I did not post this last September, for personal reasons. Bea Rowley—R.H. Grenville—died on the 4th of September, 2017, in Victoria, BC. I received the news from her step-son, Charles, and daughter, Cathy, both of whom have been very helpful on our project. I have visited both Cathy in Toronto and Charles here in the Lower Mainland, and feel connected to their family through our work together. My sorrow was deepened in that Bea’s poetry spoke to me in a way that most of our poets’ works do not. So last year, I felt I could not write a encomium that appropriately expressed the complex combination of professional interest and personal appreciation that I have for Bea, her poetry, and her family. By October, it seemed too late, so here, on the first anniversary of her death, is my inadequate acknowledgement of Bea’s passing, and of our gratitude to her and her family.
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One of the interesting aspects of our project is that, because our dates of inclusion end at 1950, most of our authors are no longer with us. It is very special, then, to be able to speak to one of them on the telephone, as I have done with Beatrice Rowley back in the summer of 2011. At that time, she was rather flabbergasted that anyone would still be interested in her poetry. I like to think that over the past few years—as indeed emails with her step-son Charles and daughter Cathy have suggested—online interest in her poetry has helped her to understand the enduring legacy good poetry such as hers leaves.
“They say I’m a celebrity!” she grinningly told Cathy, who was with her on her 100th birthday in July. This was in response to letters from “the big shots,” as Cathy calls them, who wrote to congratulate her on reaching her centenary: the Queen, the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, the Lieutenant-Governor… As well as letters from these eminent people, Cathy read her mother poems from The Fountain in the Square, Bea’s only published book of poetry. It is not only in reaching 100 that Bea will be remembered, but for her contribution to Canadian literature, now made increasingly accessible
“I do not fear the dark, for what is night?
Only the shell that holds the pearl of light. (“Night Piece,” by RH Grenville)
Her work retains all those lovely qualities of genuine poetry that the moderns persist in rejecting: I mean poetry thought, clarity, imagery that we recognize as authentic, music, meaning, poignance, and a certain heart-breaking fathoming of the wonder and mystery of human life.” Archibald Rutledge, Foreword to Fountain in the Square