Ralph Gustafson - The Man and his Craft (1909 – 1995)

For six decades Ralph Gustafson practiced his craft and shared his love of language with successive generations of poets. He wrote over two dozen books of poetry, a collection of essays and a book of short stories. He compiled the first anthology of Canadian poetry, published by Penguin in 1942, and was a music critic for over a decade in New York city before returning to Canada in 1963. His book Fire on Stone, published in 1974, won the Governor-General’s Award for poetry and Configurations at Midnight received the 1993 QSPELL A.M. Klein Poetry Prize. He is the subject of a book, A Poetics of Place, by Dermot McCarthy, published by McGill-Queen’s Press, and a film entitled Winter Prophecies, produced by The National Film Board of Canada. His poetry readings were recorded by The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. in 1977 and 1993.

Ralph was a member of The Order of Canada, co-founder and life member of the League of Canadian Poets, and a life member of Keble College, Oxford. He was the recipient of The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, honorary degrees from Bishop’s, Mount Allison and York Universities, the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, the Poetry Award from The Quebec Society for the Promotion of English Language Literature, and The University Award of Merit from Bishop’s University. He died in May 1995.

While he worried about poetry’s place in the world, he continued to grow in his art, to write with clarity and efficiency poems filled with wisdom. In spite of fad and fashion, Ralph Gustafson sang with the best of contemporary poets, in an exultant voice. He was, after all, a master poet who heard and recorded his music with astonishing beauty and grace. Speaking of his posthumously published Visions Fugitive in a review in the Globe and Mail, Judith Fitzgerald observed “it is the heart, after all, that makes one eloquent,”

“All this uproar under the stars only Art makes sense of.”

Ralph Gustafson