Confession: this was supposed to be a list of ten books. A nice tidy round number, but it was not a number large enough to contain all the new and noteworthy Canadian poetry titles coming out this spring. 19 really isn't large enough either, which is why we urge you not to limit your selection to the titles below. Our Spring 2015 Poetry Preview is definitely worth a revisit or two!
Un/inhabited, by Jordan Abel
About the book: Un/inhabited questions the use of politically or racially charged language in 91 pulp western novels found on Project Gutenberg. Using a range of techniques, Abel investigates the complex relationship between language and land, including the ways that use and ownership affect both. This art book presents Abel’s practice for the first time in a visual art context.
Why we're taking notice: Abel was awarded the Dorothy Livesay Award and shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for his previous book, The Place of Scraps. Plus the poems in this new book are presented in the context of visual art by Kathleen Ritter.
About the book: Rita Bouvier's third collection of poetry is a response to the highs and lows of life and represents an attempt at restoring order through embracing others, reconciling the traumas caused by the deep scars of history, and soaring beyond life's awkward and painful moments in order to live joyfully. Inspired by the metaphor of a voyageur sustained by song on his journeys up and down the rivers of Northwest Saskatchewan, these "songs for the seasons" draw heavily on images from nature as well as the joys, heartaches and transgressions Bouvier has witnessed and experienced as a Métis woman. Using imagery strongly connected to the natural environment, Bouvier evokes earth's regeneration through the seasons as inspiration for moving forward.
Why we're taking notice: Now, more than ever before, we need to be listening the voices of First Nations and Métis women in Canada. Rita Bouvier is an accomplished educator and writer whose work has been translated into Spanish and German, adapted for film and television and other forms, and her previous two poetry collections have been nominated for several Saskatchewan Book Awards.
Monologue Dogs, by Méira Cook
About the book: Monologue Dogs is a series of contemporary dramatic monologues. Every "voice" has its own imagined rhythm and nuances of poetic speech that are as vibrant, wayward, mournful, errant, or unruly as the characters who speak. Setting the lyric against street argot, archaic language against deflating or ironic feints, metaphors against declarative sentences, the elegiac against the ribald, classical or literary allusions against anachronistic references, these monologues reflect our own disordered subjectivities. In the words of Molly Peacock: "Read her for a fresh, contemporary and knowing sensibility—not to mention an unforgettable sense of humour."
Why we're taking notice: Well, who are we to argue with Molly Peacock? This is Cook's fourth collection with Brick Books (which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year), and she's previously been awarded the Manitoba Book of the Year Award (for her novel, The House on Sugarbush Road) as well as the Walrus Poetry Prize.
Where the words end and my body begins, by Amber Dawn
About the book: Award-winning writer Amber Dawn reveals a gutsy lyrical sensibility in her debut poetry collection: a suite of glosa poems written as an homage to and an interaction with queer poets such as the legendary Gertrude Stein, Christina Rossetti, and Adrienne Rich, as well as up-and-comers like Leah Horlick, Rachel Rose, and Trish Salah. (Glosas, a 15th-century Spanish form, typically open with a quatrain from an existing poem by another writer, followed by four stanzas of ten lines each, and usually end with a line repeated from the opening quatrain.) By doing so, Amber Dawn delves deeper into the themes of trauma, memory, and unblushing sexuality that define her work.
Why we're taking notice: This is the first full-length poetry book by the Lambda Literary and Vancouver Book Award Winner (for How Poetry Saved My Life and Sub Rosa). We're not being groundbreaking here: everybody's taking notice of a new book by Amber Dawn.
The Pemmican Eaters, by Marilyn Dumont
About the book: With a title derived from John A. Macdonald’s moniker for the Métis, The Pemmican Eaters explores Marilyn Dumont’s sense of history as the dynamic present. Combining free verse and metered poems, her latest collection aims to recreate a palpable sense of the Riel Resistance period and evoke the geographical, linguistic/cultural, and political situation of Batoche during this time through the eyes of those who experienced the battles, as well as through the eyes of Gabriel and Madeleine Dumont and Louis Riel.
Why we're taking notice: Dumont's awards include the Gerald Lampert Award and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. Her new book has just been reviewed in The Toronto Star; reviewer Barb Carey called The Pemmican Eaters, "a statement of cultural pride and defiance."
