Poetry advocate and community builder Vicki Ziegler recently put a call out on Twitter asking readers to share what poetry titles had helped make their literary year, and the response was so great that we wanted to share it. Let's celebrate the poetry splendour of 2019!
Following Sea, by Lauren Carter
About the book: Spanning almost two hundred years, Following Sea finds anchor in the submerged regions of the heart. With great care, Lauren Carter wades into family histories and geography, all the while charting her own territories. Carried by the ebb and flow of language, Carter's second collection explores issues of infertility, identity, and settler migration, offering a tender examination of home. Urgent and intimate, Following Sea leads us along the shoreline of Carter's Manitoulin memories to show us what she has carried up from the depths.
Dunk Tank, by Kayla Czaga
About the book: In the title poem of Kayla Czaga’s sophomore collection, a teenage speaker is suspended between knowledge and experience, confidently hovering there before the world plunges her into adult life. Dunk Tank reimagines the body as a strange and unknowable landscape: full of cancers that “burst like blackberries,” a butt that could run for prime minister of Canada, and the underworld lurking in Winona Ryder’s pores. Clouds become testicles and uteri turn into goldfish, flickering and fragile, but still ultimately glowing. These poems explore the varied and strange relationships that underpin a young woman’s coming of age, from inconsequential boyfriends to the friendships that rescue us from “grey daily moments.” Unsure of how the world works and her part in it, Czaga forges a landscape of metaphor and gleaming, dense imagery. Dunk Tank is playful and dark, comic and disturbing.
There Are Not Enough Sad Songs, by Marita Dachsel
About the book: There is beauty in the teacup like dresses requiring crinoline or beaded purses too small to carry anything but anger. — from “Inheritance”
Marita Dachsel’s third poetry collection explores parenthood, love, and the grief of losing those both close and distant. In the tradition of Karen Solie and Suzanne Buffam, and with a touch of Canadian Gothic, Dachsel’s poetic skills unfold in a variety of brief and expansive forms. Authentic and controlled, full of complexity and disorder, her poems offer release despite their painful twists and topics. Readers across generations will find kinship in Dachsel’s grief-fuelled and vulnerable words.
New and Collected Poems, by Tom Dawe
About the book: For almost fifty years, Tom Dawe has stood as one of the most respected and admired poets in Newfoundland. This definitive, necessary collection spans five decades of poetic achievement, reprinting each of Dawe’s published collections while gathering previously uncollected poems along with a stunning body of new work. This volume stands as a testament to a monumental achievement for readers both at home and abroad.
These Wings, by Kim Fahner
About the book: Sudbury poet Kim Fahner continues her lifelong look at the trees and birds and water of northern Ontario in her fifth poetry collection, These Wings. From those who labour in the mining underworld to the vulnerable lives we construct above them, Fahner walks us to the thin place between aching and soaring, where something holy is glimpsed between people, and between natural and created worlds. "You cannot walk it out, this love. You cannot push it out through the soles of your feet, urging it down // into the earth, into hidden labyrinths of nickel and copper. It begs you to carry it, tired and weary."
Radiant, by Kate Marshall Flaherty
About the book: Radiant is a poetic exploration of one hopeful person's healing journey through cancer—from missed appointment, to mammogram, to diagnosis, to surgery, chemo, and radiation, through hysterectomy, genetic testing through to wholeness. Kate Marshall Flaherty's luminous poetry is raw, honest yet radiant and life-affirming. The poems are chronological, yet timeless; they are courageous and graphic, yet tenaciously realistic and positive. These poems are unflinching in their exploration of "fear, death, the whole shebang." They vary in form from odes to eulogies, from free verse to prose poem to "notes to self," "welcoming angels," "lighting up the night," voicing, blessing, questioning, raging, and eventually settling into a radiant space, of acceptance and gratitude.
Q & A, by Adrienne Gruber
About the book: Adrienne Gruber's third full poetry collection, Q & A, is a poetic memoir detailing a first pregnancy, birth and early postpartum period. The poet is both traumatized and transformed by the birth of her daughter. She is compelled by the dark places birth takes her and as she examines and revisits those places, a grotesque history of the treatment of pregnant and birthing women reveals itself.
