As Though Life Mattered

As Though Life Mattered: Leo Kennedy's Story

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    As Though Life Mattered
    Book Description:

    Born of Irish immigrant stock, Kennedy earned his own living from the age of fourteen after his formal education ended at Grade Six. In a circle of privilege, he was the outsider. Despite this, his intelligence, imagination, and wit, coupled with an intense love of language and learning, opened many doors. Kennedy's choices in religion, friendship, marriage, and business were deeply influenced by the same yearning for justice and defence of humane values that informed his verse, stories, and essays. A successfully published poet at the age of 26 (The Shrouding, 1933), Kennedy soon left his literary world for that of the emerging business of advertising in order to support his family during the Depression.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6448-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Patricia Morley
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 The Myth and the Memories
    (pp. 3-10)

    We met in Montreal in 1977. At that time Leo Kennedy was a short, portly, grey-haired man with an infectious laugh and a most irreverent sense of humour. His conversation sparkled with wit, while his observations were fresh, original, often funny. We quickly became friends. Kennedy knew that I knew his venerable place in Canada’s literary history, and he asked if I would write his biography. I agreed. It was his language that snared me - his language, his vitality, and his cheerful defiance of fate.

    Over the next decade, during the years of his retirement in Montreal, I played...

  6. 2 Liverpool, Where It All Began
    (pp. 11-25)

    John Leo Kennedy was born in Liverpool in 1907, northeast of the Pier Head and not far from the docks that line the entrance to the Mersey River on its northern flank. On a clear day the sound of the bells of St Nicholas, the waterfront parish church, would have reached Kirkdale Vale. To live within the sound of these bells meant that Kennedy qualified, in the lively local dialect, as a genuine Dickey Sam.Scousers, Liverpudlians, Dicky Sams:it was Liverpool slang that first tuned Kennedy’s ears to language as a source of pleasure.

    The old port city at...

  7. 3 Growing Up Irish, 1912–26
    (pp. 26-42)

    For the next twenty-five years, from his arrival in Canada at the age of five, Leo belonged to Montreal. He came to love the city, and hate it too. He would always consider ithome.With its Victorian. ghosts, its vivid mixture of peoples, its dirt and poverty and vitality, Montreal was a port city not unlike the one where his life had begun. In Montreal as in Liverpool, the Irish were making their mark.

    By the time the writer left for the United States in the late 1930s, the Kennedy family had occupied more than a half-dozen residences. In...

  8. 4 The Young Turks: The Mood of the Times, 1925-29
    (pp. 43-48)

    The period of Kennedy’s friendship with the young McGill intellectuals and his contribution to the periodicals of the time have been well documented by literary historians. However, the lack of a biographical perspective has led many literary critics to accept at face value the Montrealers’ attacks on the Canadian poets who preceded them. The blunt truth of the matter is this: the young men at McGill knew next to nothing of Canada’s late nineteenth-century poets or of the Canadian literary tradition they dubbed “Victorian.” The dregs of that tradition, read in contemporary anthologies, convinced the group that change was long...

  9. 5 The Group, 1925-29
    (pp. 49-69)

    They were halcyon years, the late twenties, perhaps the happiest of Leo’s life. Impudent, carefree years, when the world was his oyster and everything seemed possible. After marriage in 1929 and the financial crash that followed hard on this commitment, reality closed in on the young man and pressure became a way of life. Half a century would pass before that relentless grip would be loosened.

    Working for his father left Leo with plenty of time and energy to write and to further his education. The Oliver sketches provide solid evidence that he was proceeding rapidly on both fronts. He...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 6 Marriage, Money, and Verse, 1929-34
    (pp. 70-90)

    The marriage of “Christian Poet and Hebrew Maid” immortalized by Leo’s friend Abe Klein took place in the early fall of 1929, after a whirlwind courtship. Miriam Carpin was highly intelligent, dynamic and vivacious, but far from conventionally pretty. She had lost an eye in a childhood accident, and her glass eye could be detected by a careful observer. She was a little older than Leo. Her bridgegroom was impulsive, romantic, and in love for the first time. Smitten. That fall his letters were dotted like daisies with “my Miriam,” a touching and endearing phrase. Miriam was a strong-minded woman...

