of Poets & Pioneers

About the Book:

of Poets & Pioneers is essentially my grandfather’s life from start to finish, with no twists or turns along the way. It begins with some of my great grandfather’s work, and then journeys through Grandfather’s childhood, his time in England and his immigration to Manitoba, Canada. It continues with stories about my dad, homesteading, and the challenges the family faced during the Depression and World War II. It concludes with my story, and acknowledges my grandfather’s writings as the compass and inspiration for my own work.

I believe this book will inspire and empower anyone seeking to confront the odds in their own lives. It is suitable for teens to seniors, and particularly those interested in early Manitoba history, as well as the people who set down roots upon which others have built their lives.

of Poets & Pioneers is mostly a Canadian experience and an underexplored history of the prairies. It tells of an immigrant’s courage venturing to a new land and embracing a totally new way of life. It shares the enormous challenges he and his family faced while embracing the natural elements in the wilderness of Manitoba. 

And it does all this through both my grandfather’s writings and my own. Four generations of the Massey family are represented in this book, three of which lived and survived on the Manitoba prairies under some especially harsh conditions and built a legacy that endures to this day. 

of Poets & Pioneers is a story of courage, determination, perseverance and forgiveness.

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In his earlier work, Of Pork and Potatoes, Bill Massey described his upbringing in the farming world,
including the special times spent with his grandfather, Will Massey. In his new book, Of Poets and
Pioneers, this relationship is the focus. Part memoir, part family history, and part tribute, told through
prose and poetry, this collection honours a man, a way of life, and the complex beauty that is family.
The book begins with his grandfather’s early life and naval career in England and then traces his arrival
in Canada where he embraced the challenges of farming life. Family relationships and directions are
explored with honesty, understanding, and compassion. As the book continues into the author’s own life
and his relationship with his own grandchildren, there is a strong sense that Will Massey is still a present
force in the life of the family.
The collection contains the writings of Will Massey, framed in a reflective narration by the author, who
at times introduces his own poems to convey this narrative. It concludes with reflections by other
grandchildren of Will Massey, bringing the past into the present, and showing that his influence will
continue into the future. The photos effectively support the text. The cover photo is highly effective –
Will Massey at his typewriter on his eightieth birthday, pipe smoke swirling, the contented but intense
face of the writer at work.
Will Massey documented his thoughts and experiences in narrative essays, and especially, in the form of
poetry. His own father had written poems in a classical vein, but Will Massey’s drew on the honest and
insightful images of one close to family and close to the soil. This is a heritage passed on to his grandson,
the author, whose poetry is in much the same vein. “Give me the farm with its hopes for the morrow,”
Will Massey proclaims in “Down on the Farm”. This truly sums up the essence of farm life; it is hard
work, done in the hopes of a future yield. Bill later writes of waiting out a sudden rain against the
window box of the old cabin, feeling in retrospect, that he sat comforted on his grandmother’s knee.
The sense of connection is strong in the poems of grandfather and grandson.
The treatment the author received from his own father is sensitively worked; he sees into the trauma his
father endured in the war, and recognizes the moments deer hunting as the only times his father could
return to what was – before the horrors of his war.
In the poems of both generations, there are moments of intense insight. A special one for me is “The
End” by Will Massey, an intense reflection on the end he sees for his own writing, set against the end he
sees in humanity’s future. Another favourite, in a different vein, is Bill Massey’s “Her Soft Lovely Hair”, a
touching tribute to his wife Dorothy.
As I put the book down, I feel the connection of the generations in the author’s family, the heritage and
continuing presence of a very special grandfather, and a future being born from that heritage. I am
moved to reflect on my own family history and heritage, and celebrate those who give us the
foundations. Thank you, Bill, for this beautiful collection; this is a treasure. I highly recommend this one,

Anne Smith-Nochasak