Welcome to this cyberplace, set up as a space for news and reviews of A Gentleman of Pleasure and occasional jottings about John Glassco. Five years have now passed since publication, and I've moved on to other projects, but I'm leaving this up with the thought that those drawn to Glassco's writing will find something of interest.

29 November 2013

Byron's Goose: John Glassco's One Great Play

Canadian artistic directors!

A half-century ago, your predecessors received the above. I've taken the liberty of transcribing the text:
       Comedy in 3 Acts. 2 sets. Cast of 12 (4 principals). Standard playing time. Scene: Vienna and Ravenna in 1822.
       Byron's final tragicomic relationship with his last mistress 19-year-old Teresa Guiccioli, her eccentric 70-year-old husband, her father and brother (amateur revolutionaries), and his friend Trelawny. His ambitions as lover of Teresa, as would-be liberator of Italy; his involvement in revolutionary, family and social intrigue, climaxed by his cutting himself free of the entanglements of his background and leaving for Greece.
       The play is tightly knit, with rapid action and with dialogue sparkling with Byron's own special brand of wit, overall tone is one of sophisticated comedy relieved by sentiment and action. Gives a new and sympathetic view of Byron as an aging but far from superannuated figure of romance; of Terasa as a blend of charm, devotion and duplicity; of Count Guiccioli as a fantastic and disreputable old man selling his polite consent to adultery; of Trelawny as an ultra-Byronic hero, adventurous, gloomy, dauntless, a little absurd.
       Has great possibilities for eventual adaptation as a musical in the same style as 'Camelot'.
       Complete script will be mailed on request.
John Glassco,
John Glassco considered Byron's Goose his "one great play". Daytime soaps and radio drama aside, I've had no experience writing scripts, so won't presume to judge. That said, I am confident in deeming it superior to The Augean Stable, a very loose adaptation of Harriet Marwood, Governess, the only other work Glassco composed for the stage.

Mr Glassco having passed from this sphere in 1981, requests to Foster will be met with frustration. Interested parties are advised to contact Library and Archives Canada, which holds the script in its John Glassco fonds.

Antoni Cimolino, do not repeat Michael Langham's error!

Cross-posted at The Dusty Bookcase

18 November 2013

John Glassco, Book Thief

Pettes Memorial Library, Knowlton, Quebec
Hugely flattered to hear you stole my book. This is fame. I used to steal a lot of books myself, mostly from libraries: my method was to look at the little card in the back envelope and if it hadn’t been taken out more than twice in the past year I would figure I needed it more than the public. 
— John Glassco, letter to Al Purdy, 18 September 1964
John Glassco, that self-proclaimed "great practitioner of deceit," made a very fine book thief. His personal library, most of which was purchased by Queen's University, includes volumes lifted from the Westmount Public Library and the Royal Edward Laurentian Hospital.

Queen's is not alone in having profited from Glassco's ill-gotten gains. Twenty-three years ago, I purchased what I thought to be his copy of Irving Layton's Balls for a One-Armed Juggler (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1963).

A couple of decades passed before I happened to notice this on the top edge:

Glassco dated the copy April 1963, the month of publication. It is presented here as evidence that he was not above breaking the rule described in his letter to Purdy:

Two summer's ago, I purchased another of Glassco's books, Henry de Montherlant's Perish in Their Pride [Les Célibataires] (New York: Knopf, 1936), only to notice this after the sale:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
The Laurentian Sanitarium became the Royal Edward Laurentian Hospital, at which Glassco spent a nearly all of 1961 undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. On 3 November of that year he wrote his wife:
Now that I’m getting ready to leave I’m casting a selective eye on the books in the library. There’s just so much stuff here I’d like to opt (organizieren) that no one has ever read or will ever read. But I’d better not: that’s bad medicine. Only two: Robert Elie’s La fin des songes (there are three copies, all untouched) and Madame Ellis’ book on Garneau. They’ll none of them be missed, as Gilbert says. Anyway, I’d like to give them a good home.
How's that for gratitude?

