Arthur James Marshall Smith, more often referred to as A J M Smith, was a 20th century Canadian poet, anthologist and critic. Although a naturalised American he spent most of his life in Eastern Canada. He had a short spell in Britain where he attended the University of Edinburgh but the major part of his further education was at McGill University in Montreal. In 1925, as a graduate student, he had the distinction, along with F R Scott, of being responsible for the McGill Fortnightly Review. This was a unique venture in that it was the first Canadian publication that offered critical literary opinion and also the first to publish modernist poetry.
A J M Smith was born on the 8th November 1902 in Montreal. The family lived in England for two years during the period 1918-20. Arthur studied hard for the Cambridge Local Examinations but did not do well. He passed in English and History but failed all his other subjects. This was a time though that awakened his interest in contemporary poetry, with a particular leaning towards the imagists and the First World War poets. He spent much time in the bookshop known as the “citadel of Georgian poetry”, owned by Harold Monroe.
He started studying at McGill on his return to Montreal in 1921 and, a few years later, collaborated on the formation of the McGill Fortnightly Review which was known as “an independent journal of literature, the arts, and student affairs edited and published by a group of undergraduates at McGill University.” Smith was writing his own poetry while able to influence new writers such as Leo Kennedy, Leon Edel and A M Klein. He was an active and enthusiastic member of the so-called “Montreal Group” of writers and artists.
He went on to work on further publications, such as New Provinces and then, in 1943, he published his first collection of poems, called News of the Phoenix which won the Governor General’s Award. He followed this up with A Book of Canadian Poetry. Many said that, in this, Smith’s work established a “separate national voice”. In recognition for time spent studying at the University of Edinburgh he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1931.
By 1973 he had written a great deal more poetry along with editing anthologies of poems. He published Towards a View of Canadian Letters which was a collection of critical essays. He had been teaching at Michigan State University since 1936 and, when he retired in 1972, the A J M Smith Award was inaugurated, a prize for any Canadian poet who has produced notable work.
One of Arthur Smith’s best poems was written in 1929 and titled The Lonely Land. It was typical of his work which focused on the natural beauty and ruggedness of his homeland, Canada. In 1978 it was set to music by the Canadian composer and musician Violet Archer. Here is the poem:
Arthur James Marshall Smith died on the 21st November 1980, aged 78.