Raymond Souster Souster, (Holmes) Raymond (Vol. 14)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Souster, (Holmes) Raymond 1921–

A Canadian poet and editor, Souster is a "poet of Toronto" and celebrates that city and its people in unsophisticated, epigrammatic verse. There is a compassionate tone in much of Souster's poetry, and his focus is often on social concerns: the despair of the underprivileged and the problems of political systems and urban society. His work bears the influence of the Imagist school of poetry, particularly the work of William Carlos Williams. Souster has also written two novels under the pseudonyms of John Holmes and Raymond Holmes. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

Louis Dudek

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The] permanent ground of Souster's poetry is human deprivation and loss. Unlike other poets who find their dream of happiness and fulfilment in the future, or even in the present, he looks backward to the past…. Happiness is "a lost but recovered joy"; and all are "groping for something lost they will never find / in the drab of the street, in the dirt, in the smoke, in the noise." The imagery of youth usually conveys this meaning of loss in Souster's poetry, as in "Young Girls", where it is also an image of sexual promise; or in the poem remembering boyhood—

        It's nothing but desire to live again, fresh from the
        beginning like a child.

Some of his most moving and beautiful poems turn on this theme…. [Joy] is often the achieved reward of Souster's patient realistic vision, so that retrospective nostalgia is only a more defeated direction in an idealism that ends in measure and acceptance.

The sense of loss and deprivation, the erosion of time, the cruel impersonality and brutality of the city are nevertheless the groundwork of these poems. Nor is it a private and personal condition limited to the poet. The bulk of Souster's poetry deals with other people—the people of the city—and these are truly observed, not faceless democratic symbols as for example in Carl Sandburg. They are actual individuals (not that characterization is any aim in poetry); their pain is real, and their "wasted bitter years" are specific as their deaths and entrances. A personal predicament is projected outward in this human landscape, and at the same time a truth about the general life is revealed (since the individual is our source of knowledge about the universal, the mass, and a single imagination, if it has poetic scope, sympathy, the gift of extension, becomes representative for mankind). (pp. 201-02)

Souster's verdict on modern life is not very cheerful. Whether there is truth in [his] picture of waste, vanity, frustration, poverty and desperation, we may allow the reader to judge. The poetry is not a sociological survey filled with ideological jargon, nor is it a political language about power or prestige or money; Souster's depiction of modern life is humble, human, and close to the satisfactions and discomforts of the average man. He shows people in their intimate real moments of despair, love, and pleasure. And the first of these is the ground-tone of his canvas of life.

Images of escape, liberation, total self-realization on a plane of pure fantasy, will be found in Souster's poetry. These are important, but they should not distract us from the main direction of his development…. Souster never takes the risk of total abandon, he merely observes and participates by observation, in a wishful fantasy…. (pp. 202-03)

To accept the limitations of actuality, however, is Souster's primary road of poetic development. Here the fact—at its worst—must be attested in the face of human loss and failure—"It must be like this"—so that we can go on and endure…. In contrast to Souster's early poems, which expressed their disillusion by means of invective, [his] middle poems are often starkly objective and non-committal. Since they, too, turn on a conflict between the actual and something lost, irony and ripe humour often come into play; in fact, if the balance falls heavily on the side of...

(The entire section is 3,858 words.)