by George J. Dance

Raymond Knister

Raymond Knister (1899-1932). Courtesy Find a Grave.

Raymond Knister
Born John Raymond Knister
May 27, 1899
Ruscom [Station], Ontario
Died August 29, 1932 (aged 33)
Stoney Point, Ontario
Occupation writer
Nationality Canada Canadian
Citizenship British subject
Alma mater University of Toronto, Iowa State University
Notable award(s) Graphic Publishers' Canadian Novel prize
Spouse(s) Myrtle (Gamble) (1901-1995)
Children Imogen Givens (1930-2010)

John Raymond Knister (May 27, 1899 - Aug 29, 1932) was a Canadian poet, novelist, short story writer, columnist, and reviewer.[1]



Knister was "known primarily for his realistic narratives set in rural Canada.... Knister was a highly respected member of the Canadian literary community during the 1920s and early 1930s, and recent criticism has acknowledged him as a pioneer in establishing a distinctively modern voice in Canadian literature."[1]

Youth and educationEdit

Knister was born at Ruscom (now part of Lakeshore), Ontario, near Windsor.[2]

He attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto,[2] but had to drop out after catching pneumonia.[3] He worked on his father's farm until 1923.[4]


In 1919 Knister began writing and publishing stories and poems about Canadian farm life. He worked in 1922 and 1923 as a book reviewer for the Windsor Border Cities Star and the Detroit Free Press.[1]

He moved to Iowa in 1923,[1] to become associate editor of literary magazine The Midland ("the most important magazine America had produced," according to H.L. Mencken)[5] in Iowa City, Iowa, for a year.[1] During the same time he took courses in creative writing at Iowa State University.[3]

By 1924 Knister was a taxi driver in Chicago, as well as a reviewer for Poetry magazine and the Chicago Evening Post.[4]

Knister had work published in the Paris literary magazine This Quarter in 1925.[5]

"In 1926 he moved to Toronto, where he freelanced; his work appeared in the Toronto Star Weekly and Saturday Night."[4] In Toronto he became acquainted with writers Morley Callaghan, Mazo de la Roche, Merrill Denison, and Charles G.D. Roberts.[1]

In 1926, Knister put together a collection of nature poetry, Windfalls for Cider. Toronto's Ryerson Press accepted the book for publication, but later had to cancel because of the company's finances.[6]

Knister married Myrtle Gamble in 1927. They had a daughter, Imogen, born in 1930.[1]

In 1928, Knister edited the anthology Canadian Short Stories.[7] The Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada (2002) calls the book a "trend-setting anthology."[6]

Knister published his debut novel, White Narcissus, in 1929.[2] The book is still in print as part of McClelland & Stewart's New Canadian Library series of classic Canadian literature.[3]

Knister was fascinated with John Keats, the 19th century English Romantic poet who had died young. He accumulated "letters and stacks of books about Keats," according to his daughter, and enrolled his wife as a research assistant to help him go through it all. "Apparently, she was to use her reading time on this only, and he frowned upon her spending time reading women's magazines." The Knisters spent 8 months researching Keats's life: the result was a 200,000-word, 700 page non-fiction novel, My Star Predominant.[8]

In 1931, Knister moved to Montreal, Quebec, where he became acquainted with the poets of the Montreal Group.[1] Knister and Montreal Group member Leo Kennedy began planning an anthology, similar to Knister's Canadian Short Stories, of Canadian modernist poetry (an idea that eventually resulted in the landmark New Provinces in 1936).[6] Knister also got to know poet Dorothy Livesay and novelist Frederick Philip Grove.[1]

Grove read My Star Predominant, and encouraged Knister to enter the manuscript in the Graphic Publishers' Canadian Novel contest.[4] (Knister's daughter later said that her mother had encouraged him to enter the novel.) Knister cut the book to 120,000 words, mailed it off, and forgot about it.[8] My Star Predominant won the $2,500.00 first prize in the 1931 cross-Canada contest.[4] However, "owing to the failure of the firm of publishers which offered the prize," the novel was not published.[9]

In 1932, Ryerson Press, which had picked up the rights to My Star Predominant, offered Knister a job as an editor. Before he was to begin working there, Knister drowned in a swimming accident on Lake St. Clair[2] while on a picnic with his family.[6] (In a memoir published in the 1949 Collected Poems of Raymond Knister, Livesay maintained that Knister had committed suicide. His wife and daughter strongly disputed that allegation.)[1]

My Star Predominant was published in 1934 in Canada by Ryerson and also in England.

