This is a very special issue of Big Pond Rumours. Many of my personal acquaintances will not be surprised by the decision to create it. With the editorial assistance of Julie McNeill - who members of Phoenix know as a person who ensures they remain in contact through her annual summer garden parties - Big Pond Rumours has taken on a very large project… hence, this is a double issue. We have collected poems from the authors belonging to a Toronto-based poetry workshop called Phoenix during the period between 1976 and 1986. Other members of that group, such as Heather Roberts Cadsby, have served an important role in helping us to collect both work and photos from people who can no longer help us with those details.
The members of Phoenix had begun meeting as the Bohemian Poets Embassy at Harbourfront, but in 1976 we were suddenly told we could no longer gather in that space. We had a choice: disband or move. In addition, we were informed the name ‘Bohemian Embassy’ was copyrighted to Don Cullen, so we would have to find a new name. We debated and decided to continue gathering, which meant we now had to decide on our name. It didn’t take long before we were thinking of ourselves as Phoenix, rising from the ashes of our beloved writing workshop. Yet, no one could know then how important the struggle to maintain our workshop would become.
At the time, Phoenix was led by George Miller, and he was a gentle, democratic sort of leader. Other people in the group, such as Brian Purdy and Eric Layman, also got a chance to test out their leadership skills from time to time by leading the workshop. We met in several places before we finally ended up at Holy Trinity Church behind the Eaton’s Square for the long-run. By that time, we needed two spaces; one for the workshop and another to bring our ideal of poetry as a spoken art to the stage through the Axle Tree Coffeehouse. Heather remembers that David Joseph Freedman suggested the name, based on a line of a poem by T.S. Eliot. There was a private room upstairs for our workshop and downstairs was a beautiful yellow room with windows, entry from the courtyard, a small kitchen with a long bar, and lots of tables and chairs.