A Magic Prison: Letters from Edward Lacey


160 pages
ISBN 0-88750-992-4
DDC C811'.54





Edited by David Helwig
Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


Edward Lacey, known for a time as “Canada’s first homosexual
poet,” attended the University of Toronto in the late 1950s. There he
met fellow writers David Helwig, the editor of this book, and Henry
Beissel, now a professor at Concordia and the recipient of the letters
that make up the volume.

In his most productive years, stretching from the 1960s to the late
1980s, Lacey traveled around the world. During his travels, he wrote
poetry and penetrating reviews of new Canadian poetry

(primarily for Edge, which Beissel edited). At the same time, he
prepared critically acclaimed translations from Spanish, Portuguese, and
French texts, all the while reporting back to Beissel, more or less
annually, on his latest activities. In 1991, he was run over by a car in
Bangkok; the accident left him crippled. Today, he leads an anonymous
existence in a Toronto rooming house.

In a personal and beautifully written introduction, Beissel describes
his relationship with Lacey and provides a context for the poet’s
correspondence. The letters—the first is dated October 1964—are
filled with eccentricities of style that make for difficult reading.
(Part of the problem may be Lacey’s intimate relationship with the
bottle.) This caveat aside, the letters reflect a fascinating, creative
mind—the mind of a tortured but acutely self-aware man who was unable
to escape from the prison of unhappiness he had built for himself; in
the end, it is impossible not to share in the terrible pain that his
awful fate induced in his friends.


Lacey, Edward., “A Magic Prison: Letters from Edward Lacey,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30986.