152 University Ave.
Kingston, Ont.
July 19, 1951

Dear Miss Webb:

My apologies for the delay in answering your letter but it had to be re-addressed from Toronto to Queen's University where I am giving a Course in the Summer Session.

My first book Newfoundland Verse was published by the Ryerson Press 1923. I had been writing several years submitting poems to various Canadian and English magazines and Lorne Pierce suggested the publication of a collection, mainly sea poems. I was fortunate in having a number of lyrics and narratives printed in the London Mercury and the Manchester Guardian as well as in the Canadian periodicals like the Bookman, the Saturday Night and the University Quarterlies; fortunate too, in that Professor Alexander of the University of Toronto who was compiling a High School anthology of verse, decided to include the Ice Floes in that collection. Hence the Ryerson Press Editor thought he would take the risk.

The volume sold only moderately well, taking two years to exhaust an Edition of one thousand copies. This was followed by The Witches' Brew, a Bacchanalian fantasy which was published first in England by Selwyn and Blount, to whom I was introduced by Professor George Gordon of Oxford and Sir John Squire of the London Mercury. Five hundred copies were printed and John Austen, a London artist did the illustrations. The book did not sell very fast but the Macmillans of Canada under Mr Hugh Eayrs became interested and bought out the unsold copies and then published under their own imprint a Canadian Edition. Eayrs also went over to the Ryerson Press and negotiated for the copyright of Newfoundland Verse, taking over about two hundred copies not yet sold. This was the beginning of my connection with Macmillans who published all my work afterwards.

The next publication was Titans 1926 – two poems, The Cachalot and The Great Feud. The former was printed in the Canadian Forum just after it was written, the latter being too long for a periodical appearance. Titans also was slow selling: it didn't reach a second edition.

The next was The Iron Door, a personal ode in memory of my mother. It had a trade edition of five hundred and a special one of a hundred copies. It took two years to sell out. Then the Macmillans issued a small edition – Verses of the Sea – which was taken up by some of the High Schools.

But my first break came with The Roosevelt and the Antinoe, a narrative of a sea rescue. The American Macmillans brought out their own edition while the English House took the Canadian plates. Approximately three thousand were sold. In the meantime several anthologies included poems – short lyrics and one long extract from the Roosevelt, the burial service. The Titanic followed with a sale of one thousand in two years – slow going for a time. Likewise Many Moods (a collection of shorter verses) and the Fable of the Goats, each one thousand copies.

I had now grown accustomed to a one-edition frame of mind. By selling out, barely selling out, the Macmillans neither made nor lost, and certainly I had abandoned all intention of purchasing a ticket for a Miami vacation. All I needed was a book that would break the jinx of a single edition. It came with Brébeuf and His Brethren which struck five editions in Canada and the United States. Dunkirk also had five. They Are Returning went back to one, and likewise Behind the Log.

The radio was now helping circulation. Brébeuf was set to music by Healey Willan, was put on the air twice and once in Massey Hall Toronto under Sir Ernest MacMillan with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Mendelsohn Choir.

Anthologies and school texts became a great medium for publicity, and last year the Titanic was printed in full along with The Ancient Mariner and the Death of Arthur for matriculation students in Ontario. It took nearly twenty years to get the feel of a royalty cheque that would buy a new washing machine for my wife and mend some plaster cracks in the ceiling. Miami still must wait.

I am now engaged on a long poem in blank verse, the subject being the building of the First Canadian Transcontinental. The title is Towards the Last Spike. I hope to have it finished by November of this year in time for publication next spring. I have my fingers crossed and Macmillans have crossed both fingers and toes. At any rate it is great fun whether it turns out to be a flop or a success.

If there is anything further you would like to know, please feel free to write me. I shall be at the above address till August 14, after that Victoria College, Toronto.

Here's wishing you every success,

Yours sincerely,
E.J. Pratt.

Some further information may be gathered from E.K. Brown's book On Canadian Poetry (Ryerson's).


first book
This paragraph is full of inaccuracies. In 1922, Arthur Phelps had suggested to Lorne Pierce that a collection of Pratt's poems be published. None of his poems were published in London Mercury, the Manchester Guardian, Saturday Night, or any university quarterly before Newfoundland Verse appeared in 1923. 'The Ice-Floes' was published in Alexander's Shorter Poems (Toronto: Timothy Eaton Co., 1924).

letter
She had sent him a long circular letter addressed to a number of Canadian poets, requesting data for 'a short study on the ins and outs of poetry publication in Canada during the past 20 years or so.'

one thousand copies
This is an accurate statement, though his publisher's contract for Newfoundland Verse had called for a first printing of 2500 copies.


He has omitted reference to Still Life (1943) and the Canadian and American editions of Complete Poems (1944 and 1945 respectively).

for matriculation students
The booklet was entitled Poems for Senior Students (1950).