Hillsdale Book, by Gerald Hill
About the book: In this new collection, two-time winner of the Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry Gerald Hill fuses verse, prose, history, photography, and his own life's story to create a uniquely personal document of mid-century life in Regina's Hillsdale suburb, one that peels back placid suburban archetypes to expose the messy, challenging systems churning underneath.
Why we're taking notice: If you can tell a book by its cover, than we're on to something. And former Poet-Laureate Fred Wah calls the book "[a]n intense and fascinating exploration of the layering of thought and feeling about place that goes much deeper than mothballs. This book-collage of poetry is so down to earth."
For Your Own Good, by Leah Horlick
About the book: In the canon of contemporary feminist and lesbian poetry, this book breaks silence. A fictionalized autobiography, the poems in this collection illustrate the narrator's survival of a domestic and sexual violence in a lesbian relationship. There is magic in this work: the symbolism of the Tarot and the roots of Jewish heritage, but also the magic that is at the heart of transformation and survival.
These poems are acutely painful, rooted in singular and firsthand experiences. But Horlick also draws from a legacy of feminist, Jewish and lesbian writers against violence: epigraphs from the works of Adrienne Rich and Minnie Bruce Pratt act as touchstones alongside references to contemporary writers, such as Daphne Gottlieb and Michelle Tea.
Why we're taking notice: Horlick previous book, Riot Lung, was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award. Zoe Whittall writes, "Sometimes it feels as though there are Poems About Important Issues and Good Poems, and the two camps rarely meet. For Your Own Good is a startling combination of the two..."
Crossover, by M. Travis Lane
About the book: M. Travis Lane's poetry has always been diverse: variously serious, silly, melancholy, cheerful, meditative, witty, philosophical, enigmatic, colloquial, intimate, simple, complex. Asked "What kind of poetry do you write? What do you write about?", she has replied, accurately, "all kinds" and "anything"—calling her collections "eclectic miscellanies" and refusing to be nailed down by the critics' need for tidiness. She shifts easily from lyric to monologue to epigram to song to riddle, drawing inspiration equally from the natural world and the world of art and imagination, but she does write, almost always, as if she were addressing the reader, not muttering to herself. Though her concerns are often feminist, environmental, civic, and political, her poems transcend such labels. And no matter what form an individual poem takes, there is something in the voice that makes it instantly recognizable as hers: a distinctive musical cadence, a groundedness in nature (nature not just appreciated but intimately observed, known, named), an immediacy of thought and emotion, a compassionate humanity, a questioning spirit. Crossover, Lane's 15th collection, is a continuation of one poet's exploration of the world and of her inner world, shared with us in the conviction that the spaces we inhabit overlap and connect.
Why we're taking notice: Read Anita Lahey's fascinating interview with M. Travis Lane, and you'll be taking notice too!
Safely Home Pacific Western, by Jeff Latosik
About the book: In his second collection of poems, Jeff Latosik looks to those provisional moments of arrival and anchoring in what Canadian poet Don Coles has called "the catastrophe of time." Safely Home Pacific Western is a combination of words common to travel-package tour buses, and, as the title implies, there will be journeys to be had: into ruined stretches of the rural US and Ontario mine country, across the English Channel in a hot air balloon, into the flight paths of fish hurled across Northern Territory Australia by a water spout, and even the far blinking orbit of a Navstar satellite. But unlike that modern promise of a brief, comfortable excursion, these poems often end up in strange, uncomfortable places that shore up the always prevalent chaotic impulses of civilization, finding not reconciliation but charged moments of witness, of coming to terms with the very act of looking. Moving through alternate histories, cutting edge and antiquated technology, and the wily language of patent and invention, Safely Home Pacific Western peers deep into the notion of personal and communal progress to reckon with the only seeming certainty: that in a poem, as in our lives, we are done and undone by the emergent element we cannot control.
Why we're taking notice: Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, Latosik's first collection, won the 2011 Trillium Award for poetry and was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert award and the Relit award. It's likely that Safety Home Pacific Western will garner similar acclaim.
Asbestos Heights, by David McGimpsey
About the book: Implored to be "classy" and "real" for once, McGimpsey looks to all things "poetic," like birds and history, and instead finds true value and meaning in diet lime soda and the words to "Bootylicious." Asbestos Heights amps up McGimpsey's trademark sideswiping of formal rhetoric with pop-culture verve to find a bold Late Night Petrarchan spirit.
