Anne Szumigalski

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Anne Szumigalski
BornAnne Howard Davis
3 January 1922
London, England
Died22 April 1999
Notable awardsSaskatchewan Order of Merit, Governor General's Award
SpouseJan Szumigalski

Anne Szumigalski, SOM (b. 3 January 1922 in London, England, d. 22 April 1999) was a Canadian poet.


She was born Anne Howard Davis in London, England, and grew up mostly in a Hampshire village. She served with the Red Cross as a medical auxiliary officer and interpreter during World War II, following British Army forces in 1944-5 across parts of newly liberated Europe. In 1946, she married Jan Szumigalski, (d. 1985) a former officer in the Polish Army, and lived with him in north Wales before immigrating to Canada in 1951. They had four children: Kate (born 1946), Elizabeth (1947), Tony (1961) and Mark (1963). She spent the rest of her life in Saskatchewan, first in the remote Big Muddy valley, then in Saskatoon.[1]

Writing career[edit]

Most of her fifteen books are collections of poetry, but she also wrote a memoir, The Voice, the Word, the Text (1990) as well as Z., a play about the Holocaust. Her first book, Woman Reading in Bath (1974), was published by Doubleday in New York. Thereafter she made the deliberate choice to publish her work with Canadian presses. She helped found the Saskatchewan Writers Guild and the literary journal Grain, and served as a mentor to many younger writers.

Szumigalski combined a love of the Canadian Prairies with a passion for language, a faith in poetry and an intimate knowledge of literary tradition. She was a great admirer of William Blake, some of whose visionary qualities appear in her own work.

Her finest work is collected in a big volume of selected poems, On Glassy Wings (Coteau, 1997). In 2006 her literary executor Mark Abley edited a volume of her posthumous poems, When Earth Leaps Up. A final posthumous book is expected in 2010.

The Manitoba Writers Guild has set up a scholarship in her name.[2] The Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry is named for her.[3] Her papers are held at the University of Regina,[4] and University of Saskatchewan.[5]


In 1989, she was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. Her 1995 collection Voice, featuring paintings by Marie Elyse St. George, won the Governor General's Award for English language poetry.[6] She also received many other honours over the years.[7]



  • A Woman Clothed in Words, (forthcoming from Coteau in 2010).
  • The word, the voice, the text: the life of a writer. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1990 ISBN 978-0-920079-65-2



  • A Peeled Wand: Selected Poems of Anne Szumigalski Winnipeg: Signature Editions, 2011. ISBN 978-1-897109-47-2 (posthumous poems)
  • When Earth Leaps Up. London: Brick Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1-894078-52-8 (posthumous poems)
  • Sermons on stones: words and images. Saskatoon: Hagios Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-9682256-0-8
  • On glassy wings: poems new & selected. Regina: Coteau Books, 1997. ISBN 978-1-55050-114-8
  • Voice. with Marie Elyse St. George. Regina: Coteau Books, 1995. ISBN 978-1-55050-089-9
  • Why couldn't you see blue? Caroline Heath. edited by Anne Szumigalski. Regina: Coteau Books, 1994. ISBN 978-1-55050-064-6
  • Rapture of the deep. paintings by G.N. Louise Jonasson. Regina: Coteau Books, 1991. ISBN 978-1-55050-023-3
  • Journey/journée. with Terrence Heath and drawings and wood engravings by Jim Westergard. Red Deer, Alta.: Red Deer College Press, 1988. ISBN 978-0-88995-029-0
  • Dogstones: selected and new poems. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1986. ISBN 978-0-920079-21-8
  • Heading out: the new Saskatchewan poets. edited by Don Kerr and Anne Szumigalski. Coteau Books, ISBN 978-0-919926-58-5
  • Jaw, Sask.: Coteau Books, 1986.
  • Instar: poems and stories. Red Deer, Alta.: RDC Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-88995-024-5
  • Risks: a poem. illustrations by Jim Westergard. Red Deer, Alta.: RDC Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-88995-023-8
  • Doctrine of signatures. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1983. ISBN 978-0-920079-00-3
  • A game of angels. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1980. ISBN 978-0-88801-044-5
  • Wild man's butte: a stereophonic poem. with Terrence Heath. Moose Jaw, Sask.: Coteau Books, 1979.
  • Thunder Creek Pub. Co-operative, 1979.
  • Woman reading in bath: poems. Toronto: Doubleday Canada; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 978-0-385-02743-4


Z is thus, in my estimation, a major dramatic achievement. Szumigalski’s integration

of poetry, dance and drama is so effective that she has managed to put an experience on stage which not only makes you think about the horrors of the past but also about the callousness and dangers of the present. She sounds a wake-up bell, telling us to stay


I think that Anne Szumigalski deserves to be heard, sounded, because she represents the highest achievement of the English-Canadian mystical oracular poet, perhaps equaled only by Gwendolyn MacEwen. Too, her defence of spoken word aligns her with the only poetic movement in Canada that is fully of the people, by the people, for the people. As a poet of mystical bent, she is a bridge between the Blake mode and its strongest Anglo-Canadian practitioners, helping again to reinforce the non-academic side of our mainly academically-oriented verse. Her fascination with print and art highlights the possibility for other "illuminated books" in our culture, while her passionate religious philosophy connects her to such epochal figures as Louis Riel. As well, her union of dance and poetry may reinvigorate our drama, while her status as immigrant aligns her with that strong proportion of Canadian literature created by foreign-born writers. Finally, as a woman whose feminism is both complex and natural, she opens up understandings of relationships beyond gender clichés. She is a woman British Prairie oracular poet who belongs transformatively to the entire English-speaking world. Poets, read her.[9]

It's a strange feeling to be giving the Anne Szumigalski Lecture for the League of Canadian Poets. Anne Szumigalski and I were connected with the same magazine, long, long ago—in the early days of Grain – but even longer ago than that, I was present at the formation of the League of Canadian Poets, way back in the mid-'60s[10]


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