Poetry Must-Reads for Spring

Poetry collections are to springtime what ripe peaches are to late summer, and let me tell you: the crop this year is splendid. Let the juice run down your chin. 


No TV For Woodpeckers, by Gary Barwin

About the book: In the pages of Gary Barwin's latest collection of poetry, No TV for Woodpeckers, the lines between haunting and hilarious, wondrous and weird, beautiful and beastly, are blurred in the most satisfying ways. No stranger to poetic experimentation, Barwin employs a range of techniques from the lyrical to the conceptual in order to explore loss, mortality, family, the self and our relationship to the natural world.

Many of these poems reveal a submerged reality full of forgotten, unknown or invisible life forms that surround us—that are us. Within this reality, Barwin explores the connection between bodies, language, culture and the environment. He reveals how we construct both self and reality through these relationships and also considers the human in relation to the concepts of "nature" and "the animal."

As philosophical as it is entertaining—weaving together threads of surrealism, ecopoetics, Dada and more—No TV for Woodpeckers is a complex and multi-layered work that offers an unexpected range of pleasures.

Why we're taking  notice: Barwin was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize last year with his novel Yiddish For Pirates, and that's been just one highlight of his fascinating multidisciplinary career so far. "Complex and multi-layered" seems to be his artistic approach. And oh, this book sounds fun. 


Listen. If., by Douglas Barbour

About the book: first snow falling slow hangs in the air a curtain drifting there thickening sight —“Winter”

In this new collection, Douglas Barbour experiments with what he calls “rhythmically intense open form.” Listen. If presents technically innovative poetry that invites the reader to join in some serious play. Barbour’s vivid, ekphrastic poems engage an ongoing conversation among artworks—not only classic paintings but also popular music—while his lyric poems astutely, accessibly evoke places, moments, and feelings. This is poetry that takes up language both as the already-said and as a playground for brilliant technique. Leaping from love to landscapes, politics to jazz, Keats to Milne to Monk, these poems yearn to be spoken aloud for the pure joy of sound.

Why we're taking notice: Because rob mclennan is looking forward to it, writing of poems that "seem clearer, writing out a tablature of open skies, summer colours and fresh air around some of [Barbour's] more familiar concerns."


Other Houses, by Kate Cayley

About the book: In Other Houses, Kate Cayley's second collection of poetry, objects are alive with the presence of the people who have handled them. Myths and legends are interwoven with daily life. Visionaries, mystics, charlatans, artists, and the dead speak to us like chatty neighbours. An imaginary library catalogues missing people. Reading becomes a way of remembering the dead. Home is an elsewhere we are "called to," a mystery that impels children to wander off, and adults to grow in unexpected directions.

Cayley couples a rich, meaty lyricism with the intimacy of direct address, creating a poetry that is at once embodied and spectral. She directs us to wonder, "Did light and dark have a taste and texture, like food?" At the same time, her command of voice and narrative is masterful—each of these poems unfolds with the sweep and precision of a compressed novel.

Why we're taking notice: This is the second collection by Kate Cayley, whose work in YA and short fiction have garnered her honours including the 2015 Trillium Award for Fiction. This new book is a must-read for those who've fallen in love with her work. 


Xiphoid Process, by Kevin Connelly

About the book: Nine years (ahem...) in the making, award-winning Kevin Connolly’s new collection extends its author’s investigation of identity, authority, intention, and authenticity. What is a public poetry? In an age of tweets and trolls, what should it even try to be? Through revision, redaction, ventriloquism, homage, self-sabotage, and outright plunder, the poems in Connolly’s Xiphoid Process interrogate the alleged futility and alleged insight of mid-life. Are we who we are simply because we’d otherwise be nothing? Or are we (more hopefully) something parked, for a time, in time, trying to make something useful out of the experience? Walt Whitman, Tom Petty, Alec Baldwin, Doug Stanhope, Journey, Judd Nelson, Billy Ripken, Johnny Weissmuller, Don Felder, Lindsay Lohan, Shiprock, NM, the police blotter at Point Reyes Station, CA and the moons of Saturn are all poised to make their case in the poet’s latest deliberations.

Why we're taking notice: Did we mention nine years in the making? Connolly has previously won the Trillium Prize and been nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award and the Griffin Prize. Plus: Judd Nelson. Bring it. 


The Corpses of the Future, by Lynn Crosbie

About the book: The Corpses of the Future is a sustained, confessional new collection of poems by Lynn Crosbie. It tells the story of her father’s battle with frontotemporal dementia and blindness, following a stroke. The poems chronologically recount the poet’s conversations and time with her father, and capture his still-astonishing means of communicating. The book’s title is his sardonic remark. Crosbie considers dementia to be a symbolic language and as such, similar to poetry. The author’s attempts to understand her father’s distress, pain, fear, and brave love are assisted by her understanding of the “negative capability” required of readers of poetry.