Trivia: The book Purdy pilfered was The Deficit Made Flesh (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1958). The victim was a Montreal bookseller.

Plug: Both Glassco letters quoted feature in The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by yours truly.

Cross-posted at The Dusty Bookcase.

23 October 2013

Steven W. Beattie on The Heart Accepts It All

Steven W. Beattie earns the distinction of publishing the first review of The Heart Accepts It All:
Glassco's letters are addressed to a veritable who's who of Canadian and international literati: the Margaret's (Atwood and Laurence), Northrop Frye, F.R. Scott, Irving Layton, Malcolm Cowley, and Leon Edel, among others. Glassco enjoys caricaturing people based on their physical appearances, and can be vicious in his assessments (referring to a documentary about Leonard Cohen, he expresses shock that the National Film Board "was induced to collaborate on the indulgence of a 5th-rate poet's megalomania"). Morley Callaghan, in particular, is subject of repeated salvos.
     And yet the correspondence also displays the workings of an adroit and capable literary mind (his assessments of the Marquis de Sade and D.H. Lawrence are cogent and persuasive), and a man with a keen understanding of the business side of publishing. There is a certain amount of the quotidian details and repetition one might expect from a collection of personal letters (Busby points out that none of the entries has been edited), but overall the book provides an interesting glimpse into the private world of one of Canada's most enigmatic literary figures.
More in the November issue of Quill & Quire!

12 October 2013

The Foster Poetry Conference at Fifty

Irving Layton, Milton Wilson, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel and Aviva Layton,
Foster Poetry Conference,, October 1963
Off to the Eastern Townships this morning to celebrate the publication of The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco:
Brome Lake Books
265 E Knowlton Rd
Knowlton, QC
12 October 2013, 2:00 pm
And what better day than today? 'Twas fifty years ago – 12 October 1963 – that Glassco's Foster Poetry Conference opened at the Glen Mountain Ski Chalet. With Glassco, F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, Irving Layton, Louis Dudek, Ralph Gustafson, Eldon Grier, D. G. Jones, Leonard Cohen, Leonard Angel, Kenneth Hetrz, Henry Moscowitz and Seymour Mayne, it remains the greatest gathering of Quebec's English-language poets.

Three days of poetry, comradeship and drink, even the most subdued reports paint it as a great success. Scott was so fired by the experience that he pressured Glassco to edit the proceedings for McGill University Press.

Glassco agreed to take on the project, but soon came to recognize that the contents failed to capture anything of the exuberant nature of the conference. The late night conversations, the raw exchanges, the drinking – almost all that had been informal, spontaneous, and dynamic had been left unrecorded. What's more he found work on the book a "horrible bore." On 4 May 1964, he wrote Jean Le Moyne: "I shall never be an editor again: this is the work for professionals who have secretaries, electric typewriters, photocopy machines, the co-ordinative faculty and endless patience: but the book is now ready for press."

When the galleys arrived Glassco found the quality so poor that the November 1964 publication date had to be scratched. For months the anthology hung over his head as he awaited, with dread, the reset galleys. What arrived was much improved and he moved quickly to clear the sheets from his desk. Then, just when his work appeared to be finished, Glassco discovered that he'd been saddled with the task of distributing payments to the twenty contributors. The irritation was only compounded by the small sums. Leonard Cohen received three dollars, barely enough to purchase a copy of the book.

My work in editing Glassco's letters was much more pleasurable.

05 October 2013

The Heart Accepts It All in Knowlton

John Glassco with 'housekeeper' Mary Elizabeth Wilson,
Knowlton, QC, 1940

Join me a week today for the Eastern Townships' launch of
The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco.
The venue?
Knowlton's Brome Lake Books, not two kilometres from Glassco's Windermere, immortalized in 'The White Mansion'.

Everyone welcome!

2:00 pm, Saturday, 12 October 2013 at 2:00 p.m.

