Public Poetry celebrates
F. R. Scott
Local poets read Scott’s works on 119th anniversary of his birth
By Byron Toben
Frank R, Scott, lawyer, social activist and, yes, poet would have turned 119 last August 1. He died at age 85 back in 1985.
To honour the occasion, Public Poetry, a loosely organized collection of local poets assembled by J.J. (Jack) Locke, met at Westmount’s Centre Greene on that date to commemorate his memory by reading some of his poems.
Scott, born in Quebec City, parlayed his Bishop’s University education into a Rhodes Scholarship in England and law studies at McGill, becoming a law professor and eventually Dean. Throughout this, he found time to co-found the first Canadian social democratic party, the CCF, eventually succeeded by today’s NDP.
He (Scott) managed to win two Governor general awards, one for his poetry and one for his non-fiction.
He won the Ronccarelli case against the Quebec Duplessis government, which had prosecuted the man for being a Jehovah’s Witness.
He also managed to publish eight volumes of poetry and fourteen of non-fiction as well as translating from French two volumes of Quebec poets.
He managed to win two Governor general awards, one for his poetry and one for his non-fiction.
Key among the reciters at the event was NFB documentary filmmaker Don Winkler who had known Scott well, having made two films about him.
Another key reciter was Beryl Wajsman, editor of The Suburban weekly.
Full Disclosure: I am a fan of prose poetry which Scott somewhat exemplifies, having devoured Don Marquis (of Archie and Mehitabel fame), Billy Collins (US poet laureate 2001-03), and Ogden Nash (New Yorker magazine improbable rhymer), Al Purdy (Canadian icon) and of course, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (still going strong at 99 years of age).
I myself arranged a tribute to Ferlinghetti at La Chapelle theatre some years ago, featuring some of the top readers in Montreal.
Not all poets are good readers, even of their own work. Dylan Thomas, of course, is the gold standard of good poetry readers.
From a theatrical standpoint, I felt that the aforesaid misters Winkler and Wajsman the best of the volunteer poet-readers.
The other six were all clear enough and sufficient, and to be congratulated for volunteering for a good cause on a hot, steamy night. Mr Locke managed to arrange a book bag for each of them as remuneration for their kind efforts. They were Thomas William (Bill) Evans, Julien Feldman, Helaine Kliger, Ehab Lotayef, Ryan Ruddick and Sandra Sjollema.
The evening ended with a non-alcoholic toast to Mr Scott, slices of a delicious birthday honey cake and some inspired “shmoozing”.
For info or future events, contact email@example.com
Feature image: still from The Poetry of F.R. Scott – Film, Literature & the New World Order
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.