by George J. Dance

Raymond Souster

Raymond Souster (1921-2012). Photo by Henry Fox. Courtesy Library and Archives Canada PA-.

Raymond Souster
Born Raymond Holmes Souster
January 15, 1921
Toronto, Ontario
Died October 19, 2012 (aged 91)
Occupation banker
Citizenship Canada Canadian
Alma mater Hillhead High School, Toronto
Notable work(s) The Colour of the Times (1964)
Notable award(s) Governor General's Award, Order of Canada
Spouse(s) Rosalia Souster

Raymond Holmes Souster OC (January 15, 1921 - October 19, 2012) was a Canadian poet whose writing career spanned more than 70 years.[1]



Souster published more than 50 volumes of his own poems, and edited or co-edited a dozen volumes of others' poetry. A resident of Toronto all of his life, he has been called that city's "most loved poet".[2]

Robert Fulford wrote of Souster in 1998: "You can't read the history of Canadian poetry without encountering him, yet somehow he remains obscure. His legendary shyness has created, over five decades, a curious form of anonymity: he's at once omnipresent and invisible."[3]


Born in Toronto, Ontario, Souster lived his entire life in that city. He joined the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in 1939 and (apart from 4 years' service in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II) worked there until retiring in 1985.[1]

Souster's 1st published poem appeared in First Statement, the little magazine founded by John Sutherland in Montreal in 1942. In 1943, while still in the air force, Souster and 2 friends launched their own little poetry magazine, Direction.[4] In 1944 he placed 21 poems in the anthology Unit of Five, alongside poetry by Louis Dudek, Ronald Hambleton, P.K. Page, and James Wreford.[5]

With Dudek and Irving Layton, Souster founded Contact magazine and Contact Press in 1952. The magazine lasted only until 1954, but Contact Press put out books until 1967. Its initial book was Cerberus, an anthology of poetry by the trio. All 3 would be prolific writers on Contact Press over the next decade.

In 1956 Contact Press published Souster's Selected Poems, edited by Dudek, which brought Souster his earliest serious critical attention.[6]

In 1956 Souster brought out under the Contact Press imprint a small booklet, Experiment 1923-29, of modernist poetry that Canadian poet W.W.E. Ross had written in the 1920s, which saved Ross's work from obscurity.[7]

Souster also helped new writers. He edited two anthologies for Contact, Poets 56 in 1956, and New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Poetry in 1966. "Souster brought several young poets to Contact Press, and gave an important boost to the new poetry with New Wave Canada."[5] The young poets included Margaret Atwood, whose earliest book with Contact, The Circle Game, would win the Governor General's Award in 1966.[2]

Michael Ondaatje has written of Souster: "He brought many of us to the surface and we owe him everything."[3]

Souster was a founder of the League of Canadian Poets in 1966, and its earliest president, from 1967 to 1972.[2]

The early 1960s were a prolific and distinguished period for Souster, culminating in his own Governor General's Award win in 1964 for his Collected Poems, The Colour of the Times. "In the late 1960s he embarked on the revision of his early poetry with a view to its reissue," a project that resulted in a Selected Poems in 1972, and the first four volumes of a now ten-volume Collected Poems in 1980.[6]

Souster has also written fiction under the pseudonyms of "Raymond Holmes" and "John Holmes",[5] for which he has drawn on his Air Force experience.[6]


Souster is a chronicler of his birth city. Fulford wrote that "many of us think of him first as the poet-in-chief of Toronto. A city comes to life only after writers have invented it, and Souster has been among Toronto's inventors, adding a layer of poetic reality to the abstractions of asphalt, glass, and brick. His Toronto poems work like photographs in the Henri Cartier-Bresson tradition, inscribing small pieces of space and time on the memory, catching a moment as it flies."[3]

Souster was the Canadian poet of his generation most overtly interested in, and influenced by, the contemporary American scene. He was first attracted to Henry Miller, and later entered into lasting friendships and correspondence with Robert Creeley and Cid Corman.[6]


Souster won the Governor General's Award for English language poetry or drama in 1964 for The Colour of the Times.[5]

He was awarded a Centennial Medal in 1967.[5]

Hanging In (1979) won the City of Toronto Book Award in 1980.[8]

Raymond Souster was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995.[8] The Order of Canada website says of him: "One of Canada's most important, widely-read and enduring poets, he has been a vital force for the renewal of poetry since the 1940s. His poems describe life in Toronto, ordinary people and the daily events, feelings and experiences of modern city living. A co-founder of the Canadian League of Poets, he has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to several generations of poets while promoting Canadian literature among students of all ages."[2]

Souster's Uptown Downtown (2006) was nominated for the 2007 City of Toronto Book Award.

The League of Canadian Poets awards an annual Raymond Souster Award for the best book of poetry published by a League member in the preceding year.[9]



