A poet-friend of mine, Susan Myra Gregory of Monterey, sister of the novelist Jackson Gregory, asked me to write a preface for a little collection of her verse which is being brought out in Southern California. She has a real lyric talent, of the true feminine Sapphic type, and I was glad to do the preface—an odd interlude in the writing of my Antarean novelette.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 10 Dec 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 190
Susan Myra Gregory was 46 years old when her small 40-page book of poems was published, with a card cover, by the Troubadour Press in San Diego. She had worked for many years as a teacher of English and journalism at Analy high school and Monterey high school. Gregory provided some of the local color to John Steinbeck, who set novel Tortilla Flat (1935) in Monterey and dedicated it to her. There are few references to her in Smith’s published letters, but it seems likely that, as with many California poets, Susan Myra Gregory may have met Clark Ashton Smith through his mentor George Sterling, or possibly when Smith made one of his trips down from Auburn to Carmel. Her brother Jackson Gregory, an author of popular westerns, whose wife Lotus McGlashan Gregory had bought a few of Clark Ashton Smith’s drawings some years before (The Shadow of the Unattained 200).
Whatever the extent of their relationship, it was obviously enough of a relationship for Smith to gladly write an introduction to her poetry collection.
It is easy to see why Smith would enjoy Gregory’s poetry. Poems such as “Tonight,” “Necromancy,” and “Orpheus’ Song to Eurydice” touch on some of his favorite themes, and his introduction struck enough of a chord with one contemporary reviewer to quotes liberally from it.
if she is more Classical and less cosmic or macabre in her scope than either Sterling or Smith, her poems smack of the fantastic verse which Arkham House would publish in volumes such as Fire and Sleet and Candlelight (1961). “Dream” and “Sleep” might not have been out of place in the pages of Weird Tales, and indeed several of these poems are reprinted from various magazines and journals.
From a strictly commercial standpoint, the book is a bit of a trifle, and has a certain vanity-press air, although it was published as part of a series of ten booklets by modern poets. Classic poems dedicated to Sappho had less cachet to the general public during the interwar years, though no doubt H. P. Lovecraft or Samuel Loveman, both dedicated Classicists, would have appreciated the beauty of lines like:
No, the “lost songs of Sappho” are not lost;
Only ye seek afar for something near.
Though no doubt Lovecraft would have tsk’d at the use of archaic English diction in this instance, Clark Ashton Smith’s edict that “it seems impossible that such poetry as hers will not always have its lovers” is true, or at least it should be. For the sentiments are sweet, the language is soft, and lines such as “Beauty so keen is like a two-edged sword” deserve to be mumbled through the lips of some trenchcoat-clad detective in a Noir film.
Susan Myra Gregory’s poetic career did not end with this book; she had several poems published in Singing Years: The Sonoma County Anthology of Poetry and Prose (1933), but what further contact she had with Clark Ashton Smith is unclear. She died in 1939.
Shadows of Wings has been scanned and is available here.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).