LITERARY LOCATION: English Bay, Vancouver [near the former bathhouses]

Few locales have evoked more poetic response than English Bay. In his poem Vancouver (1931), Bliss Carman wrote 'Where is the trade of Carthage now? / Here is Vancouver on English Bay, / With tomorrow's light on her brow!"; Dorothy Livesay wrote her poem, At English Bay, December, 1937 and Earle Birney wrote Dusk on English Bay in 1941. Livesay, a committed leftist and feminist, was a central figure in a group of writers that regularly met here at the English Bay bathhouse, above which a Cactus Club restaurant was opened in the second decade of the 21st century. Livesay's involvement with the Progressive Arts Club led to her participation in the founding of Contemporary Verse with Alan Crawley, Anne Marriott and Floris Clark McLaren in 1941. It remained the main organ for new poetry west of Ontario throughout the Forties. The annual B.C. Book Prize for poetry is named in Dorothy Livesay's honour. The nearby Sylvia Hotel lounge has also long been popular with literati.

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

The annual B.C. Book Prize for poetry is named in honour of Dorothy Kathleen May Livesay, a social activist who lived in North Vancouver for much of her married years. Born in Winnipeg in 1909, daughter of one of the founders of Canadian Press, temperamental "Dee"; Livesay was a lifelong agitator for women's rights who published her first poetry book as a Toronto university student in 1928. Her best-known poem is "The Unquiet Bed."; In 1980, George Woodcock described her as "the best poet writing in Canada today, and for the past two decades as well.";

Influenced by the Depression and by hearing lectures by anarchist Emma Goldman, Livesay first wrote Marxist poems for a short-lived Toronto communist newspaper and studied at the School of Social Work in Toronto (1932-1933). After moving to Vancouver in 1936, she married Duncan Cameron Macnair in 1937.

Her involvement with the Progressive Arts Club led to her participation in founding Contemporary Verse with Alan Crawley, Anne Marriott and Floris Clark McLaren in 1941. It remained the main organ for new poetry west of Ontario throughout the forties.

Livesay received her first Governor General's Award for Day and Night (1944), followed by another for Poems for People (1947). In 1949, CBC aired her long poem about the internment of Japanese Canadians, "Call My People Home.";

Livesay taught school in B.C. during the 1950s, lived in Northern Rhodesia during the early 1960s, and gained her M.Ed. from UBC in 1966.

Livesay was a co-founder, and for many years editor, of the literary quarterly CVII and a founding member of Amnesty International (Canada), the Committee for an Independent Canada, and the League of Canadian Poets. Her grandson Randal Macnair of Fernie now owns and operates Oolichan Books, a literary press founded by Ron Smith.

Feisty, opinionated and sometimes self-righteous, Dorothy Livesay lived briefly on Galiano Island before moving to Victoria where she died in 1996. In January of that year more than 200 people gathered at the Victoria Art Gallery to pay tribute to her spirit. Robert Kroetsch, who knew Livesay when she was writer-in-residence in Winnipeg, recalled that she once clinched an argument by pounding him on the chest with both fists. "She won that one,"; he said. Daphne Marlatt, who met Livesay in the early sixties, was astonished when Dee proceeded to instruct her on how she should and shouldn't read her own poetry. "For me she was courage and love,"; said Linda Rogers. "I loved the way Dorothy kicked ass,"; said Cathy Ford, B.C. representative for the League of Canadian Poets.

Mona Fertig, who was 18 when she first met Livesay, said, "I think of her as the grandmother of Canadian poetry."; Always adventurous in spirit, Livesay once wrote,
"Those of us who are travellers become so from sheer greed. We are greedy for life."

FULL ENTRY:

The annual B.C. Book Prize for poetry is named in honour of Dorothy Kathleen May Livesay, a social activist who lived in North Vancouver during her married years. Born in Winnipeg on October 12, 1909 during a snowstorm, she was a tempermental agitator for social change and women's rights. In 1919 she was moved out of the city during the Winnipeg General Strike due to the threat of social unrest. The following year her family moved to Toronto where she was educated at Glen Mawr. In Winnipeg her father John Frederick Bligh Livesay managed Western Associated Press and became one of the founders of Canadian Press. Even though her mother Florence Hamilton Randal Livesay had published poems and stories, and translated Ukrainian folk songs, her daughter's need for frankness often disconcerted her. She once begged her daughter to leave her unfortunate parents out of "things on the radio."; When Livesay first published stories based on family life, her mother wrote a tart letter complaining that Judgement Day came early in literary families. Accordingly, Livesay withheld her collection A Winnipeg Childhood from publication until the early '70s. Livesay would prove less conciliatory with her former writing and political colleague Earle Birney, maintaining a public feud for decades.