Brome Lake Books
264 E Knowlton Rd
Brome Lake, QC

Reception to follow

28 September 2013

John Glassco on the League of Canadian Poets

My present situation vis-à-vis the League of Canadian Poets is frankly selfish: I look on its annual meetings as no more than an opportunity for a free trip to somewhere or other in our broad land. Poets, I think, give so much to the world, and for so little that they’re entitled to this annual junket at the Canada Council’s expense. And I found the last meeting in Fredericton more rewarding for the chance it gave me to wander around that pleasant city than to listen to endless discussions on the subject of a paid Secretary, or Miriam Waddington scolding somebody, or Dr Cogswell expounding his theory of the place of the Sunday poet in our culture. If I get to the next general meeting I fully intend to register, greet a few friends, and disappear – unless there is an important vote to be taken on something really crucial like holding two general meetings every year.
— John Glassco, letter to Henry Beissel, 23 May 1975
A member since the League’s inception in 1966, Glassco was never much of a supporter. He thought the name silly and had from the start fought to make it an exclusive club. The battle was lost. By the League's tenth anniversary membership increased more than ten fold to 160. Published four years later by the League, this "concise guide" lists 197 members.

Glassco believed that the League had been inundated with “sensitive housewives from the Maritimes and the Prairies, all awful, all published at public expense in hideous little chapbooks.” He placed blame on Fred Cogswell and others who had pushed for a more inclusive organization. In an earlier letter to Beissel, Glassco writes:
If I understand Dr Cogswell correctly, his position is that everybody can and should write poetry, not so much in the pursuit of excellence or as a demanding vocation, but as a hobby or even a kind of therapy. This acknowledgement of the plight of the Sunday poet struck me as deeply humanitarian: we all know there is no one so pitiable as the person without talent who aspires to be a poet, and I can think of no one better qualified to represent her or him than Dr Cogswell, as his own work and his many sponsorings [sic] have shown over the years. He deserves the support he receives from these unhappy men and women. But I am troubled to see the league being taken over by them.
Certainly one of the most accomplished of its number, Glassco held his upturned nose in maintaining his membership. He lived just long enough to see his entry in this guide as “John Glasgow”.

Publications like these provide sharp snapshots of time and place, but for practical purposes the web serves best. Visit the League of Canadian Poets website today and you'll find listings for 557 members... and I'm not even counting Student Members, Honorary Members, Life Members and Supporting Members.

Some are friends.

Plug: Both letters feature in The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco.

Crossposted at The Dusty Bookcase.

22 August 2013

Images from the Heart Accepts It All Launch

The editor with his sister and mother.
The editor and his father.
Carmine Starnino, Fraser Sutherland and Mark Abley

19 August 2013

John Glassco in John Willie's Bizarre?

Dear old Bizarre! It was an oasis back in the dreary fifties. Yes, I remember the wonderful photo of Mlle. Polaris, the Queen of the Wasp-waists, in her extraordinary corset, which John Willie unearthed and reprinted. I contributed a letter to his correspondence column. He was a Pioneer. 
– John Glassco, letter to Geoffrey Wagner, 3 December 1968
Just posted over at The Dusty Bookcase, details of my attempt to track down Glassco's Bizarre letter for The Heart Accepts It All, and what I found.

Were J. Foster and J. Glassco of Foster, Quebec one and the same?

The letter is here.

14 August 2013

Ce soir: The Heart Accepts It All



Wednesday, 14 August 2013, 7:30 p.m.

467 Milton Street

22 July 2013

The Heart Accepts It All in the Rural Mail

Copies of The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited and annotated by yours truly, arrived at our home on Friday – brought, appropriately, by the rural mail. Expect to see it in all of our finest bookstores by early next month.

