William Wrightson Eustace Ross (June 14, 1894 – August 26, 1966) was a Canadian geophysicist and poet. He was the first published poet in Canada to write Imagist poetry, and later the first to write surrealist verse, both of which have led some to call him "the first modern Canadian poet.
Ross was born in Peterborough, Ontario, to Ralph and Nellie Creighton Ross. He grew up in Pembroke, Ontario. He studied geophysics at the University of Toronto., supporting his studies with summer work on geological surveys in Northern Ontario.
Ross served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I as a private in the signal corps. On his return, he worked until his retirement as a geophysicist at the Dominion Magnetic Observatory at Agincourt, Ontario (now part of Toronto). On June 3, 1924, he married Mary Lowrey, "the well-known journalist." They had two children, Mary Loretto and Nancy Helen. The family bought a house on Delaware Ave. in Toronto, where Ross lived for the rest of his life.
Ross began writing poetry in or around 1923. His earliest works "are written in free verse and reflect a knowledge of both imagism and Japanese poetry." In 1925 Ross developed the 'laconic' as a distinctly Canadian verse form, "one that would be 'native' and yet not 'free verse,' one that would be unrhymed and yet definitely a 'form.'"
One night in April 1928, after an evening's discussion of Canadian nationalism among friends, Ross wrote "practically all" of his most famous work, "North." "It never 'clicked' so well before or since as that night in 1928," he later wrote."North" was a series of laconics based on Ross's memories of his summers in Northern Ontario years earlier. Ross submitted some of its poems to Harriet Moore's Chicago magazine Poetry and to Marianne Moore's magazine The Dial, and was published in both.
In 1930 Ross published a book of Laconics, privately and only under the initials 'E.R.'. ("North" was the first section of the book.) Ross mailed his own review copies to periodicals that he respected. He received "an admiring review by Marianne Moore (Poetry 35, 1931)",
Ross's next book, in 1932, was a volume of Sonnets. It was meant as a companion volume to Laconics, the subject matter of the sonnets "mirroring the subject matter and imagery of the modernist poems" in the earlier book. Once again, the book was published privately, and signed only 'E.R.'. "After Sonnets, a work that he considered a failed book, Ross's disdain for publication increased."
In the 1930s Ross translated work by the surrealist Max Jacob. He also wrote prose poems influenced by Jacob and Franz Kafka, some of which were published in New Directions in Prose & Poetry for 1937. "His work in this period incorporates elements of automatic writing, transcendentalism, mysticism, and archetypal imagery." The above were the first published prose poems written in Canada.
Ralph Gustafson included Ross's work in his 1942 Anthology of Canadian Verse, bringing his works before a large reading public in Canada for the first time. By then, though, Ross had ceased to write new poetry. Through the next two decades he "revised and polished poems begun much earlier and experimented with some new poetry." He "confined his often brilliant verse-parodies to his letters and with the exception of Margaret Avison generally disliked the younger poets beginning to publish in the 'fifties.
In 1944 Ross wrote an article in the Canadian Forum, "On Canadian Poetry," as part of the ongoing nationalist/cosmopolitan debate, calling for a poetry that is "distinctly located" in a geographic "locale."
Ross contributed poems "sporadically to literary periodicals and anthologies until his death in 1966. Most of what he published after 1930 was solicited by anthologists or magazine editors. Critic Barry Callaghan suggests that Ross wrote 'only when strenuously urged by an anthologist or literature student.'" Urging by poet Raymond Souster resulted in previously unpublished poetry in the mimeographed collection Experiment 1923-29, published in 1956 by Souster's Contact Press, at which time Ross began to be recognized as Canada's first Imagist poet. However, "Ross felt this collection misrepresented him in its emphasis on his imagist work." Later encouragement by Callaghan led to Ross's composing new poetry included in the posthumously published Shapes and Sounds (1968). Shapes and sounds is a selection of Ross's poems edited by Souster and John Robert Colombo, with a memoir by Callaghan.