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Morley Callaghan (1903-1990)

Morley Callaghan

The one who’d win the Nobel Prize for Lit’-
rature once rode the clanking subway when
she spotted Morley Callaghan, alone
and looking frail. She went over to sit
by him. I’m Alice M. We meet again!
Are you quite well? Are you on your way home?
He tipped his hat. Matter of fact, the doc
is where I’m heading.—I’ll come with you then,
she said, a writer famed to one renowned.
I’ve nowhere else to be till two o-clock.
This chance to talk, she thought, won’t come again.
Here’s someone who sold poetry to Pound
and, boxing, once knocked Hemingway out cold!
He’ll think me kind, she hoped—old Morley, hah!
He looked her in the eye. You call yourself
a writer? Alice stammered, I-I’ve been told…
The feisty man of letters muttered, Bah!
Despite his aches and pains, he squared himself.
Would you like to know what I don’t much like
about your little stories? And Alice,
good Canadian, said, yes, please, thank you.
And thus, two writers known for wit and bite,
came to know each other better sans malice,
gifting us this story, I’m sure is true!

Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature

Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature

This wonderful anecdote about two of Canada’s pillars of literature was the first reason I had to buy Douglas Gibson’s book, Stories About Storytellers. It features a new introduction by our very own Alice Munro, since she won the Nobel Prize in 2013. At the time of the subway incident, sometime in the mid ‘80s, she’d already won the Governor General’s Award three times.

Morley Callaghan, though, had been a legend way longer. A novelist, short story writer, playwright, TV and radio personality, he’d been part of the great gathering of writers in Paris in 1929. A member of the Order of Canada, he had won every book award our country had to offer. His spirit, I hope, you can glean from the poem. I love that, for Morley—and for Alice, too—it’s all about the craft.

There’s another happy piece to this tale. Three generations on, Callaghans still carry the torch of literature for Canada and the world as publishers of Exile: The Literary Quarterly, thriving since 1972. The first Exile magazine had only four issues in the late 1920s. These included two poems by a then unknown 25-year-old Canadian named Morley Callaghan. The publisher was Ezra Pound.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014