Bounce House, by Jennica Harper
About the book: Bounce House is a collection of small containers for the uncontainable. Restrained in form but not feeling, Harper's fourth book explores the cyclical nature of grief, imperfect parenting, and our willingness to jump without promise of a safe landing. Measured and meticulously weighted, these poems are playful and poignant as they navigate the strange terrain around losing a loved one: how the past and present blur together, the dead simultaneously here and missing, and how joy moves inevitably forward, as if on wheels.
heft, by Doyali Islam
About the book: How does one inhabit a world in which "the moon / & the drone hang in the same sky"? How can one be at home in one's own body in the presence of suspected autoimmune illness, chronic/recurrent pain, and a society that bears down with a particular construct of normal female sexual experience? What might a daughter salvage within a fraught relationship with a cancer-stricken father? Uncannily at ease with both high lyricism and formal innovation and invention, these poems are unafraid to lift up and investigate burdens and ruptures of all kinds—psychic, social, cultural, physical, and political.
Providing continuity over the poet's visually-arresting forms—including Islam's self-termed split sonnets, double sonnets, and parallel poems—is allied remembrance of the resilience of the Palestinian people. Yet, the work doesn't always stray far from home, with a quintet of astro-poems that weave together myth and memory.
Here is a poet small in stature, unwilling to abandon to silence small histories, small life forms, and the small courages and beauties of the ordinary hour. In these rigorous, intimate, and luminous poems, the spirit of the everyday and the spirit of witness bind fiercely to one another. heft is a ledger of tenderness, survival, and risk.
Mobile, by Tanis MacDonald
About the book: Mobile is an uncivil feminist reboot of Dennis Lee's Civil Elegies and Other Poems; an urban lament about female citizenship and settler culpability; an homage to working and walking women in a love/hate relationship with Toronto, its rivers and creeks, its sidewalks and parks, its history, misogyny and violence. How do we, in Lee's words, see the "lives we had not lived" that "invisibly stain" the city? What are the sexual politics of occupying space in a city, in a workspace, in history? How can we name our vulnerabilities and our disasters and still find strength?
Written in a slippery mix of lyric and experimental styles, Mobile is MacDonald's grouchiest book yet.
Hope Matters, by Lee Maracle; Tania Carter & Columpa Bobb
About the book: Hope Matters, written by multiple award-winner Lee Maracle, in collaboration with her daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter, focuses on the journey of Indigenous people from colonial beginnings to reconciliation.
Maracle states that the book, "is also about the journey of myself and my two daughters." During their youth, Bobb and Carter wrote poetry with their mother, and eventually they all decided that one day they would write a book together. This book is the result of that dream.
Written collaboratively by all three women, the poems in Hope Matters blend their voices together into a shared song of hope and reconciliation.
All Day I Dream About Sirens, by Domenica Martinello
About the book: From Homer to Starbucks, a look at sirens and mermaids and feminism and consumerism. What started as a small sequence of poems about the Starbucks logo grew to monstrous proportions after the poet fell under a siren spell herself. All Day I Dream About Sirens is both an ancient reverie and a screen-induced stupor as these poems reckon with the enduring cultural fascination with siren and mermaid narratives as they span geographies, economies, and generations, chronicling and reconfiguring the male-centered epic and women's bodies and subjectivities.
Inquiries, by Michelle Porter
About the book: In poems that risk the comingling of anger and elegy, poetry and documentation, humour and the dark spectre of poverty, Michelle Porter’s Inquiries oscillates at its edges, and amplifies the presence of human strength as it keeps company with our enigmatic and ever-present nemeses. This is a startling debut where the line between reality and reality television blurs, where a simple trip to the grocery store unifies mother and daughter in struggle, and where an economics of iniquity proves the existence of love as equality. With wit, poise, raw emotion, and versatility, Inquiries announces the emergence of an impressive new talent.
Twitch Force, by Michael Redhill
About the book: A muscle’s “twitch force” is a measurement of its energy potential. It’s history dependent: you can forget it, but it’s engraved on you where you can’t see it, and all it wants to do is repeat. Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Michael Redhill’s first collection of poetry in eighteen years, Twitch Force has a gnomic, satirical, and lucid intelligence. In “Ingredients,” heredity’s recipe is told via short-form family narrative; in “My Arrangements,” a stolen laptop battery leads to an encounter with the Israeli Olympic women’s beach volleyball team; while in “The Women,” human beauty is parsed down to the level of chromosomes: “I’m beautiful; I have my mother’s feet. The women who change into men are beautiful men who were once beautiful women.”
This is poetry concerned with love and its loss, despair and hard-won hope, knowledge and essential mystery, aging and timelessness. Readers are cautioned: ideas that present as self-explanatory may be closer than they appear.Twitch Force is a stunningly realized return to the form from one of Canada’s bravest and most original poets.
Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, by Stuart Ross
About the book: In Motel of the Opposable Thumbs, Stuart Ross continues to ignore trends in Canadian poetry, and further follow the journey he began over four decades ago with his discoveries of the works of Stephen Crane, E. E. Cummings, Nelson Ball, Ron Padgett, Victor Coleman, Tom Clark, Nicanor Parra, Joe Rosenblatt, and David McFadden. Over the years, his influences have snowballed: Lisa Jarnot, Alice Burdick, Richard Huttel, Opal Louis Nations, Joanne Kyger, Bill Knott, Max Jacob, Larry Fagin, Heather Christle, Charles North, Emily Petit, Paul Guest, James Tate, Valéry Larbaud, Joe Brainard, Matthew Zapruder, Harryette Mullen, Dara Wier, Dag T. Straumsvåg, Mark Strand, Wislawa Szymborska, Mary Ruefle, John Ashbery, Sommer Browning, Jim Smith, Benjamin Peret, Renee Gladman, and more. In this eclectic, pleasurable gathering of poems and sequences, Mr. Ross unapologetically leaps from howls of grief and despair to zany incursions into surrealism and the absurd. He embraces this panoply of approaches to respond to our cantankerous existential dilemma. All that, and it's structured after Bela Bartók's String Quartet No. 4! Get a room and enjoy.
TREATY #, by Armand Garnet Ruffo
About the book: A treaty is a contract. A treaty is enduring. A treaty is an act of faith. A treaty at its best is justice. It is a document and an undertaking. It is connected to place, people and self. It is built on the past, but it also indicates how the future may unfold. Armand Garnet Ruffo's TREATY # is all of these. In this far-ranging work, Ruffo documents his observations on life—and in the process, his own life—as he sets out to restructure relationships and address obligations nation-to-nation, human to human, human to nature. Now, he undertakes a new phase in its restoration. He has written his TREATY # like a palimpsest over past representations of Indigenous bodies and beliefs, built powerful connections to his predecessors, and discovered new ways to bear witness and build a place for them, and all of us, in his poems. This is a major new work from an important, original voice.
The Caiplie Caves, by Karen Solie
About the book: In the seventh century, on the coast of Fife, Scotland, an Irish missionary named Ethernan withdrew to a cave in order to decide whether to establish a priory on May Island, directly opposite, in the Firth of Forth, or pursue a hermit’s solitude. His decision would have been informed by the realities of war, religious colonization, and ideas of progress, power, and corruption, and complicated by personal interest, grief, confusion, and a faith (religious and secular) under extreme duress. His choice between life as an “active” or a “contemplative” was one between public and private action. Along with the question of what constitutes action, it remains a choice central to political and private life.
Karen Solie’s fifth book of poetry,The Caiplie Caves, attends to transition in times of crisis. Around passages informed by Ethernan’s story are poems that orbit the geographical location of the caves but that range through the ages, addressing violence, power, work, economies, self-delusion, and belief. Indecision and necessity are inseparable companions. As are the prospect of error and regret.
These are not the potatoes of my youth, by Matthew Walsh
About the book: In this confessional debut collection, Matthew Walsh meanders through their childhood in rural Nova Scotia, later roaming across the prairies and through the railway cafés of Alberta to the love letters and graffiti of Vancouver. In this nomadic journey, Walsh explores queer identity set against an ever-changing landscape of what we want, and who we are, were, and came to be.
Walsh is a storyteller in verse, his poems laced with catholic "sensibilities" and punctuated with Maritime vernacular. In These are not the potatoes of my youth, Walsh illuminates the complex choreography of family, the anxiety of individuality, and the ambiguous histories of stories erased, forgotten, or suppressed. Readers will find moments of humour, surprise, and a queer realization that all is not what it seems.
Reunion, by Deanna Young
About the book: Reunion is a parable, an origin story, a cautionary tale. It is also a time machine in which poems commune with ghosts in an attempt both to reckon with and subvert their legacy. It is a tale of the impossible quest for the original, unhurt self. A girlhood is re-inhabited and oddly transformed as the adult becomes ally of her younger self.
Young's writerly range extends through language both candid and stylized, and to forms from ballads to prayer to Biblical sermons. The voice is often interior, but at times it gains a public character—often through the use of religious language and song forms—and we sense that the child's suffering is in many ways a community failure. The emotional and psychological landscape of these poems seems at once near and far, familiar and strange, uncanny in Freud's sense. Young has created a distinctive pastoral-gothic hybrid; her daring spirit shapes a collection both deeply generous to and demanding of the reader.
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