Why we're taking notice: His previous collection, Li'l Bastard, was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Poetry. McGimpsey is also remarkable for being the only poet whose work I've ever immediately run out of the house to buy after hearing it talked about on morning radio.
their biography, by Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff
About the book: Would it be possible to compose a book that appears to be "about" its author, but is indirectly about something else, like identity or relationships or language? Maybe a book not written by a hero... but by many? This was the challenge taken up by Kevin McPherson Eckhoff in his fourth book, their biography: an organism of relationships. This collaborative memoir collages together word-portraits from friends, family, coworkers, strangers, robots, and even adversaries in order to create a silhouette of not a single person, but of the manacles that connect people to one another.
their biography is meant to make people think—its broad array of voices and poetic/prosaic forms disturbs comfortable patterns of reading, and its subject is as much about the contributors as the author. Eclectic and desolate, confessional and dubious, this record of relationships defies authorship, biography, and individualism.
Why we're taking notice: We like the concept, and we also like how the poet explains the project: "I realized one day that poetry can (perhaps most/only) profoundly alter your life in the writing of it, rather than the reading or publishing of it. So I wanted to try to make a manuscript that asked me to interact with peers and strangers in ways that placed poetry directly between us, meaning I was able to talk poetry with people who might never otherwise be invited to such conversations…"
Get Me Out of Here, by Sachiko Murakami
About the book: Why is it so difficult to stay present in the moment? Murakami's poems, written in response to her open call on the Internet, search airport departures and arrivals for a handhold on the fleeting present. Working within and wriggling out of the constraint of 14 lines, the poems explore how to stay when the mind is begging to leave.
Why we're taking notice: Following up Project Rebuild (which invited readers to "renovate" her work), Murakami continued her interest in community-built poetry by crowd-sourcing inspiration for poems about airports. You can read some of the submissions here.
The Exiles Gallery, by Elise Partridge
About the book: Widely praised for her engagement and her attention to craft, Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery confirms her standing as one of the most thoughtful, authentic voices in contemporary poetry. The poems in her third collection continue to explore what she has called "implicit questions about fullness of life or lives somehow thwarted, diminished, ended too early." Through formal technique, painterly detail or her signature compressed directness, Partridge’s poems explore the past, present and future with compassion and grief, bearing witness to our not-so-still, all-too-brief lives.
Above all, The Exiles’ Gallery is a book of celebration. In these restless, nimble, and complex poems of apprehension—whether by a candid glance backward at childhood or through tributes to friends—Partridge’s arresting images and diction give shape to the complexity and abundance of experience, made more luminous and gilt-edged by the corridor of encroaching shadows. Dispossessed but defiant, these are songs of preservation and love.
Why we're taking notice: Partridge's death in February evoked a huge outpouring of grief from the literary community—Partridge appears to have been as accomplished in character as she was in talent. Mark Medley's obituary in the Globe and Mail was an incredible tribute. But really, yes, this should be about the poems, and so we offer you this one from her new book. We dare you to read it and not want to return for more.
pet radish, shrunken, the, by Pearl Pirie
About the book: In this post-lyrical era, poems can be stories, or they can just as easily be exuberant laughter set to words, an experiment in language, or an incidental collation of plays on a Scrabble board. the pet radish, shrunken, the third full collection of poetry from the inimitable Pearl Pirie, deals in the poetics of sound, language, and play. In true Pirie style, this fresh, quirky, and clear-seeing collection speaks in a range of styles and voices: From a military convoy of turtles, to a Kafkaesque conversation with a housefly, to the dissection of a fruit machine, Pirie offers oulipo found speech as it integrates and disintegrates, plays with and tumbles through language.
Why we're taking notice: We like the idea of "true Pirie style." And she's endorsed by Daphne Marlatt! "In Pearl Pirie's poems, language ferments, foments a 'vinegar vigour.' Flipping the labels off contemporary mores, cooking with sound, she offers quick food for thought. Keep up with her if you can."
My Shoes are Killing Me, by Robyn Sarah
About the book: In My Shoes are Killing Me, poet Robyn Sarah reflects on the passing of time, the fleetingness of dreams, and the bittersweet pleasure of thinking on the "hazardous ... treasurehouse" that is the past. Natural, musical, meditative, warm, and unexpectedly funny, this is a restorative and moving collection from one of Canada's most well-regarded poets.
