Best Canadian Poetry: A Lyric Meditation That Leads To Awe

Book Cover The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry

The Best Canadian Poetry series turns ten this year, and its editors have celebrated this momentous occasion with Best of the Best Canadian Poetry, an anthology which includes the best works from the previous nine volumes of the series. Explore works by Best of the Best authors here, and enjoy an excerpt from editor Molly Peacock's foreword, “The Best Canadian Poem Now: A Lyric Meditation Leads to Awe.”

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Twenty-five years ago, when I emigrated from the United States to Canada, I would walk into a bookstore—there were many bookstores, then—and speed to the poetry section. Few of the names were familiar to me. I had searched the world for poems to represent the whirling cultural mass of New Yorkers when I co-originated Poetry in Motion on the New York City subways and buses. Even as I scoured for Greek, Japanese, Polish, Nigerian, Chilean verse, it only slowly occurred to me to search for a Canadian poem to put on a New York placard. Who were these poets, and why didn’t I, an international traveler who read poetry from many countries, know about them?

My curiosity led me to an alliance with the founder of Tightrope Books, Halli Villegas. Just as she was forming the press, my idea of bringing the American tradition of choosing the best group of poems published in literary journals each year north of the border was born. Heather Wood has been with us as managing editor for this decade, and as the poets in the anthologies know, it is Heather who really is the goddess in our details. We have continued under current Tightrope publisher Jim Nason’s wise guidance. The Best of the Best poems are almost like live creatures to me at this point. First they were survivors rescued from the avalanche of submissions by an editor of one of Canada’s more than fifty print and online literary magazines. Then they weathered a sifting by one of the prominent guest editors for a long list for one of our yearly Best Canadian volumes. After that they were harrowed in the final yearly selection by the series editors—for six years that was me alone, and for the past three I was joined by the able and inspiring Anita Lahey. Together we’ve enthused, harangued, and sympathized with each guest editor as we’ve shaped each year’s final fifty. Now comes the test of the decade. Our best of the best ninety have been scrutinized, sieved, and sorted—we’ve even provided an index by subject and form. We hope teachers, librarians, poets, students of poetry, and those generally curious about this lyric art will use our anthology. These are poems both to teach and to share.

Our best of the best ninety have been scrutinized, sieved, and sorted—we’ve even provided an index by subject and form. We hope teachers, librarians, poets, students of poetry, and those generally curious about this lyric art will use our anthology. These are poems both to teach and to share.

Is it extreme to have taken on a task to read hundreds of poems per year season in and season out for the last ten years? Of course it is. Poets are extreme. Poetry itself is extreme. Extreme might be the single word to capture living in the early twenty-first century. Trying to educate myself, asking what is a Canadian poem, has led me to consider the enormity of how to be in the world today. And through my reading—guided by nine extraordinary guest editors—I’ve stumbled on a definition of a contemporary Canadian poem: a lyric meditation that leads to awe. Born of the electricity of thinking and reversing thoughts without fear, yet also born of the dread and wonder of contemporary existence, our current poetry represents a tattered, ragged, brilliant idea of the sublime.

Born of the electricity of thinking and reversing thoughts without fear, yet also born of the dread and wonder of contemporary existence, our current poetry represents a tattered, ragged, brilliant idea of the sublime.

Quote author

“Frog jumps in pond,” the classical, seventeenth-century Japanese poet Basho famously calligraphed, concluding his notoriously impossible-to-translate haiku, “then, water sound.” How does the sound of a frog making a plop in a pond address the issue of Syrian immigrants or those among us now unemployable because of technological shifts? In every situation of extremis, when a human being has no control at all, poetry rises, suddenly becoming valued again. I think it surfaces as a method of control. There are two kinds of control a poem offers. First, the making of a poem gives a poet the power of arrangement. But listening to a poem gives the audience a kind of control, too. An image with its cadence becomes something to cling to. That experience of holding on to something in the poem is, paradoxically, like being embraced. The poem seems to hold the listener in return. That, too, is a form of awe, the sublime dialog of being in two minds that winds from the Canadian cultural cranium to the Canadian civil heart.

Molly Peacock

Toronto, ON

October 30, 2017
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