  12. 7 Left-Wing Sympathies, 1934-41
    (pp. 91-110)

    Throughout the 1930s Leo seemed to be drawn inexorably towards the United States. He had chosen advertising as his profession. It followed that his wealthiest clients – the largest agencies, the markets, and the mass media – were all centred south of the border. During his years with the Canadian branch of N.W. Ayer, working primarily on the Ford Motor account, he was located first in Montreal, then in Toronto, and finally in Detroit. His choice of an American woman as his second wife sealed his American destiny. Between 1934 and 1939 Toronto and Detroit were both home, in so far as...

  13. 8 Chicago, 1942-49
    (pp. 111-128)

    This hauntingly beautiful ballad was created out of the magnetic attraction of Esther’s beauty and Leo’s strong sense of human vulnerability. The same concept,memento mori,had helped to shapeThe Shrouding.The poem would prove to be prophetic of their lives, for love and beauty can perish long before death. Like D.H. Lawrence, Leo knew that life in the flesh was beautiful and terrible. With the marriage to Esther, the application for American citizenship, and the move to Chicago, the lure was firmly taken. “This is a curious exile,” Leo had written in his poem for Abe and Bessie...

  14. 9 Minnesota Waters: Surfaces and Depths, 1952-62
    (pp. 129-148)

    In the early summer of 1952 Leo changed jobs again, this time willingly. He was seduced, he said later, by the fishing in Minnesota; on another occasion he claimed that the move had been made “because of the mushrooms.”¹ Minnesota provided his first real exposure to wilderness terrain, and he found it exhilarating.

    Campbell-Mithun was the largest advertising agency in Minneapolis, a firm with some two hundred employees and an annual billing in the range of thirty million dollars. Leo’s salary was reputed among colleagues to be fabulous: “It was whispered he made $20,000 a year ... He was by...

  15. 10 The Norwalk Years: Down to the Wire, 1962-76
    (pp. 149-172)

    Advertising is a profession known for its radical insecurity. A copywriter’s job could hang on a client’s whim or the vagaries of the market. Leo had refused the offer of a stock option in Campbell-Mithun after consulting Esther, who believed that they could not afford it. Leo always felt that the refusal, which carried the implication of lack of trust in the company’s future, had irritated Raymond Mithun. The sudden firing, however, was more likely the result of jealousy, or some furtive resentment. No one who does his or her job well, not to say brilliantly, can fail to make...

  16. 11 Montreal Again: Running for the Last Train, 1976-86
    (pp. 173-194)

    At this critical point in Leo’s life, Patricia Kennedy’s help was crucial. Leo would later credit his daughter-in-law with saving his life.¹ Esther’s battle with premature senility, prior to committal, had spread over five years, but the last three had been a nightmare experience for her caregiver. His world had fallen apart. He was worn out, emotionally drained. One major chore remained, the selling of the Norwalk house and the packing up of its contents. He put two-thirds of the proceeds of the house sale into a fund for Esther’s care, administered by Deborah.

    As Esther’s condition slowly worsened, Leo...

  17. 12 The Californian
    (pp. 195-210)

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s Leo was living in Pasadena, initially in the Mira Monte. This gracious residential hotel of yellow stucco was a three-storey, Spanish-style building that had started life as a private mansion seventy-five years earlier. Leo’s single room, with bath, was on the ground floor overlooking a swimming pool. With considerable ingenuity he had managed to turn his smallish room into a full-scale apartment complete with cooking facilities. The Mira Monte provided him with breakfast only.

    His room decor might be termed Modern Vertical. Like a city developer, Leo saw no reason to waste the...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 211-230)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-238)
  20. Index
    (pp. 239-241)