Featured are 147 letters written by Glassco between 1929 and 1980 to family, friends, foes and fellow writers, including:

Rosalie Abella
Bernard Amtmann
Margaret Atwood
Alma Balster
Henry Beissel
Beatrice Bishop
Kay Boyle
Brian Brett
Glendon Brown
Marilyn Bowering
Philip Core
Malcolm Cowley
Viginia Dehn
Louis Dudek
Leon Edel
Marian Engel
Douglas Fetherling
Andrew Field
Sheila Fischman
Hugh Ford
Northrop Frye
Michel Garneau
Gary Geddes
Donna George
Paul J. Gillette
Maurice Girodias
Beatrice Glassco
Elma Glassco
Michael Gnarowski
Gérald Godin
Eldon Grier
Ralph Gustafson
Gilles Hénault
Daryl Hine
Milton Kastilo
Margaret Laurence
Irving Layton
Jean Le Moyne
Sandra Martin
Seymour Mayne
Robert McAlmon
Al Purdy
Stephen Scobie
F.R. Scott
A.J.M. Smith
F.M. Southam
Fraser Sutherland
John Sutherland
Ronald Sutherland
Julian Symons
William Toye
Gael Turnbull
Geoffrey Wagner
George Woodcock

and a transvestite from Chibougamau named Carmen.

The book also features previously unpublished photographs and verse, including "For A.J.M. Smith", written by Glassco on occasion of his friend's seventieth birthday.

My thanks go out again to Carmine Starnino and Simon Dardick, publisher of Véhicule Press, for their good work in making this book possible.

            Scraping the crumbling roadbed of this strife
            With rotting fenceposts and old mortgages
            (No way of living, but a mode of life),
            How sift from death and waste three grains of duty,
            O thoughts that start from scratch and end in a dream
            Of graveyards minding their own business?

            But the heart accepts it all, this honest air
            Lapped in green valleys where accidents will happen!

                                                     — John Glassco, "The Rural Mail"

01 April 2013

The Heart Accepts It All

The first day of National Poetry Month seems a good time to mention my forthcoming book The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco. I've never been much good when it comes to  salesmanship, so will leave the task to publisher Véhicule Press.

From their catalogue:
A brilliant and enigmatic literary figure.
Decades after his death, John Glassco (1909-1981) remains Canada’s most enigmatic literary figure. The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco draws back the curtain on this self-described ‘great practitioner of deceit.’ We see the delight he took in revealing his many literary hoaxes to friends, and the scorn he had for literary fashion. The letters reflect his convictions about literature, other writers and his own talent, while documenting struggles with publishers, pirates and censors. 
    Born into one of Montreal’s wealthiest families, Glassco turned his back on privilege for a life in letters. At age eighteen, having been published in Paris, his voice suddenly went silent. His unexpected return to the literary scene in 1957 coincided with the great flowering of Canadian literature. In the years that followed, he produced a unique body of work that encompasses poetry, memoir, translation, and several bestselling books of pornography. 
    Collected here are the few surviving letters from his youthful adventures in France and three previously unpublished poems. Amongst his correspondents were Maurice Girodias, F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, Ralph Gustafson, Leon Edel and Margaret Atwood.
It's an honour to again find myself associated with this great talent.

Cross-posted at The Dusty Bookcase.

14 January 2013

John Glassco's Personal and Working Library

The new Canadian Notes & Queries – number 86  features my look at John Glassco: A Personal and Working Library, issued in 1982 by Montreal's Word Bookstore. Compiled by Glassco's bibliographer Fraser Sutherland, this cerlox-bound 47-page catalogue offers the poet and pornographer's library en masse:
The Library occupies approximately 29 feet of shelf-space, and comprises 526 books and 88 periodicals – most of them signed and annotated – as well as hundreds of other printed items, letters, and manuscripts. Editions are usually First. Except for books or periodicals published before 1940, condition is usually Fine. On the rare occasions were pages are missing, these are indicated. The price of JOHN GLASSCO: A PERSONAL AND WORKING LIBRARY is Can$9500.
That's right, $9500. And yet only one institution stepped forward. And it wasn't McGill.

The library was purchased by Queen's University and is now housed at Special Collections at the W.D. Jordan Library. The following catalogue pages provide some indication as to the collection's contents.

Cross-posted, in part, at The Dusty Bookcase.