This is a harrowing book, with moments of joy and even levity. It is a collection of poetry about love, and love’s persistence, even under the most unspeakable circumstances.

Why we're taking notice: Crosby's last few books (Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, Life is About Losing Everything, Liar) have been extremely well received, and this one promises to hit just as hard.


What the Soul Doesn't Want, by Lorna Crozier

About the book: In her newest collection, Lorna Crozier describes the passage of time in the way that only she can. Her arresting, edgy poems about aging and grief are surprising and invigorating: a defiant balm. At the same time, she revels in the quirkiness and whimsy of the natural world: the vision of a fly, the naming of an eggplant, and a woman who—not unhappily—finds that cockroaches are drawn to her.

"God draws a life. And then begins to rub it out / with the eraser on his pencil." Lorna Crozier draws a world in What the Soul Doesn't Want, and then beckons us in. Crozier's signature wit and striking imagery are on display as she stretches her wings and reminds us that we haven't yet seen all that she can do.

Why we're taking notice: From The Globe and Mail: "[N]ew poems by Lorna Crozier are always a reason for rejoicing." It's true. 


Frequent small loads of laundry, by Rhonda Ganz

About the book: In her debut collection, poet Rhonda Ganz, brazenly mixes darks with lights and dares to peg out the quirky and bizarre, both real and imagined, with all seams showing. From spontaneous combustion to suicide, from pterodactyls to pumpkin pie, Ganz is obsessed with the way people behave in moments of intimacy and domesticity. With her sharp wit and painterly abstractions, she pairs the banal with the absurd to expose the flaws of love –the frayed edges of belief and despair. Strung up, these poems are an authentic clothesline of hearsay, fabrication, doomsaying and half-truths. Ganz takes the ordinary, gives it a poke and a spin and snaps it out to dry.

Why we're taking notice: For me, it was around the poem "Persephone tries internet dating, but every man reminds her of Hades" that I was totally hooked. This is a book in which the domestic goes berserk. 


I have to live, by Aisha Sasha John

About the book: A new collection ablaze with urgency and radiant inquiry from a 2015 finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry
A demand and promise; an obligation and challenge; a protest and call: I have to live. 
Juiced on the ecstasy of self-belief: I have to live. 
A burgeoning erotics of psychic boldness: I have to live.
In which sensitivity is recognized as wealth: I have to live.
Trumpeting the forensic authority of the heart: I have to live. 
This is original ancient poetry. 
It fashions a universe from its mouth.

Why we're taking notice: John's previous work, THOU, was shortlisted for both the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the ReLit Poetry Award in 2014. 


Maunder, by Claire Kelly

About the book: Maundering is a both a physical and verbal process. One can walk in a maundering, aimless fashion and one can verbosely maunder on. Claire Kelly's debut collection, Maunder, contains poems about the physical act of walking and the mental act, what is seen and what is reflected on. These poems allow the reader to do their own idle walk across the page, stepping from image to image, place to place, striding, pivoting in different, unexpected directions.

Why we're taking notice: Not just because of the yellow rubber boots. From Tanis Franco's review in Maisonneuve: 'These poems, whether long rambles or alleyway shortcuts, are not time wasted. A walk is not always a great revelation of the “true self”; rather, this collection proves that we need the failed walks, the incomplete, the not-quite-understood, to begin to see the bigger picture around us.'


Beautiful Children With Pet Foxes, by Jennifer LoveGrove

About the book: Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes, the new collection of poetry from Giller Prize–longlisted writer Jennifer LoveGrove, attempts to make sense of a difficult and unsettling world, where one need not look much further than their own communities to witness acts of trauma and absurdity.

Here, we're haunted by the ghosts of alienation, trauma, delusion, and fear that the past decade has instilled in us, and bear witness to moments of extreme crisis—in emotional breakdowns, the failures of the mental health system, the lack of support for the most vulnerable members of society, and the impact of psychosis not only on the ill but on those orbiting them.

With inventive and startling imagery and logic, we're led on an odyssey through the terrain of startling dreamscapes, where a whole host of personas, both tame and wild—from humans, to foxes, moose, deer and crows, slugs, fish, beetles, mosquitos, earthworms, and more—give voice to the things we can't express in our daily lives.

Why we're taking notice: LoveGrove's first release since the Scotiabank-Giller-nominated novel Watch How We Walk, Helen Guri describes the collection as poetry that "apprentices itself to the world we live in, pacing out the dimensions of the enclosure called the present–the enclosures of culture, history, family, and other patriarchal institutions–with a keen eye and a relentless heart."