Knister is buried in Port Dover, Ontario. His poem "Change" is inscribed on his tombstone.[8]



Courtesy PoemHunter.

Besides his 4 novels, Knister wrote roughly 100 poems, almost as many short stories and sketches, and dozens of critical works, including essays, editorials, and book reviews.[10] "To his own writing and criticism, Knister brought a mind attuned to new literary developments."[2]


"Farm work provided him with realistic details for his stories and his first novel, White Narcissus (1929)."[2] Set in rural Ontario, "The novel concerns a writer, Richard Milne, who returns home in order to make a final attempt to convince his childhood sweetheart, Ada Lethen, to marry him. Ada feels it is her duty to stay at home because for years, as a consequence of a quarrel, her parents have communicated only through her.... While the novel is usually and justly considered a work of realism, it has also been suggested that it contains elements of romanticism, and that the lyricism of some passages approaches prose-poetry."[4]

In 2006 Black Moss Press published There Was a Mr. Cristi, a previously unknown novel discovered by Knister's daughter, Imogen. In it, Knister tells the tale of a woman who leaves her husband in 1930s Ontario, and moves to Toronto to open a boarding house. "What follows is a fascinating tale of life in the 1930s in a house that is inhabited by all these bizarre characters. In the background is the 'tall and dark and good looking' Mr. Cristi, and we begin to wonder if we will ever come to know him. He is shrouded in mystery as the characters in this rambling old house come alive vividly for us."[10]

"Of Knister's many short stories, probably the best known is â'Mist-green oats', about a young man's break with his life on the family farm. His stories recurrently focus on some form of psychological initiation."[4] For example, "The First Day of Spring," which "dramatizes the moment when an adolescent farmboy moves from imagining love's pleasures to learning about its possible horrors (a baby's murder, or at least a savage accident) and his naiveté gives way to a need for order."[6]

"Knister also wrote novellas. In 'Innocent man' the story of a man's wedding frames the tale of his false arrest and wedding-night spent in a Chicago jail. During the night each prisoner tells the story not of his guilt but of his innocence; the tension between black and white prisoners, and between inmates and guards, threatens to explode in violence. 'Peaches, peaches' is set on a fruit farm; as an overabundant crop of peaches ripens, a young man first encounters sexual politics."[4]


"Knister is now considered one of the first modernist poets in Canada. His poetry, which contains powerful descriptions of nature, is usually associated with the imagist school, although Knister also employed the forms of the prose-poem ('Poisons'), the serial poem ('A row of horse stalls'), and the longer poem ('Corn husking')."[4]

Knister's imagist nature poetry includes "such poems as 'The Hawk,' 'Boy Remembers in the Field,' 'Lake Harvest,' 'A Row of Stalls,' and 'The Plowman,' which vividly depict rural experience and the Canadian landscape. In both his poetry and his fiction Knister presented sharply realistic portrayals of everyday images and events in order to illustrate their exceptional qualities, and communicated these impressions in a conversational language style."[1] Also read the hokku-like "Reverie: The Orchard on the Slope," the metaphysical "Change", and the whimsical "The Quiet Snow."

Poet Anne Burke says of Knister: "Like Edwin Arlington Robinson whom he reviewed as 'A Great Poet of Today' his work is exemplified by simple straightforward stanzas about modern life and aims at the starkness of absolute truth. Note 'Wind's Way,' 'Reply to August,' 'Night Whistling,' 'Moments When I'm Feeling Poems,' 'Autumn Clouds,' and others. The complexity of Knister's work, like that of Robert Frost, has been overlooked because of its surface simplicity, bucolic tone, and emphasis on exactly what the poet felt. Knister on his Ontario farm resembles the adolescent Frost especially A Boy's Will, 1913 and North of Boston, 1914."[5]

In 2003 After Exile, the 1st reprint of Knister's verse in over 20 years, was released by Toronto's Exile Editions. The book presents dozens of poems never before in book form, plus 30 new poems, and selected prose pieces and letters.[11]


Knister's poetry was anthologized in the Penguin Book of Canadian Verse.