Why we're taking notice: In an interview with Prism Magazine, Sarah described her collection as having a dominant theme of the past: "what stays with us, what we lose, how perspective changes the past, how our relation to past time changes as we move farther away from remembered events. These are poems of memory, nostalgia, retrospect and reckoning—sometimes, they encapsulate moments suddenly remembered, arbitrary moments that in hindsight seem 'decisive' or symbolic." For a taster, read "Seed," published in The Walrus last year.
The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out, by Karen Solie
About the book: In her fourth collection, Karen Solie advances her extraordinary poetics of impetus and second thoughts. Ferrying the intimate self through the public realm, these poems meditate on the tensile strength of our most elemental bonds and beliefs. Consistently attuned to the demotic and the enigmatic, she returns our language to us as if new again, in a style somehow both nomadic and steady, both unpredictable and meticulously crafted.
Intelligent, witty, tough-minded, and perceptive, The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out offers Solie's most exciting and captivating work to date, in poems of natural contemplation and uncertainty ranging under the aegis of lyric grace.
Why we're taking notice: This is Solie's first collection since the Griffin Prize-winning Pigeon. It's one of CBC Books' 15 [ed: only FIFTEEN???] Poetry Collection in 2015.
Jabbering With Bing Bong, by Kevin Spenst
About the book: Kevin Spenst's much-anticipated debut collection of poetry opens as a coming-of-age narrative of lower-middle class life in Vancouver's suburb of Surrey, embroidered within a myriad of pop-culture and "post-Mennonite." Jabbering with Bing Bong interrogates memory and makes its way into the urban energies of Vancouver.
Language is at play with sit-com sonnets and soundscapes of noise; videogame goombas and an Old-Testament God; teenage longing within the power chords of heavy metal andthe complicated loss of a father to schizophrenia. Jabbering with Bing Bong chronicles the heartbreaking and slapstick pursuit of truth in the realms of religion, mental health, and poetic form itself.
Why we're taking notice: Obviously, because the book is called Jabbering With Bing Bong. And we like what Jen Currin says about it: "Belief and disbelief rub up against each other in this startling and flawless debut collection by Kevin Spenst. Jabbering with Bing Bong's urban and suburban-scapes vibrate with a controlled hysteria; a music at turns ebullient, ribald, somber."
Still No Word, by Shannon Webb-Campbell
About the book: Shannon Webb-Campbell’s Still No Word seeks the appearance of the self in others and the recognition of others within the self. Patient, searching, questioning, and at times heartbreaking—these poems reveal the deep past within the present tense and the interrelations that make our lives somehow both whole and unfinished. And though Webb-Campbell is political at times, this is not politics for the sake of politics: here, it’s a matter of the human heart. Ranging from reflective to angry, from sensual to humourous, her poetry inhabits that mercurial space between the public and the private, making Still No Word a remarkably accomplished debut collection.
Why we're taking notice: Easy. This is the first collection of poems by the inaugural winner of Egale Canada’s Out in Print Award and the Canadian Women in Literary Arts 2014 critic-in-residence. Definitely one to watch.
undercurrent, by Rita Wong
About the book: The water belongs to itself. undercurrent reflects on the power and sacredness of water--largely underappreciated by too many—whether it be in the form of ocean currents, the headwaters of the Fraser River or fluids in the womb. Exploring a variety of poetic forms, anecdote, allusion and visual elements, this collection reminds humanity that we are water bodies, and we need and deserve better ways of honouring this.
Poet Rita Wong approaches water through personal, cultural and political lenses. She humbles herself to water both physically and spiritually: "i will apprentice myself to creeks & tributaries, groundwater & glaciers / listen for the salty pulse within, the blood that recognizes marine ancestry." She witnesses the contamination of First Nations homelands and sites, such as Gregoire Lake near Fort McMurray, AB: "though you look placid, peaceful dibenzothiophenes / you hold bitter, bitumized depths." Wong points out that though capitalism and industry are supposed to improve our quality of life, they're destroying the very things that give us life in the first place. Listening to and learning from water is key to a future of peace and creative potential.
Why we're taking notice: undercurrent emerges from the Downstream project, a multifaceted, creative collaboration that highlights the importance of art in understanding and addressing the cultural and political issues related to water. The project encourages public imagination to respect and value water, ecology and sustainability. Visit downstream.ecuad.ca.
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