louis Fraser, By Cobequid Bay

[19] (RP 20)  Guy Mason, The Cry of Insurgent Youth

[20] (RP 32)  H.T.J. Coleman, Cockle-Shell and Sandal-Shoon

[21] (RP 22)  Esme Isles-Brown, Twelve Poems

[22] (RP 23)  [Dorothy] Gostwick Roberts, Songs for Swift Feet

[23] (RP 19)  Elaine M. Catley, Ecstasy and Other Poems

[24] (RP 16)  John Hanlon [Mitchell], Other Songs

[25] (RP 21)  W.V. Newson, Waifs of the Mind

[26] (RP 24)  William P. McKenzie, Bits o’ Verse in Scots


[27] (RP 25)  Mary Matheson, Destiny and Other Poems

[28] (RP 27)  H.T.J. Coleman, The Poet Confides

[29] (RP 28)  R.D. Cumming, Paul Pero

[30] (RP 29)  Kate Colquhoun, The Battle of St. Julien and Other Poems

[31] (RP 35)  William P. McKenzie, Fowls o’ the Air and Other Verses in Scots

[32] (RP 33)  Susan Frances Harrison, Later Poems and New Villanelles

[33] (RP 30)  Guy Mason, Spendthrifts

[34] (RP 31)  Thomas O’Hagan, The Tide of Love

[35] (RP 34)  Nelda MacKinnon Sage, Fragments of Fantasy


[36] (RP 39)  F. Elsie [Elsie Fry] Laurence, XII Poems

[37] (RP 36)  Regis [R.M. Whylock], Cosmic Oratory

[38] (RP 37)  Winifred Stevens, The Viking’s Bride

[39] (RP 38)  May P. Judge, The Blue-Walled Valley

[40] (RP 41)  H.L. Huxtable, The Fountain: A Dramatic Fantasy

[41] (RP 42)  Jean Kilby Rorison, In My Garden

[42] (RP 40)  Marie Zibeth [Mary Elizabeth] Colman, The Immigrants

[43] (RP 44)  Mary Matheson, Magic Hill and Other Poems

[44] (RP 43)  John Hosie, The Arbutus Tree and Other Poems

[44B]  Carillon Group of the Writers’ Craft Club, A Sheaf of Verse


[45] (RP 45)  William Edwin Collin, Monserrat and Other Poems

[46] (RP 47)  Elsie Woodley, Bittersweet

[47] (RP 46)  William P. McKenzie, The Auld Fowk

[48] (RP 49)  Nathaniel A. Benson, The Wanderer and Other Poems

[49] (RP 48)  Edith Beatrice Henderson, Outward Bound

[50] (RP 50)  Kathryn Munro, Under the Maple

[51] (RP 51)  Alfred Goldsworthy Bailey, Tâo


[52] (RP 53)  May P. Judge, The Way to Fairyland and Other Rhymes

[53] (RP 54)  Mary Ellen Guise, Pennies On My Palm

[54] (RP 55)  Aubrey Dean Hughes, Argosies at Dawn

[55] (RP 52)  Marjorie Pickthall, The Naiad, and Five Other Poems

[55B]  Ann Boyd, Spring Magic

[83]  Bliss Carman, The Music of Earth


[56] (RP 56)  Lionel Stevenson, The Rose of the Sea

57  Lilian Leveridge, The Blossom Trail

58  Francis Cecil Whitehouse, The Coquihalla Wreck and Other Poems

59  Leo Cox, The Wind in the Field

60  Sister Maura, Rhyme and Rhythm

61  Muriel Miller Humphrey, Twenty Sonnets

62  Clara Hopper, The Emigrants’ Stone and Other Poems

63  Audrey Silcox, Earthbound and Other Poems

64  E.H. Burr, Rich Man, Poor Man

65  Regina Lenore Shoolman, Uncertain Glory

66  George Frederick Clarke, The Saint John and Other Poems


67  Murdock Charles Mackinnon, From the Winepress


68  Marion E. Moodie, Songs of the West and Other Poems


69  Frances Ebbs-Canavan, Harvest of Dreams

70  Agnes Maule Machar, The Thousand Islands

71  Peggy Pearce, Wayside Grasses


72  William Thow, Odd Measures

[73]  Joseph Easton McDougall, Blind Fiddler


74  William Thow, More Odd Measures

75  Leo Cox, River Without End

76  Charles Frederick Boyle, Stars before the Wind

77  Helena Coleman, Songs: Being a Selection of Earlier Sonnets and Lyrics


78  Michael T. Casey, Sonnets and Sequence

79  John Smalacombe [L.A. MacKay], Viper’s Bugloss


80  Anne Marriott, The Wind Our Enemy

81  Isobel McFadden, Reward and Other Poems

82  Lilian Leveridge, Lyrics and Sonnets

[83]  (see 1931)

