VIEWS

‘Why I won’t let a U.S. branch plant publish my poetry’

AL PURDY January 1 1971
VIEWS

‘Why I won’t let a U.S. branch plant publish my poetry’

AL PURDY January 1 1971

‘Why I won’t let a U.S. branch plant publish my poetry’

VIEWS

AL PURDY

THERE ARE FEW Canadian publishers of school textbooks left. Most books published for Canadian schoolchildren are the products of branch plants whose ownership is outside the country. “Well,” I hear you say, “so what? That makes no difference to me, none at all. Who cares who publishes what? It’s all boring nonsense anyway.”

But some people do care, and it does make a difference. Here’s how the branch-plant publisher operates. The editor is chosen by U.S. executives or else the editor’s superiors are

AI Purdy is a tough-minded Canadian who makes his living as a poet and editor. He’s an ardent Canadian nationalist. When the United Church of Canada announced the sale of Ryerson Press to an American company in November, Purdy at once moved to switch the publishing rights to his latest work, Storm Warning, to a Canadian-owned firm.

chosen by foreign interests. And whether this man, this editor, is Canadian or not makes little difference. His superiors indicate to him what sort of policies they want implemented. And he carries them out or gets fired.

Here’s one branch-plant attitude an editor might translate into action — or lack of action: “Let's not publish this book. It’s obviously unfriendly to the U.S. We want books that will make people like us.” And another attitude: “Not this book either. It has a lot of Canadian material, but it isn’t sensational enough. The writing is about country quiet, whereas we believe the world-future is in cities, so let’s concentrate on urban life.” And yet again: “We published five million copies of The Guns Of Public School No. 67 in the U.S. last year, and they’re all sold but half a million. Now we’re bringing out a new edition for the U.S. school system. But that leftover half million copies of The Guns oughta be good enough for Canada. They’re a little behind the times anyway, and won’t even know there’s a new edition out. And our man on the Board of Education will see it isn't mentioned.”

Why should a U.S. branch plant in Canada bother with Canadian writers or separate books for Canadian schools? Answer: They don’t, not

after the initial hubbub over a sellout has died down. The public knows little and notices practically nothing about the gradual change of U.S. content to the American way of Life (and Death), because such changes take place in the minds of children, which are practically a closed world to adults. You, the reader of this piece, what do you really know about what happens in the mind of your 14-year-old son? Or your eight-year-old daughter? Or your university-age teen-ager? Whatever you do know, it's not likely you’ve ever more than glanced at their textbooks.

Here’s a glance at my own school days in verse. “Along the line of

smoky hills / The crimson forest stands” by Wilfred Campbell — what a lousy poem! And about Canada: “O Child of Nations, giant-limbed/Who stand’st among the nations now” by Charles G. D. Roberts — what absolute hogwash! Or: “A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malemute Saloon/The kid that handles the music box was hitting a ragtime tune” by Robert Service — now that’s more like it, eh? But lamentably, it wasn’t included in my school books.

In 1968, I edited a selection by poets (mostly over 30) called Fifteen Winds, published by Ryerson Press, which included that poem by Service. Being an optimist, perhaps, I’ve been working on another text for Canadian schools called Storm Warning. It was to have been published by Ryerson Press — at least it was until the United Church announced the sale of Ryerson to McGraw-Hill of New York on November 2. I say no; Storm Warning will not be published by an American branch plant. As I write, the sale of Ryerson to McGraw-Hill is not yet final, but I stick to my principle. At some point in your life you have to say no, even if it costs you. But I don’t believe it will cost me, I don’t believe I’ll lose a damn thing.

The new book, Storm Warning, is about Brenda Fleet’s Quebec, Bill Howell’s Halifax, Sid Marty’s Alberta mountain country, Dale Ziereth’s Ontario. (It’s not at all like the backward colony I learned about in my school texts.) It’s also about Dennis Lee’s Upper Canada and the rebellion of 1837, after William Lyon Mackenzie, the typical Canadian here, turned tail and ran away from Sheriff Jarvis’ men near the site of the now Maple Leaf Gardens on Church Street:

The British want the country For the empire and the view.

The Yankees want the country for A Yankee barbecue.

The Compact want the country For their merrie green domain. They’ll all play finders-keepers till Mackenzie comes again. □

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