Essays

Double Life

Daniel Francis

The poet John Glassco lived in disguise, masquerading as a member of the gentry while writing pornography and reinventing his past.

As he approached his sixtieth birthday John Glassco might reasonably have thought that his life was a complete failure. He was a writer who had published almost nothing but two thin volumes of poetry and a couple of books of pseudonymous pornography. Living in isolation on a farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, he was unknown outside a small circle of Montreal poets. His wife was violently ill with schizophrenia and was starving herself to death. So deep was his despair that he was making plans to commit suicide once she had died.

Then, suddenly, his fortunes turned. Several literary projects that had been simmering for years reached a boil at the same time. In a single year, 197, he published a bestselling memoir and an anthology of French-Canadian poetry in translation, not to mention another volume of pornography. What’s more, he met and fell in love with the woman who would become his second wife. And he followed up this string of successes the following year by publishing his Selected Poems, which beat out the collected poems of the much better-known Irving Layton for the Governor General’s Award. A decade earlier Glassco had confided to his journal: “I want the world to recognize me as something I suspect I am not, a man of real talent.” Now, much to his own surprise and at an age most people think of retirement, he had achieved the overnight success for which he had been struggling his entire life.

I encountered Glassco’s name for the first time when I was an aspiring young literato writing bad short stories in Vancouver and experiencing the conventional infatuation with the romance of expatriatism. Paris in the twenties was my dreamland. I read every

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Daniel Francis

Daniel Francis is a writer and historian. He is the author of two dozen books, including The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (Arsenal Pulp Press). He lives in North Vancouver. Read more of his work at danielfrancis.ca.

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