Believing is Not the Same As Being Saved, by Lisa Martin

About the book: Lisa Martin’s new poetry collection seeks the kind of lyric truth that lives in paradox, in the dwelling together of seeming opposites such as life and death, love and loss, faith and doubt, joy and sorrow. Here readers will find a range of moods, tones, and subjects, as well as both traditional and contemporary forms—from sonnets to prose poems. This is a collection imbued with the light of an enduring, if troubled, faith. With its focus on spirit, ethics, and how to live well, Believing is not the same as Being Saved offers a tender meditation on the moments that make a life.

There’s a way of speaking as if the difference matters, as if the road home is finite—everything begins and ends somewhere, like your hand in mine, or how last light fractures in the limbs of pine—while beyond my window, a coyote follows a trail into the dusk that only it can see. — from "Map for the road home"

Why we're taking notice: For me, it was pretty much this line from "Theology": "We are fractured, always, by being/ what we are in time and space/ packing guts and hearts that/ grieve and heal only by touching/ our limits unboundedly, being/ everywhere and all at once." 


Little Wildheart, by Micheline Maylor

About the book: By turns quirky, startling, earthy, and hope-filled, Micheline Maylor’s poems slip effortlessly through topics ranging from what we give up as we age to regrets for love that has passed, the interplay between the animal world and human thought, and the myths we append to ourselves and others. An expansive, conversational voice underscores the poet’s technical mastery as her subjects turn from love to hope to fearlessness. Maylor asks readers to perceive how we inhabit our selves, how words construct us. Little Wildheart is rich with challenge and surprise.

Why we're taking notice: The collections gets a starred review in Quill & Quire, which calls it "a complicated book of deceptively simple parts."


Charm, by Christine McNair

About the book: A charm can protect, inflict or influence. Charm, the second collection by poet Christine McNair, considers the craftwork of conception from a variety of viewpoints—from pregnancy and motherhood, to how an orchid is pollinated, to overcoming abusive family relationships, to the manual artistry of carving a violin bow or marbling endpapers.

Through these poems, McNair's poetic line evolves as if moving in a spellbound kaleidoscope, etched with omens, fairytales, intimacy's stickiness, and the mothering body.

Why we're taking notice: McNair's 2012 book Conflict was finalist for the City of Ottawa Book Award, the Archibald Lampman Award, the ReLit Award, and shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry


Dysphoria, by Shane Neilson

About the book: A heart-rending poetic commentary on the pain, anxiety and dissatisfaction that go hand-in-hand with mental illness, and on the complex and emotional interplay between doctor, patient and outsider. It explodes with love and longing, passion and fear. It wails to the strains of Percy Sledge and rides alongside Mad Max—crazy, but with a good guy’s badge. It suffers the indignities of therapeutic measures and faces the helplessness of a parent witnessing his child’s suffering.

In Neilson’s own words, Dysphoria ‘throws acid from half-glasses but drinks some first to be fair.’

Why we're taking notice: Of the collection, M. Travis Lane notes, "This passionate and illuminating book is like no other in our literature: a new classic."


Otolith, by Emily Nilsen

About the book: Otolith—the ear stone—is a series of bones that help us to orient ourselves in space. In Otolith, Emily Nilsen attempts a similar feat in poetry: to turn the reader's attention to their relationship to the world, revealing an intertidal state between the rootedness of place and the uncertainty and tenuousness of human connection. Born in the fecundity of British Columbia's coastal rainforest, these poems are full of life and decay; they carry the odours of salmon rivers and forests of fir; salal growing in the fog-bound mountain slopes.

This astonishing debut, at once spare and lush, displays an exquisite lyricism built on musical lines and mature restraint. Nilsen turns over each idea carefully, letting nothing escape her attention and saying no more than must be said. Combining a scientist's precision and a poet's sensitivity, Otolith examines the ache of nostalgia in the relentless passage of time.

Why we're taking notice: From Sonnet L'Abbe, "In Otolith, Nilsen’s poems measure all that environmental science cannot: the alignment of a tree planter’s sensibility to charred forest, the geolocation of grief. Wake before dawn and follow Nilsen’s ‘solitary, rugged route’ into our fragile ecology."


Auguries, by Clea Roberts

About the book: Whether speaking of erotic love, domestic life, spiritual wilderness, or family entanglements, the poems of Auguries, the much-anticipated second collection from Yukon poet Clea Roberts, are saturated with their northern landscape. Roberts is well versed in the distances and dynamics between tedium and ecstasy, light and dark, isolation and solitude, freeze and thaw, flow and stillness. Her poems are spare and clean, each like a single larch in an immense white plain; their exactness startling and arresting. As the Gerald Lampert Award jury citation for her celebrated first book noted, "Her images . . . are not only crisp and precise, but manage to speak about the physical conditions of this place and its emotional landscape in one and the same lyrical breath . . ."

Why we're taking notice: For real? Because the number of times I've received an email imploring me to read this book and spread the word about this book is more than for any other poetry collection ever. This book is already well loved. 