  • Unit of Five: Louis Dudek, Ronald Hambleton, P.K. Page, Raymond Souster, James Wreford (edited by Ronald Hambleton). Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1944.
  • When We Are Young. Montreal: First Statement, 1945.
  • Go To Sleep, World. Toronto: Ryerson, 1947.
  • City Hall Street. Toronto: Ryerson, 1951.
  • Cerberus (with Irving Layton and Louis Dudek). Toronto: Contact Press, 1952.
  • Shake Hands with the Hangman: Poems, 1940-52 Toronto: Contact Press, 1953.
  • A Dream That Is Dying. Toronto: Contact Press, 1954.
  • Walking Death. Toronto: Contact Press, 1954.
  • For What Time Slays. Toronto: Contact Press, 1955.
  • The Selected Poems (edited by Louis Dudek). Toronto: Contact Press, 1956.
  • Crepe-Hanger's Carnival: Selected poems, 1955-58 Toronto: Contact Press, 1958.
  • A Local Pride. Toronto: Contact Press, 1962.
  • Place of Meeting: Poems, 1958-1960 (with lithographs by Michael Snow). Isaacs Gallery / Gallery Editions II, 1962.
  • The Colour of the Times. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1964.
  • Ten Elephants on Yonge Street. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1965.
  • As Is. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Lost and Found: Uncollected poems. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1968.
  • So Far, So Good: Poems, 1938-1968. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1969.
  • The Years. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1971.
  • Selected Poems (edited by Michael Maklem). Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1972.
  • The Colour of the Times / Ten Elephants on Yonge Street. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973.
  • Change-Up: New poems. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1974.
  • Double Header: As Is / Lost & Found. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1975.
  • Rain-Check. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1975.
  • To Hell with Poetry. Burton, Ohio, 1976.
  • Extra Innings: New poems. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1977.
  • Hanging In: New poems. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1979.
  • Going the Distance. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1983.
  • Jubilee of Death: The raid on Dieppe. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1984.
  • Queen City. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1984.
  • Into This Dark Earth (with James Deahl). Toronto: Unfinished Monument Press, 1985.
  • It Takes All Kinds. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1986.
  • The Eyes of Love. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1987.
  • Asking for More. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1988.
  • Running Out the Clock. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1991.
  • Old Bank Notes. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1993.
  • Riding the Long Black Horse. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1993.
  • No Sad Songs Wanted Here. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1995.
  • Close to Home. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1996.
  • Of Time & Toronto. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 2000.
  • Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 2002.
  • Twenty-three New Poems. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 2003.
  • Down to Earth Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2006.
  • Wondrous Wobbly World: Poems for the new millennium Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2006.
  • Uptown Downtown Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2006.
  • Collected Poems of Raymond Souster (10 volumes), Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1980-2004. (covering 1940 - 2000)


  • The Winter of Time. Toronto 1949 (as "Raymond Holmes"). Toronto: Export Publishing Enterprises, 1949.[10]
  • On Target (as "John Holmes"). Village Bookstore Press, 1972.
  • From Hell to Breakfast (with Douglas Alcorn). Toronto: Intruder Press, 1980.


  • Flight of the Roller-Coaster: Poems for younger readers. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1985.



  • Direction, 1943-1946.[5]
  • Enterprise, 1948. [6]
  • Contact, 1952-1954.[5]
  • Combustion., 1957-1960.[4]


  • W.W.E. Ross, Experiment, 1923-1929 Toronto: Contact Press, 1956.[7]
  • Poets 56: Ten younger English-Canadians. Toronto: Contact Press, 1956.
  • New Wave Canada: The new explosion in Canadian poetry. Toronto: Contact Press, 1966.
  • New Poems of the Seventies (with Douglas Lochhead). Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1970.
  • Made in Canada (with Douglas Lochhead). Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1970.
  • Generation Now (with Richard Woollatt). Longman: 1970.
  • Sights and Sounds (with Richard Woollatt). Toronto: Macmillan, 1973.
  • 100 Poems of Nineteenth Century Canada (with Douglas Lochhead). Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1974.
  •  These Loved, These Hated Lands (with Richard Woollatt). Toronto: Doubleday of Canada, 1975.
  • Vapour and Blue: Souster selects Campbell: the poetry of William Wilfred Campbell. Paget Press, 1978.
  •  Poems of a Snow-Eyed Country (with Richard Woollatt). Don Mills, ON: Academic Press, 1980.
  •  Powassan's Drum: Selected poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (with Douglas Lochhead). Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1985.
  • Windflower: Poems Of Bliss Carman (with Douglas Lochhead). Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1985. ISBN 978-0919662070

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the University of Toronto.[2]

Audio / videoEdit

Death by Streetcar by Raymond Souster

Death by Streetcar by Raymond Souster

See alsoEdit


  • Louis Dudek, "Groundhog Among the Stars: The poetry of Raymond Souster," Canadian Literature, 22 (1964):34-49
  • Hugh Cook, "Development in the Early Poetry of Raymond Souster," Studies in Canadian Literature, 3 (1978):113-118
  • Francis Mansbridge, "A Delicate Balance: Craft in Raymond Souster's Poetry," Canadian Poetry: Studies/Documents/Reviews, 4 (1979):45-51
  • Frank Davey, Louis Dudek & Raymond Souster (1980)
  • Bruce Whiteman, Collected Poems of Raymond Souster: Bibliography (1984)
  • "Raymond Souster," Canadian Writers and Their Works (edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley) 5 (1985), 237-276.
  • Gary Geddes, "A Cursed and Singular Blessing," Canadian Literature 54 (1972), 27-36


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Toronto poet Raymond Souster dies at 91," Arts and Entertainment, CBC News, October 22, 2012., Web, Oct. 22, 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Selected Poetry of Raymond Souster, Representative Poetry Online,, Web, May 7, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Robert Fulford, "The wonderful enigma of Raymond Souster", Globe & Mail, Jun. 24, 1998,, Web, May 7, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Harry Hugh Cook, "The Poetry of Raymond Souster." (.pdf), Simon Fraser University, 1968 (thesis).
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Michael Gnarowski, "Souster, Raymond Holmes," Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 2047-2048.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Michael Gnarowski, "Raymond Holmes Souster Biography," Encyclopedia of Literature, 10061,, Web, May 7, 2001.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "W.W.E. Ross Biography," Dictionary of Literary Biography,, Web, Apr. 8, 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Raymond Souster," Online Guide to Writing in Canada,, Web, May 7, 2011.
  9. Raymond Souster Award, League of Canadian Poets,, Web, Oct. 22, 2012.
  10. Search results = au:Raymond Souster, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 28, 2015.

External linksEdit

Audio / video
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