84  Charles Frederick Boyle, Excuse for Futility

85  Carol Coates, Fancy Free

86  William Thow, Poet and Salesman


87  Arthur S. Bourinot, Discovery

88  H. Glynn-Ward, The Pioneers and Other Poems


89  Anne Marriott, Calling Adventurers!

90  Mary Matheson, Out of the Dusk

91  Nathan Ralph, Twelve Poems

92  Sara Carsley, The Artisan

93  Doris Ferne, Ebb Tide

94  Mollie Morant, The Singing Gipsy

95  Amelia Wensley, At Summer’s End


96  Ernest Fewster, Litany before the Dawn of Fire

97  Barbara Villy Cormack, Seedtime and Harvest

98  Hyman Edelstein, Spirit of Israel

99  Mary Elizabeth Colman, For This Freedom Too

100  Anne Marriott, Salt Marsh


101  Evelyn Eaton, Birds before Dawn

102  M. Eugenie Perry, Hearing a Far Call

103  Irene Chapman Benson, Journey into Yesterday


104  Elsie Fry Laurence, Rearguard and Other Poems

105  Gwendolen Merrin, Legend and Other Poems

106  Frank Oliver Call, Sonnets for Youth

107  Austin Campbell, They Shall Build Anew

108  Sister Maura, Rhythm Poems


109  Hermia Harris Fraser, Songs of the Western Islands

110  Monica Roberts Chalmers, And in the Time of Harvest

111  Eileen Cameron Henry, Sea-Woman and Other Poems

112  Vere Jameson, Moths after Midnight

113  Dorothy Howard, When I Turn Home


114  Margot Osborn, Frosty-Moon and Other Poems

115  R.E. Rashley, Voyageur and Other Poems

116  George Whalley, Poems: 1939–1944

117  Marjorie Freeman Campbell, Merry-Go-Round

118  Verna Loveday Harden, When This Tide Ebbs

119  Norah Godfrey, Cavalcade

120  Audrey Alexandra Brown, V-E Day

121  Doris Hedges, The Flower in the Dusk

122  Goodridge MacDonald, The Dying General and Other Poems


123  M. Eugenie Perry, Song in the Silence and Other Poems

124  Michael Harrington, The Sea Is Our Doorway

125  Doris Hedges, Crisis

126  Dorothy Howard, As the River Runs

127  Ruby Nichols, Songs from Then and Now


128  Lenore Pratt, Midwinter Thaw

129  Genevieve Bartole, Figure in the Rain

130  Margaret E. Coulby, The Bitter Fruit and Other Poems

131  Albert Norman Levine, Myssium

132  John A.B. McLeish, Not Without Beauty

[133] (RP 132)  Arthur Stringer, New York Nocturnes


134  Marjorie Freeman Campbell, High on a Hill

[135] (RP 136)  Hyman Edelstein, Last Mathematician

136  Thomas Saunders, Scrub Oak

137  John Murray Gibbon, Canadian Cadences


138  Goodridge MacDonald, Beggar Makes Music

139  Kathryn Munro, Tanager Feather

140  Arthur S. Bourinot, The Treasures of the Snow

141  Geoffrey Drayton, Three Meridians

142  Katherine Hale, The Flute and Other Poems

143  Dorothy Livesay, Call My People Home


144  Theresa E. Thomson, Silver Shadows

145  Elizabeth Brewster, East Coast

146  Raymond Souster, City Hall Street


147  Louis Dudek, The Searching Image

148  Tom Farley, It Was a Plane

149  Ruth Cleaves Hazelton, Mint and Willow

150  Myra Lazechko-Haas, Viewpoint


151  R.E. Rashley, Portrait and Other Poems

152  William Sherwood Fox, On Friendship


153  Elizabeth Brewster, Lillooet

154  Anthony John Frisch, Poems

155  Arthur S. Bourinot, Tom Thomson and Other Poems


156  I. Sutherland Groom, Queens and Others

157  Alfred W. Purdy, Pressed on Sand

158  Goodridge MacDonald, Compass Reading and Others

159  Theresa E. and Don W. Thomson, Silver Light

160  A. Robert Rogers, The White Monument

161 Thecla Jean Bradshaw, Mobiles

162  Myrtle Reynolds Adams, Remember Together


163  Marion Kathleen Henry, Centaurs of the Wind

164  Fred Cogswell, The Haloed Tree

165  Freda Newton Bunner, Orphan and Other Poems

166  Ruby Nichols, Symphony

167  Lenore A. Pratt, Birch Light


168  Fred Cogswell, trans., The Testament of Cresseid, by Robert Henryson

169  Hermia Harris Fraser, The Arrow-Maker’s Daughter and Other Haida Chants

170  Goodridge MacDonald, Recent Poems

171  Theresa E. and Don W. Thomson, Myth and Monument

172  Joan Finnigan, Through the Glass, Darkly

173  Mary Elizabeth Bayer, Of Diverse Things

174  Elizabeth Brewster, Roads and Other Poems

175  Dorothy Roberts, Dazzle

176  Ella Julia Reynolds, Samson in Hades


177  Myrtle Reynolds Adams, Morning on My Street

178  John Heath, Aphrodite

179  Thomas Saunders, Something of a Young World’s Dying

180  Fred Swayze, And See Penelope Plain


181  Mary Elizabeth Bayer, Faces of Love

182  Michael Collie, Poems

183  Verna Loveday Harden, In Her Mind Carrying

184  Douglas Lochhead, The Heart Is Fire

185  Theresa E. and Don. W. Thomson, River & Realm

186  Alfred Purdy, The Crafte So Longe to Lerne

187  R.E. Rashley, Moon Lake and Other Poems

188  Florence Wyle, Poems

189  John Robert Colombo, ed., The Varsity Chapbook

190  Leslie L. Kaye, ed., The McGill Chapbook


191  Douglas Lochhead, It Is All Around

192  Michael Collie, Skirmish with Fact

193  William Conklin, For the Infinite

[194] (RP 195)  Paul West, The Spellbound Horses

195  Mary Nasmyth Matheson, Autumn Affluence

196  Fred Swayze, In the Egyptian Gallery

197  Myrtle Reynolds Adams, To Any Spring

198  Mary Elizabeth Bayer, The Silver Swan: An Epithalamion

199  Milton Acorn, The Brain’s the Target


200  James Reaney, Twelve Letters to a Small Town


1 For more information on the Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books, see Sandra Campbell, Both Hands: A Life of Lorne Pierce of Ryerson Press (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2013); Eli MacLaren, “‘Significant Little Offerings’: The Origin of the Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books, 1925-26,” Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 72 (2013): 9-49; and Eli MacLaren, Little Resilience: The Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, forthcoming 2020).