Dead White Men, by Shane Rhodes

About the book: A vital collection that interrogates the stories of the dead white men that litter our histories and landscapes.

Juxtaposing the seemingly benign names of Europeans that permeate our geographies with the details of their so-called discoveries and conquests, Dead White Men turns ideas of exploration, discovery, finding and keeping back upon themselves. Engaging with exploration and scientific texts from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries—texts wrapped up in the history and ongoing present of colonization—this collection builds a fascinating poetry of memory out of histories that are largely forgotten.

Why we're taking notice: From award-winner Jordan Abel, "Dead White Men is a stinging and difficult journey, and one that continues to remind us that stolen land has always been the most pressing concern for Indigenous peoples and settlers. This is an absolutely essential book."


Apocalypse One Hundred, by Richard Scarsbrook

About the book: Welcome to the Apocolypse! and it has arrived, not with a bang, but with the white noise hum of tabloid news and and the promise of the internet. Richard Scarsbrook's Apocalypse One Hundred strips back the veneer of our screen filled lives to expose every nip and tuck. Each one hundred word poem from the Apocalypse peeks over the event horizon to see the noise and distraction that bind us to this world, hemming in thought and imagination.To learn more...just click here!

Why we're taking notice: This is the second collection by Scarsbrook, who is an acclaimed fiction writer for adults and young readers. From Robert Priest, “Scarsbrook turns over the crusty soil of the mediated world to give us strangely familiar new memes, darkly fertile and inverted. There is warning here but also, at its tender and eloquent heart, love.”


Bad Ideas, by Michael V. Smith

About the book: Nobody knows bad ideas quite like Michael V. Smith. In his new collection of poetry, he speaks to an intangibility of sense, or a sense beyond the rational. Bad Ideas explores the inevitability of loss and triumph with characteristic irony and tenderness. Through this dazzling collection of a remembered life, hung out to ogle like laundry on the line, Smith recalls a mother who discovers a sex tape, a man who dreams of birthing his own son and a woman who blends her baby girls into milkshakes.

Bad Ideas is a testament to how an altered perspective effects change, how stories can be recast. The collection forms itself into an exercise in which optimism is a practiced art recaptured in dreams and prayers and combined to acknowledge the unknowable, the contradictory, the ungraspable: "An evening is composed / in a hundred unchoreographed / dramas"; "I pull a Clark Kent / transform, dressed as a monk / in burgundy and gold robes. I think / this will protect me, but it doesn't"; "Dear Hatred, sweet / Hatred, do you not move our enemies / to know us better?" Hyperbolic and sincere, this collection brawls with the unquantifiable themes of family, loneliness and love.

Why we're taking notice: This is Smith's first book since the acclaimed memoir, My Body is Yours, and his third collection of poetry. 


Admission Requirements, Phoebe Wang

About the book: The poems in Admission Requirements attempt to discover what is required of us when we cut across our material and psychic geographies. Simultaneously full and empty of its origins, the self is continually taxed of any certainties and ways of being. The speaker in these poems is engaged in a kind of fieldwork, surveying gardens, communities, and the haphazard cityscape, where the reader is presented with the paradoxes of subsumed histories. With understated irony and unsettling imagery, the poems address the internal conflicts inherent in contemporary living.

Why we're taking notice:  “‘Best forget / the satellite on your shoulder.’ And then enjoy that edge of anxious anticipation as you consider Admission Requirements; relish this smart poetry as it outlines the con­ditions of a diasporic imagination. 'The lineup [she’s] stuck in,' Phoebe Wang tells us, 'is moving faster than most.' The 'lineup' is, of course, poetic language, rambunctious percep­tions of a mental navigator reciting the biogeography of an indeterminate world. This poetry meets the deadline.” — Fred Wah


Table Manners, by Catriona Wright

About the book: Carnal, flamboyant, visceral and bold, Table Manners is a rich meal. Catriona Wright's debut introduces us to the image of the poet as "gastronaut," a figure who seems to live entirely between table and a stove and who steeps her surroundings and relationships in complex emotional flavours. "My life," she writes, "is now tuned to bone marrow donuts and chef gossip. I'm useless at any other frequency." Wright's wild narratives are sometimes funny, sometimes frightening and always ravishingly observed. Table Manners is what might have emerged had Julia Child written like Sharon Olds, or if Anthony Bourdain knew his way around a line-break.

Why we're taking notice: If you've ever Instagrammed your lunch, or directed distain toward somebody who has, this is the book for you. The poems are vivid, surprising, and pretty much devourable. 

April 24, 2017
Books mentioned in this post
Listen. If

Listen. If

also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
More Info
Xiphoid Process

Xiphoid Process

also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian
More Info


also available: eBook
More Info

also available: Hardcover Book Book
tagged :
More Info
Table Manners

Table Manners

also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
More Info
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