Knister's daughter, Imogen Givens, wrote a 5,000-word memoir of him, "Raymond Knister: Man or myth?". The memoir, which made extensive use of her mother's diary, was published in the journal Essays on Canadian Writing (No. 16, Fall-Winter 1979-80).[8]

In 2007, Alberta poet Micheline Mayler published Full Depth: The Raymond Knister poems, an account of Knister's life and death written as a series of poems.[12]



  • Collected Poems (edited by Dorothy Livesay). Toronto, Ryerson, 1949.
  • Windfalls for Cider: Poems of Raymond Knister (edited by Joy Kuropatwa). Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, 1983.
  • After Exile: A Raymond Knister poetry reader (compiled by Gregory Betts). Toronto: Exile Editions, 2003.
  • Boy Remembers in the Field. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, 2006.


  • Youth Goes West: A play in one act. Boston: 1928.


  • White Narcissus: A novel. London: Cape, 1929; New York: Harcourt Brace, 1929; Toronto: Macmillan, 1929.
  • My Star Predominant. London: Andrew Melrose, 1934; Toronto: Ryerson, 1934.
  • There Was a Mr. Cristi. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, 2006. ISBN 0-88753-414-7
  • Hackman's Night / Taxi Driver. Windsor: Black Moss Press, 2007.
  • Soil in Smoke (unpublished)[13]
  • Turning Loam (unpublished)[13]

Short fictionEdit

  • Selected Stories of Raymond Knister (edited by Michael Gnarowski). Ottawa. University of Ottawa Press, 1972.
  • The First Day of Spring: Stories and other prose. Toronto and Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 1976. ISBN 0-8020-2069-0, ISBN 0-8020-6198-2
  • Grapes: A short story. Windsor, ON: Black Moss, 2006.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Poems, Stories and Essays (edited by David Arnason). Montreal: Bellrock Press, 1975.


  • Canadian Short Stories. Toronto: Macmillan, 1928; Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[14]

Poems by Raymond KnisterEdit

David Hier - Two Songs on Poems by Raymond Knister (2016)

David Hier - Two Songs on Poems by Raymond Knister (2016)

  1. Change

See alsoEdit


  • Raymond Knister: An annotated bibliography (edited by Anne Burke). Downsview, ON: ECW Press, 1981.


  • The Raymond Knister papers (compiled by Bruce Whiteman). Hamilton, ON: Mills Memorial Library, McMaster University, 1981.[15]
  • Raymond Knister collection at the Victoria University Library, University of Toronto


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 "Raymond Knister 1899-1932," Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Gale Cengage, 1995., Web, Apr. 1, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Peter Stevens, "Knister, Raymond," Canadian Encyclopedia, (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 1144
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Author Spotlight: Raymond Knister," McClelland & Stewart,, Web, Apr. 1, 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Joy Kuropatwa, "Raymond Knister biography," Encyclopedia of Literature, 8119,, Web, Apr. 1, 2011
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Anne Burke, Introduction to "Some Annotated Letters of A.J.M. Smith and Raymond Knister," Canadian Poetry: Studies/Documents/Reviews #11 (Fall/Winter 1982), Canadian Poetry, UWO, Web, Apr. 3, 2011.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 W.H. New, "Knister, John Raymond," Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002, 586. Google Books, Web, Apr. 1, 2011
  7. "Knister, Raymond (1899-1932), Representative Poetry Online, Web, Apr. 1, 2011
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Carol Steedman, "Author's life marked by glory, tragedy," Brantford Expositor, Article ID# 1243485. Web, Apr. 1, 2011.
  9. "Knister, Raymond," Encyclopedia of Canada (Toronto: University Associates, 1948), III, 346.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Raymond Knister," Black Moss Press, Web, Apr. 1, 2011.
  11. Raymond Knister, After Exile, (ISBN 1-55096-575-1, Toronto: Exile, 2003), Web, Apr. 2, 2011
  12. "Full Depth: The Raymond Knister Poems,'" Wolzak and Wynn, Web, Apr. 3, 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Raymond Knister," Online Guide to Writing in Canada,, Web, Apr. 1, 2011.
  14. Search results = au:Raymond Knister, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Oct. 25, 2014.
  15. Search results: Raymond Knister, Open Library. Web, May 9, 2011.

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