James’ Brand New Blog

Jay Macpherson, poet & scholar & friend (June 13, 1931 – March 21, 2012)

- March 24th, 2012

One of Canada’s great poets & scholars & a dear friend to my parents, Jay Macpherson, died on Wednesday. Jay was 80. She had only recently been diagnosed with cancer.

There is an obituary in Saturday’s Globe & Mail which, sadly, confirms news of her death which we first saw announced in Wikipedia. An e-mail from Frances-Anne Solomon, a close friend & student of Jay’s, had also arrived sharing the news. Thank you, Frances-Anne:  my thoughts & prayers are with you & Jay’s family & friends.

Jay Macpherson taught for many years at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College.

She became a friend of my parents in the 1950s, I’m guessing, & like them (esp. dad) was a scholar & creator influenced & befriended by Northrop Frye. Her review in The Canadian Forum (Sept. 1966) of London’s Summer Theatre production of dad’s Listen to the Wind was so insightful that dad reprinted it   as the introduction to Talonbooks’ 1972 edition of his play.

The Globe obituary says Jay “joyfully composed songs of political protest right until the end.” This is a side of Jay I didn’t know about — but am delighted to celebrate. Solidarity with Jay Macpherson, a great spirit.

Her 1957 Governor General’s Award-winning book of poetry, The Boatman, was republished at least five times. It was dedicated to Northrop & Helen Frye.

The last poem in a 1968 republication was one added (I think) but tt seems appropriate & I can hear Jay reading it in full Macphersonian reserved beauty, passion & wit as I type:

Love-Song II of Jenny Lear

Were I a Shakespearean daughter,
Safe restored through fire and water,
You the party in the crown
– Someone get the curtain down.

Categories: Entertainment

Subscribe to the post

5 comments

  1. Penn Kemp says:

    Frances-Anne wote this lovely tribute to her friend and mentor:

    “I would like to touch others and the world as you touched me and my life: lightly, yet so deeply.
    Early on, Jay gave me this book: THE GIFT by Lewis Hyde. This gave me an intellectual framework to understand the value of creative work. Thank you Jay for helping me to understand my own gifts, and their value in the world.”

  2. Jane-Ann Hunter says:

    I never met my Uncle. He was murdered in New Orleans at the end of 1967. He had been a professor at Victoria College. Several years ago I searched the internet to see if I could find anything about his accomplishments, and his life and death. In the archives of Victoria College I found a note about him written by Jay, and I was able to contact her by email. She was gracious enough to exchange several emails with me, and relate several stories about my Uncle. She was able to personify my Uncle for me, and I will always be grateful to her for her kindness.

  3. Monika Lee says:

    A single life has so many different threads and Jay;s was rich and diverse. Jay accomplished so much as a teacher, a poet, a researcher, a citizen with a conscience, an activist, and a friend. I admired her from a young age. It was partly her inspiration which brought me to the University of Toronto so many years ago. And it was her poetry which inspired me to try to write my own. A year I spent in her house in Yorkville stands out as one of my best years. I felt her quiet and creative energy. She understood more about Romanticism and the workings of the poetic mind than the vast majority of “Romanticists” whom I’ve encountered. I will teach “The Anagogic Man” on my first-year course in her honour. There were not many women of her generation who chose an academic career, but she always made it seem possible and desirable for a woman to live a life of the mind. If I had not known her, perhaps I would have settled for less interesting fare.
    Jay’s generosity was legend. Once she sent me a cheque for $400 to buy a computer programme I’d said I wanted. She charged me almost nothing for the use of her house that year. She had an inimitable way of responding to sadness and limitation in the world. She reminds me of a George Eliot heroine, perhaps Dorothea from Middlemarch. There is such a lack of fanfare and fuss to her particular brand of heroism. It is all the more impressive in that it is modest, even gruff on occasion. The integrity she showed no doubt inspired hundreds like myself. I loved her.

  4. Brian Kellow says:

    For many years and still, when the opportunity arises, I use Jay’s excellent mythology textbook entitled The Four Ages of Man. It has been out of print for at least three decades, but I possess thirty or so copies which I take out and distribute every time I need to teach Greek Mythology to any grade. It is comprehensive and lively and clearly shows the hand of the poet she was. I also had the opportunity to join her in a poetry reading in Oxford in the winter of 1978/79. She was in Oxford working on a book, I think about horror movies and I was working as an exchange teacher at a secondary school. I was a member of a group called The Old Firehall Poets and Jay was a guest poet and reader and we were on the same bill, as it were. She was wonderfully encouraging and gracious to a young and not – very – good poet. I also remember a stunning moment in an English course during the summer of 1971 when Stan Dragland and a colleague whose name I cannot recall performed a kind of choral reading of “the Boatman” which was brilliant. Sad to see a great Canadian poet gone and one who should have been more and more widely appreciated.

  5. Laurel Braswell-Means says:

    Remembering Jay Macpherson, from Laurel Braswell-Means (Chaska, Minnesota)
    Jay Macpherson’s death came as a shock to me. It was all the more grievous, happening just as my bag was packed and ticket to Toronto in hand. Her niece, Diana Macpherson, had kept me informed and time was running short. I needed to sit by her bedside and hold her hand. We had shared over fifty-six years together, memories of graduate school, teaching at Victoria College, lives going in different directions, but always coming together for support and intellectual enrichment. What could I say to comfort her, as she lay in hospice care? Yet, always a courageous realist, she would have been well ahead of me recognizing her own situation.
    But I wanted to thank her for those many years she so generously gave me. Back in the late 1950s and 60s graduate students at the University of Toronto were widely scattered around the various colleges. We had no “home,” although the men had Hart House. Jay brought us together with evening get-togethers, a meal, discussions – our home was her newly purchased house at 15 Berryman Street. She loaned me her academic gown for teaching classes at Victoria (they were required then). When my first child was born in 1964, she was my first hospital visitor, bringing me a bowl of cherries (literally) and a Japanese novel in translation. Born in the same year, six days apart, we celebrated our 50th together with Northrup Frye. We laughed and cried together when her The Boatman and Welcoming Disaster came out, then Twice Told Tales in 1981, a welcome reassurance after several years of anxious worry about her elusive muse.
    Masonic symbolism provided much of her intensive research in later years and initiated many of my own visits to old Masonic halls throughout the U.S. in search of supporting material. She, on the other hand, was quick to support my own research on medieval English manuscripts – once again, her home, this time her flat in Oxford – offering a welcome base. Our tours around England were both an education and delight, the Kew Gardens in London especially a vivid and joyful memory. On a 2004 visit here with me in Minnesota, where I had earlier retired from McMaster University, Jay’s incredibly perceptive assessment of the mythic symbolism of the Granlund sculptures at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter rendered the present critical views shallow and lifeless. I am most grateful for Jay’s incisive critiques of my present engagement with historical fiction writing. She read each manuscript with care, laughing at one point that I needed a proof reader more than a critic. Our discussions brought into ever sharper focus how the imagination could work at different levels, how creative realms could be inspired unexpectedly and pursued to surprising levels. Jay was always one step ahead of that level.
    No, I never had the opportunity to hold Jay’s hand as she lay dying. I could not tell her how very much she has meant to me through…

Leave a comment

 characters available