Livesay published her first collection of poetry, Green Pitcher, while attending her first year at Trinity College in Toronto. She spent her third year of study in France, gained her B.A. from Trinity in 1931, then gained another diploma from the Sorbonne the following year with a thesis on poetry. Influenced by the Depression and by hearing lectures by Emma Goldman, she wrote Marxist poems for a short-lived Toronto communist newspaper and studied at the School of Social Work (1932-1933. After a stint as a relief worker in New Jersey, she returned to Canada in 1935 and served on the editorial board of a leftist journal, New Frontier (1936-1937). Having moved to Vancouver in 1936, she married Duncan Cameron Macnair in 1937. The lived in North Vancouver where her children Peter (1940) and Marcia (1942) were born. Her involvement with the Progressive Arts Club led to her participation in the co-founding of Contemporary Verse with Alan Crawley, Anne Marriott and Floris Clark McLaren in 1941. It remained the main organ for new poetry west of Ontario throughout the Forties. Having criticized the expulsion and internment of Japanese Canadians during the war, she received her first Governor General's Award for Day and Night, followed by another for Poems for People. CBC aired her long poem about Japanese Canadians entitled Call My People Home in 1949. During the 1950s she mostly taught in British Columbia, having received her teacher's certificate from UBC in 1956. Her husband died suddenly in 1958. She worked for UNESCO in Paris and taught English for three years in Northern Rhodesia before returning to Vancouver in 1963. She gained her M.Ed from UBC in 1966.

Dorothy Livesay had a long and distinguished career as an editor, broadcast journalist and university professor. She was also a co-founder, and for many years editor, of the literary quarterly CVII and a founding member of Amnesty International (Canada), the Committee for an Independent Canada, and the League of Canadian Poets. She won two Governor General's Awards (1944 and 1947), the Queen's Canada Medal (1977), the Lorne Pierce Medal of the Royal Society of Canada (1947), the Person's Case Award for the Status of Women (1984) and received numerous honorary doctorates. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (1987). Feisty, opinionated and sometimes self-righteous, she moved to Galiano Island and Victoria in 1981, then remained permanently in Victoria where she died on December 29, 1996.

To recognize Dorothy Livesay's residence on the North Shore for approximately twenty years during the Thirties and Forties, in 2009 the North Vancouver Library allocated part of its public plaza at their new building's entrance on Lonsdale Avenue to be engraved with four lines from Livesay's best-known poem, 'The Unquiet Bed.' A ceremony to honour Livesay was held on November 29, 2009 with readings of her work by Pierre Coupey, Jane Watkins and Trevor Carolan.

[Photo by Renee Rodin]

BOOKS:

Green Pitcher. Toronto: Macmillan, 1928.
Signpost. Toronto: Macmillan, 1932.
Day And Night. Toronto: Ryerson, 1944.
Poems for People. Toronto: Ryerson, 1947.
Call My People Home. Toronto: Ryerson, 1950.
New Poems. Toronto: Emblem Books, 1955.
Selected Poems, 1926-1956. Toronto: Ryerson P, 1957.
The Unquiet Bed. Illus. Roy Kiyooka. Toronto: Ryerson P, 1967.
The Documentaries. Toronto: Ryerson P, 1968.
Plainsongs. Fredericton: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1971.
Collected Poems: The Two Seasons. Toronto: Mcgraw-Hill Ryerson, 1972.
Forty Women Poets of Canada (editor). Ingluvin Press, 1972.
A Winnipeg Childhood. Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1973.
Woman's Eye (editor). Air Press, 1974
Ice Age. Erin: Porcepic, 1975.
Beginnings: A Winnipeg Childhood (memoirs). New Press, 1976
Right Hand, Left Hand. (non-fiction) Erin, Ont.: Porcepic, 1977.
The Woman I Am. (Press Porcepic, 1978)
The Raw Edges: Voices from Our Time. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1981.
The Phases of Love. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1983.
Feeling the Worlds: New Poems. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1984.
The Self-Completing Tree: Selected Poems. Victoria: Porcepic, 1986.
Beginnings. Winnipeg: Peguis, 1988.
Journey With My Selves: A Memoir, 1909-1963. Vancouver: Douglas & Mcintyre, 1991.
The Woman I Am. Montreal: Guernica, 1991. Reprint.
Archive for Our Times: Previously Uncollected and Unpublished
Poems of Dorothy Livesay. Ed. Dean J. Irvine.
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1998.

ABOUT DOROTHY LIVESAY:

Dorothy Livesay: Patterns in a Poetic Life (ECW Press, 1992). By Peter Stevens.
Dorothy Livesay's Poetry of Desire (Turnstone, 1994). By Nadine McInnis.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Interview" "Galiano"